After teaching for more than 20 years and raising two small children (they are now 10 and 12), I think its safe to say I’ve learned a few things from being on both sides of the equation. Today, I’m sharing some tips based on my daily experience as a mom, teacher and volunteer that serves with the 2 year olds at our church. Along with some “how to prepare for school tips”, I also wanted to offer a few insider tips on the little things that can sometimes drive a teacher crazy! I walk in both sets of shoes everyday and hopefully, you’ll find my insight helpful.
- Purchasing school supplies. In order to get the best prices, you may need to shop around, but my suggestion would be to start at the dollar store and knock off as much as you can for the best price. You can buy some brand name items like Crayola there and you can be quite certain you won’t be over paying. Having said that, restrain yourself from purchasing the cheap stuff. I know you may think a pencil is a pencil or a notebook is a notebook, but trust me….the teachers order brand names such as Hilroy for a reason. I have had students go through an entire pack of 10 pencils in the first few weeks of school because the leads constantly break and they won’t sharpen properly without disintegrating. Cheap notebooks fall apart and simply do not with stand the wear and tear of 10 months of handling. If your school offers the option to pay a flat rate instead of shopping for supplies – do it! It is often difficult to find the exact items on the supply list and teachers often get discounts from suppliers and can purchase everything the child needs for much less.
- “Indoor shoes” are required for physical education classes and it is essential to purchase quality footwear that will properly protect and support your child’s foot. Flimsy shoes without proper support aren’t safe and you’ll probably be asked to replace them. Make sure the soles of the shoes are “non-marking”. If your child is not proficient at doing up shoe laces, buy velcro and practise at home until they can tie their laces independently. (Contrary to common belief – most teachers don’t teach kids how to tie their shoes!)
- Backpacks can be fun to purchase because there are so many styles and themes, but first and foremost, they must serve the intended purpose. That means not too small that they can’t fit their notes/work into the bag. (Be sure to keep the backpack relatively empty. The purpose of the bag is for school and shouldn’t be stuffed with clothes and toys that are not needed at school.) On the flip side, please stay away from the “rolling luggage”. As a teacher, I can tell you there simply isn’t room for the oversized backpacks, especially when the base offers no flexibility because of its structure. Most younger students put their belongings in a small locker that is shared with a classmate.
- Do not plan to extend your summer vacation and have your child miss the first few days of school. The first days are absolutely critical. It is during the first few days when the class will get to know one another and more importantly, when the teacher will set the tone for the entire year by explaining the expectations and rules. When a child arrives late for school or misses the first days, it immediately causes anxiety for them as they feel like “a fish out of water” because everyone else seems to know what to do. Although they will eventually “learn the ropes” there will never again be the thorough explanations and demonstrations that occur in the first few days. As a kindergarten teacher, we actually do demonstrations, explanations, role-playing, chanting, etc. just to learn simple routines like handing in notes, hanging up belongings, school rules and using the bathroom.
- Get out a calendar and start writing everything down. Every August, I buy my new “Mom’s Family Organizer Calendar” from Costco. It comes with stickers and has lots of space to write everything down. September is crazy for most families and when you’re a teacher its like a double whammy! There are fall registrations deadlines, meet the teacher evenings, sports and activity schedules begin and in all honesty I believe it is impossible to stay on top of things if you don’t write everything down in one central place. Our family calendar contains every meeting, open house, appointment, lesson, and activity you can think of. When you receive newsletters from the school or classroom, immediately take out your calendar and start to write things down. Often you will be informed of school closure dates (for professional development or administration days) in the September newsletter. Be sure to write these down so that you can plan for child care arrangements well in advance (if necessary). Newsletters will also give you information regarding field trips, Christmas Concerts, programming and other schedule changes. Stay informed ~ read and record! One of my pet peeves is when parents ask me about information regarding something that I have previously sent home in the form of a note or classroom newsletter, and often more than once. If someone needs clarification, by all means, but when it is asking details about information that was clearly communicated, it can get frustrating. Having one or two ask isn’t really that bad, but when you have as many as 50 students and many parents don’t take the time to read the notes, it can become frustrating. Even the busiest people can stay organized by writing down what is happening and when it’s going to happen.
