Back to School For Kids

Summer is coming to an end and it is time for back to school! Heading back to school after summer can bring a mix of emotions for children. Some feel excited, some feel happy, some feel anxious, and some feel dread. It’s normal for children to have different emotions around change and the unknown that a new teacher, classroom, and school year brings with it. No matter how your child is feeling, there are many things you can do to help support a positive start to the school year. 

Routine

If you got out of the normal bedtime routine, try to get back on track a few days or a week before school is set to start so that your child gets used to going to bed and waking up early. It could be a rude awakening on the first day of school if they have become accustomed to staying up or sleeping in late for weeks and months and suddenly have to change their routine. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that school age children (6-13) should get anywhere from 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night. Sleepiness does not make it conducive for student learning, so making sure that they are well-rested for school is important.

Creating a morning routine is especially important because it can set the tone for the day. We are all hurried in the morning, and having a morning routine checklist can help teach your child how to be more independent and help with consistency. We found some great free printables here

Creating a school spot at home at the beginning of the school year will help with misplaced items and aid in developing routine and consistency. At school, students have a specific spot to put their belongings. Having that at home, where they can place their backpacks, water bottles, lunch bags, and any other school supplies, will help foster responsibility and independence. 

Be Positive

With a new school year comes new teachers and new classmates. For many children this usually brings with it a feeling of happiness and excitement. However, if you or your child are feeling less than excited about placement, try to be positive.

Each year is a fresh start. If they are anxious about a student in the class remind your child that everyone is working on something and even if they weren’t friends with a classmate last year it doesn’t mean that they won’t become friends this year. Teach your child to be open to new experiences and new people. 

The same could be said for teacher placement. Your child could have a very different experience than someone else’s child had with that teacher. Different kids need different things, and your child could thrive in that teacher’s classroom. If it turns out to be a more arduous teacher or class, try to remember what we have written in previous posts, sometimes the lesson could be that your child learns to thrive in a less than ideal situation. Because one day they will have to deal with a boss they don’t love, people they don’t agree with, or an incredibly difficult and challenging project in the real world.  

It’s always best to try to base your opinion of a child or a teacher on your own experience and not what you hear about them from others. In addition, try not to speak negatively of teachers in front of your child. Children need to respect all people, and sometimes it is hard to do if they hear their parents saying negative things about them. Kids hear more than we think, and they most definitely will repeat what they hear.

Reassurance

If your child is feeling anxious about the new year, reassure them that on the first day of school, it is everyone’s first day. Many others are also feeling the beginning of the school year jitters. Including the teachers!

Books are wonderful conversation starters, help to justify feelings, and they often help to reassure that they are not alone and that they will be ok.

These are some suggestions of books to read with your child if they are feeling anxious about a new school year. 

  1. The Day you Begin 
  2. All Are Welcome
  3. How to Get Your Teacher Ready
  4. Sorry, Grown Ups, You Can’t Go to School
  5. Pirates Don’t Go to Kindergarten 
  6. It’s Back to School We Go
  7. I don’t Want to Go to School
  8. First Day Jitters

Model

Remember children look to the adults in their lives and how they react to situations as a model for how they should react. If you are dreading the end of summer break, the start of a new school year, a new teacher or a variety of other things, and you are voicing these feelings aloud, your child will too. However, if you are calm, positive, happy, excited to pick up a few school supplies, and exude through your actions and words how awesome a new school year will be, then chances are that your child will too.

Shame, Judgement, and the Comparison Trap

If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown, google her (after you are done reading this of course). She is a shame researcher who has a famous TED talk, has written several books, and recently released a Netflix special. One of the things that she discusses is shame that parents experience. Parent shaming is a real thing and it has to stop. We see parent shaming online, we see it in our schools, we see it at the grocery store, we see it on planes, and we see it in restaurants. There are many parenting styles and you don’t have to agree with all of them, but can we stop judging each other for every little thing?

While we love to give advice and tips on specific areas of raising balanced children in the 21st century, we never want to come off like we are shaming people. Our main advice is always balance. Balance means you do what you can when you can. We find that along with shame are judgment and comparison.  Neither of these are good for your health or your family’s health.

