It’s that time of the year again. The flood of campers and kayak-toting cars dwindles, replaced by yellow buses and frantic parents in SUVs. Let’s start this school year right.
As you get your routine and logistics in check—bedtime, school supplies, clothes, equipment, driving and bus times, help, activities, lunches and snacks—keep in mind that this is the time to fortify your kids. This year, try reversing some of the roles of caregiver and child. Although it may scare you to think of a time when your kids might not need you, the goal for the school year is to help your little ones…mature.
If you have been waking them up, have them set the alarm; if you have been prepping meals (breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner), see if they can begin. Start small: this is how we boil water, crack an egg, set the table. Use tools that work for their age and hands to assist in the process (see examples below).
If you have been launching little ones to school, now is the time for them to literally and figuratively pull up their socks. Having a nighttime and morning schedule and check-off lists are key. Kids should write their tasks on a mobile dry-erase magnetic board or on paper; tape the list on the bedroom door or the refrigerator, or write directly with Sharpie (remove with alcohol) on the bathroom mirror, for when they brush their teeth and get ready for bed or school.
For school readiness and a morning of less helter skelter, a whiteboard with a checklist is requisite at the exit door so kids can assemble their school gear themselves (socks, shoes, lunch, vitamins, sports equipment, backpack, homework). Keep outerwear and go-bags on hooks they can reach near the door.
Tip: Keep a bin of everyday shoes and socks(!) there. I like to repurpose empty, stackable food packaging since that’s a win/win (eat more greens/gain more containers) and have the kids write their names and decorate their bins with permanent markers.
An aside on shoes: I prefer no shoes in the home. Taking them off at the door protects your floors, saves time and keeps a good amount of dirt and germs from entering the home, from lawn chemicals to street gunk. And it’s better to go barefoot outside than wear muddy boots inside, so stash shoes in a hallway closet, bin, or cubbies by the door. When you’re not rushing (ha!), have your kids practice tying their laces: if they don’t like using their real shoes, the Wooden Lacing Shoe by Melissa & Doug is practically pop art fit for a pedestal. Don’t skip over tying laces and opt for slip-ins or Velcro; children need to tie laces—it helps hand/eye and left-right brain coordination. Only once your child can already tie laces should you opt for the convenience of Velcro. Knot-tying is truly science, art, and survival—think sailing and spelunking.
Let’s talk homework. Let your children do their own work! What is gained if you take first prize at the fifth-grade science fair? Stop the insanity! If parents continue to live in their children’s backpacks, what are our children learning, actualizing? If they have an assignment, let them do it to the best of their ability. Let them stumble. If you correct all their mistakes, the teachers will never know what your kids don’t know, and those knowledge gaps will widen into chasms that reappear on finals and standardized testing, doing a great disservice to teachers and school districts but mostly to the kids themselves. The outcome will be remediation, tutors, and more work for kids who are already putting in six to seven hours a day plus homework (another topic unsubstantiated by research).
If you are not at Testing D-Day (you know, SATS and beyond), your children still have time to fail safely. They will recover stronger, smarter, and profoundly intact to face the challenges school and life has in store for them. Of course, they need safety nets, help, identification of cognitive and executive function challenges and strengths, and perhaps an intervention. However, they still need to do their own work and build resilience (Duckworth). There is a clear message you are sending to your kids when you take over their homework rather than just answer questions: You are telling them they aren’t capable. There is also a clear message you’re sending back to the teachers and schools that overassign and overestimate ability: that you, the parents, who have already graduated/retired/worked a full day, are perfectly happy to help your kids vie (against other parents doing the same thing!). Of course, teachers know very well, too, who is doing the assignments; they see their students’ classwork daily. The more parents compete against parents, the less we all achieve.
Finally, when you notice that your son has forgotten his backpack (homework, gym clothes, sports equipment, permission slips, lunch, whatever), do not jump in your car and hightail it to school. Tomorrow or a few tomorrows later (see launching pad system), he will remember his essentials. Encouraging self-reliance and responsibility is A+ back-to-school parenting.
Connect with Dr. Karen Aronian at firstname.lastname@example.org