- Permission Slips. Most schools still send letters home in hardcopy form and expect to have the slip returned with or without money to pay for the trip. As a busy mom, my rule of thumb is this: Sign and return the following day. Whether it’s a form and money for hot lunch, a fundraiser or a field trip. Take the 2 minutes it takes to fill out the form and be sure to tear off the permission slip and keep the letter for your own reference. Many parents who have questions regarding the details of a field trip have made the common mistake of sending the entire letter back to me instead of keeping the information portion at home. Write the time/date on the calendar and then store away the top portion of the note. At our house, we usually place the information between the top pages in our calendar. (For example, when it is November, you can slide notes between the pages of the Sept – October.)
- Snack – if your child takes a snack to school ~ keep it healthy. If they are truly hungry, they need nourishment to help them think and concentrate. Sugary treats do not help when a child is hungry.
- Doctor/dentist/eye and hair – try to get the appointments out of the way before school starts! If you have a pre-school child and you are concerned about some areas of their development such as speech or fine motor skills, get a referral from your doctor because many services are free for toddlers/pre-school children and early intervention is key. I do not recommend leaving it until they start school because the case load is very high and it can be a long process to get service. Generally speaking, a child who is already “open to services” will be seen sooner.
- Zippers/clasps and buttons – if your child is not yet able to do their outdoor clothing up, don’t sweat it, but start practising at home. As long as they can get their coat and shoes/boots on, most teachers are more than happy to help them get “done up” until they can manage on their own.
- Nursery/Kindergarten – using the bathroom independently is a pretty important part of going to school. The children should not only know how to go to the bathroom on their own, but should also be taught proper bathroom etiquette. Using a public restroom is very different from going to the bathroom at home. Help prepare your child by talking about things like: closing the door, washing their hands, knocking before opening the door when its closed, what to do if they “drip” on the seat, what to do if they have an accident, etc. Using the bathroom is actually a cause for great anxiety for many youngsters and the result can sometimes be that they will refuse “to go” at school. This isn’t healthy and although the strategy may work in a half day program, it isn’t as effective when they come all day in grade one. The anxiety comes from all the “unknowns” and the best way to conquer this is to talk about it.
- Punctuality ~ this should be near the top of the list!! Being on time is a life skill and needs to be taught early. When a child comes in late, they immediately feel anxious because they feel like all eyes are on them. Additionally, they may have already missed the shared “plans for the day” and even all or part of a lesson. Aside from how the child feels, the other students now have to wait while the missed directions are repeated and/or a mini version of the lesson is explained to the late student. In order to maximize the learning of all, it is really important that students attend daily and arrive on time. We have all experienced arriving late for a meeting, church or work and it is not a good feeling for most people (unless of course you are very used to being late!) In fact, I can honestly say, that after 20 years of teaching I still have pre-school nightmares about being late on the first day of school!
- Every school has designated times for parent teacher conferences and report cards. The dates are usually outlined in the September School Newsletter, so that you know when to expect a report card home or an interview with your child’s teacher (usually fall and spring). If you have specific concerns regarding your child, I encourage you to set an appointment to meet with your child’s teacher. Do not wait for the interview if you feel that there are pressing issues that need to be addressed. A discussion regarding your child’s academic performance and/or behaviour is one that should take place privately at a predetermined time. As a rule of thumb, consider this …..if you can send the information in a note or an email, do so. Most teachers now check their email regularly. Drop-off and pick-up times are not a great time to meet because teachers want to be available to greet their students before class and ensure everyone is ready and accounted for at pick-up time. This is especially true if you are the parent of a nursery or kindergarten student. The teacher is probably helping kids get their outdoor clothing done up, touching base with parents he/she needs to speak to briefly and observing to make sure the children are going home with the person they are supposed to. Again, quick questions for clarification or about programming are usually fine, but discussions should take place at a mutually agreed upon time.
- Childhood anxiety is at an all time high. I will be doing a separate post on anxiety in the coming days, so stay tuned…..