Let’s start off by talking about judgement. It is easy to judge other people. Especially if you don’t know what their day has been like. If a child is throwing a tantrum in a store, most people will immediately judge the parent for it. However, we do not know what the situation is. Perhaps the child missed their nap, maybe they are sick, or just maybe they are a child with special needs. Kids also have a mind of their own and can sometimes be unpredictable. We do not know, so we must not judge.

Shaming a parent is when you put your judgment into action and decide you want to give a parent a look, a piece of your mind, make passive aggressive comments, or even talking behind their back. Your intention is to make them feel like they are doing a bad job, being a bad parent, or have something to be ashamed of.

Before judging a parent (or anyone really) ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know them or their situation?
  • Am I trying to help them or shame them?
  • Does it affect me?
  • Do I have good intentions?

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The other side of judgement and shame is comparing yourself to other people. In the age of social media, we are all bombarded on a daily basis by perfection. People most often will post and share the perfect moments in their lives. The idyllic family hike, the children baking, or siblings playing happily. What is not seen are the fights, the mess, the arguments and struggles that are a part of real life. And yet, the perfection is what we compare our lives to. We feel less than because our house is a mess, we aren’t hiking, and the cake is store bought.

If you are feeling less than, then perhaps take time away from social media. Take your family to the park to play, order a pizza and have a family night in, or have game night with your children. Remind yourself that “This too shall pass,” that the messy, crazy, and hard parts of parenting are only temporary, that no family is perfect, and that all of it is okay.

We as a society have to take the mantel for ending parent shaming and judgement. It is up to us to model for our children to respect and accept others.

What to Do in the Summer: Academics

With summer vacation quickly approaching, this is the time of year when we tend to get many questions from parents about what academics should be done over the summer. We are big proponents of letting summer time be a time for play, fun, relaxation, and exploration. This can be a great opportunity for kids to explore new things, discover a passion, focus on another interest or develop a talent.

If a child is struggling and needs more support in a particular subject, we would suggest doing some academics. However the only time we would suggest getting any kind of tutoring is only when it is actually needed. There should be no rush or pressure to be ahead in school. Depending on the child, it might actually take the joy out of learning and that would be a shame.

If a child ends up being ahead naturally and is really interested in a particular subject, that’s great. You can definitely support them in this area without pushing them or MAKING them do extra work they do not want or have to do. In this case, the child should be driving it and you are either letting them do their thing or finding ways to support their curiosity.

There are things that kids can do to practice skills that are fun and rewarding for them. The key is to keep it light so that it doesn’t seem like work.

Reading

Summer is a great time for kids to discover new interests, and reading is a great place to discover new passions. Kids should learn early on that reading isn’t only for school. Reading for pleasure can be a wonderful, and good for the soul, free time activity. Going to the library and checking out books with your child is a great way to promote reading during the summer. Checking one out for yourself to read will demonstrate to your child that reading is fun, not a chore.

Journaling

It is great for kids to learn how to journal at a young age. They can write about their summer adventures, add in pictures, illustrations, or make it into a scrapbook. Not only will they learn to and begin to reflect on their day, but it allows them to practice their writing skills. While you should tell them to just write and not worry about spelling and punctuation, the more practice they get with writing the more they will grow as a writer.

Writing letters

Writing letters to family members that live in another place could be a fun activity, especially if they were expecting a letter back in the mail. If you go on vacation, you can have them write postcards to their friends or teachers. Again this is a fun way to promote, support, and build writing skills.

Things you can do in moderation

Practice Multiplication Facts

Multiplication facts are often introduced in 2nd and 3rd grade. It is helpful for children to practice multiplication facts during the summer so that they do not forget them and to keep the momentum going as they transition into the next grade. There are a variety of ways to help children practice and memorize multiplication facts. Practicing with flashcards a couple of times a week is one way, but there are also apps that make it more game like. Keep in mind that it is easier and more fun to practice these for 15 minutes a day than for 1 hour once a week.

Review

A little practice of more complex mathematical concepts, such as long division, multiplication, or fractions, whose algorithm is new to students or consists of multiple steps might be beneficial for students for whom these proved to be challenging during the school year. We only ever recommend it as a way to strengthen their math skills and return to school in September with better understanding and more self confidence in math.

Overall, summer should be about rest and relaxation. While a little bit of practice here and there is a good idea, if your child is having a blast at summer camp, a relatives house, at the beach, or anywhere your family decides to spend summer, do not stress about academic summer work.

Our big motto is that everyone should strive for balance. Summer brings great balance to children. The school year is long and full of lots of learning, responsibilities, sport games and practices, and projects. Let children have the summer to be children, eat ice cream, dig holes, swim, play and climb. Those are the main homework assignments we assign our students at the end of the year, and that is what they need to be doing during summer.

Report Cards

We are headed into the last 2 months of school, and along with field day, open house, graduation, and all the other fun activities of the last few weeks of school, writing report cards is something that teachers need to complete as they wrap up the school year. Whether you give out letter grades, numbers, or narrative report cards are one way to communicate with parents about how their child has grown throughout the school year.

In our opinion, report cards should not be the end all be all. We need to create intrinsic motivation in our students and focus on progress and the learning process. The focus should not necessarily be on an end grade. To us, report cards should be looked at as a more formal way of communicating to parents all the things we have already been communicating throughout the school year.

Report cards should reflect progress, strengths, and challenges. They should help give both teachers and parents an idea of how they can better support and encourage students. It should also reflect the things that really interest the student.

When writing report cards here are some things to consider:

No Surprises

When a parent receives a report card, they should not be surprised by anything on it. Surprising parents with a student’s struggles on a report card when you are not present, and cannot elaborate and talk through plans to support the student is never a good idea. If a student is having a challenge academically, behaviorally, or socially parents should be notified early on to develop a partnership and to come up with a plan on how to help the child succeed. Report cards should not be the first time a parent is hearing about a concern. This has been one of the best pieces of advice that our mentor and administrator told us as novice teachers, and it is something that we continue to follow and pass on to new teachers.

Start with the Positive

Find positive things to say about the student. Every subject or category should have an honest and positive statement for the student. These could include comments on engagement, participation, perseverance, growth mindset, collaboration, or final projects amongst other things. Highlighting the positives is just as important as highlighting the challenges because it paints a picture of the whole child, and that is what parents want and need to see.

Choose Your Words Wisely

Remember, that while this might be an elementary report card, it is an official document. Therefore always think through what you are writing and trying to say about the student. Try to avoid words like “but” or “although.” You can usually replace those words with “and” or start a new sentence and get the same message across without negating all the positives you started with. Some positive language includes “we look forward to guiding,” “it would be beneficial,” “this student will grow further by,” or “supporting.”

Support

If you are asking parents for support at home, give specific strategies that will help the student. This is especially important as a student transitions from one grade to another and they might need some extra help in certain subjects. Summer vacation is a good time for parents to support a child at home, so giving them exact subjects and strategies to work on are perfect to convey on a report card. However, keep in mind that a report card might not be enough room to detail all of this, so a parent conference might be helpful to set up with the parents or guardians to further explain student support.

Challenge

Parents of students who are “high flyers” often want to know how their child is being challenged and supported in the classroom. If a student is meeting or surpassing all the expectations in your class, it would be helpful for parents if you communicated how they are being challenged and engaged in class. This again gives a whole child picture for parents and it gives them ideas about how the can continue to support and engage their child at home.

The most important thing to remember is that we are placing our own personal judgements on other people’s most valued treasures. Every kid is different and has strengths and challenges. As history has continued to show us, a grade or a number doesn’t always reflect a child’s success. Report cards should not be used as a weapon to shame or punish kids. Rather, they should be used as another form of communication that is a guide and tool to help kids grow and develop.

Teaching Children Self Care

A few weeks ago, we posted a blog on Balanced Children. We want to revisit this idea with a specific focus on how to teach self care to children. Just as parents and teachers need to practice self care for their own benefit, we also need to teach kids how to CONSISTENTLY and INTENTIONALLY engage in self care activities. Teaching kids how to take care of themselves now, will equip them with the tools they need later. Kids need to learn how to manage stress in healthy ways.

Exercising

Encourage movement any chance you get! You don’t need to put your child in every after school sport for them to get exercise. You can encourage and model exercise in ways that don’t cost anything. Take walks, ride bikes, go on a hike. Encourage kids to dance, jump rope, roller skate, and hula-hoop. They also have free websites that encourage movement like GoNoodle and plenty of free kids movement videos on YouTube. Modeling the fun in exercise and movement for children will set them up to continue the practice as they grow up.

Laughter

Find every opportunity to laugh with your children. Laugh when things are great, but also try to find laughter when things go wrong. Children are going to make mistakes and if you laugh with them when they make simple mistakes like accidently spilling their milk, they will be less stressed about always having to get everything right and will be more open to taking different risks.

Encourage them to play fun games that make them laugh. Here is a great list of games that encourage laughter from Deep Fun. We also found a great list of board game that the entire family can enjoy from Toy Notes.

Reading

Help your children find books that they enjoy. Of course we want our kids to read “educational” books too. However, finding a book, an author, or series that your child enjoys to read for pleasure is wonderful for children.  If your child is reading something that they are interested in, then it is making them feel good. Reading for fun is a great way to help kids manage stress. It is pretty easy to setup a little cozy reading space with pillows, blankets and some of their favorite stuffed animals. There is nothing like forgetting the stressors of the day by getting lost in a good book.

Teach Mindfulness

There has been a big buzz around this word “mindfulness” in education and business recently. Mindfulness helps teach kids how to regulate their emotions. It can improve their ability to pay attention, can help them calm down when they are upset, and can help them make better choices. There are apps and websites that lead you through short mindful moments. Head Space is one of those options. They even have a series for kids. We have used these in the classroom, and students and teachers alike enjoy the mindful moments.

Mindfulness isn’t something you should force and definitely shouldn’t be used to punish kids when they have done something negative. Our advice is to keep it simple and help your children develop an awareness of thoughts, how their body is feeling, and what is happening around them at different moments. Often times, it seems like we (not just kids) are always wanting to focus on what is coming next. It is important to teach kids an awareness of what is happening right now.

Another component of mindfulness that is really wonderful in teaching self care to kids, is to focus on gratitude. This is really easy because you can do this anytime. It could be part of your bedtime ritual, dinner time talk, or you can encourage a gratitude journal. They have some excellent gratitude journals for kids on Amazon!

Outdoor Time

Get your kids outdoors! Spending time outdoors helps with the obvious, like getting sun exposure which gives us essential vitamins, and it encourages exercise, which we discussed earlier. But these aren’t the only benefits. According to the Harvard Health Blog, spending time outdoors also helps kids develop executive functioning skills, encourages risk taking, promotes socialization, and gives children an appreciation for nature. There is space for kids in nature to get in touch with their creativity. They build forts with sticks, play hide and seek, climb trees and rocks, or if the weather allows it, have snowball fights. This generation of children are over scheduled and plugged in since infancy. Spending free time outdoors is essential for development and will fuel adventure and creativity in kids.

Foster Friendships

Last week we wrote about our Teacher Tribe, and how cultivating a group of people who understand and support you can enhance your life. Friendships are important for children too, feeling a part of a community or group gives children self esteem and people to talk about their feelings to, other than their parents and teachers. This is especially important as they reach the upper elementary grades, where adolescence is on the precipes. You can ask your child’s teacher about who your child is playing with, or any recommendations about children with whom they might have a connection with. Setting up play dates and times outside of school where your child can make connections with other children is important to foster these friendships.

Manage Screen Time

This is probably one of the most difficult self care tools for parents to manage and model. We live in a world, where devices are in our hands and surrounding us all day. Everywhere your child goes, they see people staring into their devices, and this has been their world since birth.  By around 1 year old a baby knows to slide to unlock a phone, by 2 or 3 they know apps and can get onto Youtube to find the videos they like. Devices are fun, they are a distraction from the real world, however, as teachers, we cannot stress enough, how important it is to manage screen time for your child.

“Kids and teens age 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens. The new warning from the AHA recommends parents limit screen time for kids to a maximum of just two hours per day. For younger children, age 2 to 5, the recommended limit is one hour per day.” (CBC News) The best way you can do this is by modeling for your child. Put your own devices down and talk, read, play, or exercise together. Engage them in other activities that do not involve devices.

Sleep

Sleep and mental health have a close connection. We are all guilty of scrolling instagram at bedtime, but more and more studies are showing that to improve sleep you should stop using a device up to two hours before bed. If you can’t swing that, even 30 minutes to 1 hour will help improve sleep. Having a device box or a location where kids put their devices at a certain time, will help set an expectation for the family that can help improve sleep for everyone.

For more information visit The National Sleep Foundation website

All of these things that we are talking about seem very basic and obvious. And most of these things naturally took place when we were kids. We didn’t have devices and we were always outside playing. We didn’t call it self care for kids, we just called it being kids. As our world continues to evolve and advance, we need to take steps to ensure that we are aware of the effects that these changes have on our kids. Many studies are showing kids and teens are depressed and stressed and unable to handle normal things that life throws at them. We need to take a step back and make sure we are giving our 21st century kids the basic skills they need to manage stress and practice self care in this ever changing world.

Balanced Children Have Balanced Parents

Bringing balance to our lives and to our children isn’t always easy. We have to be mindful, make choices to let go of certain expectations, possibly change routines, and most importantly be aware that we can’t and shouldn’t do it all.

Children Mimic Us
As educators, we spend most of our days getting to know our students at school. We become familiar with their personalities. By the end of September each year, we can confidently identify if a child is going to have a fantastic day, or if one might need extra high fives and check-ins. As educators and curious observers of the world around us, it has always been so interesting to meet parents after becoming so familiar with our students. We recognize where a student might get their long eyelashes from, their cleft chin, or that one curl that has a mind of its own. We hear familiar giggles, expressions and sense of humor. It is so exciting to recognize ourselves in our children. What an astounding feat it is, to leave an imprint of ourselves for generations to come!

Apart from the genetic and biological aspect of human development, children learn by observing their parents. Parents are their first exposure to human behavior, relationships and language. There is no one so perfect and so right in our children’s eyes than their caretakers. Think of the times when children are learning to speak or walk. Before they even begin the actual act of making sounds, they hear it; before they try to figure out how to use their legs, they have been observing their parents amble around all day. This observe and do pattern does not stop! It continues long after they have moved out of the nest.

Now, you may not want to, but imagine one of those extra busy mornings. One where you feel rushed and anxious. You have to get yourself ready for work, get the children ready for school or daycare. Not to mention make and eat breakfast, make sure that everyone has a lunch, and make it to school on time for drop off. If you have ever experienced this stress and anxiety, then there is a possibility that your child was experiencing this with you. Children are very good at identifying and taking in the energy of grownups. When you are unbalanced, anxious, stressed, overworked, and have nothing left to give, they feel and exhibit that too.

When life is catching up with you and you are starting to feel this way, it is time to slow down. If there is too much on your plate, you need to prioritize the most important things and let go of other things. On those mornings, hours, or days when you are feeling overly stressed and frustrated, stop, take a breath and know that everything and everyone will be fine. If you have a partner, it will help to share your stressors with them and come up with a game plan together. It also helps to talk to other parents that are also feeling these same stressors. Find your community of like minded parents and don’t let go.  Remember raising kids is a series of stages, however overwhelmed you are feeling at that moment, know that it will pass.

Focusing on Flexibility
The most important life lesson that should be visited and revisited in the classroom and at home is flexibility. Assemblies do not always follow the schedule. Dad can’t always do preschool drop off. Things do not go the way they are planned. This is an illusion that we tell ourselves when things are going well. In fact, plans work because of the wiggle room that accompanied it. In the classroom when the technology does not work, we copied the wrong papers, or the glue bottles dried up, we often say “C’est la vie.” Such is life. There are things that are out of our control in our classrooms and in our homes. Feeling frustration and anger is normal, but understanding that that frustration and anger will not fix the problem is incredibly important for our children to learn. Being flexible, regrouping, and figuring out how to move on is a skill that parents and teachers need to model for children.

Benefits of Balance
Parents that are balanced have balanced children. If you and your household are unbalanced, then your child will be too. We have had students that continuously forget their homework, misplace their workbooks or folders, have 7 water bottles in their cubbies, come to school without any of their supplies, or have big emotional reactions when things do not go the way they wanted or thought they would go. There are times when learning differences and special needs are the reason for such emotions. However, being around parents that are over worked, spread out too thin, and stressed out plays a big factor into any child’s daily performance. These emotions and behaviors manifest themselves in children too.

On the other hand, students who have parents that have a work-life balance, take on challenges with a positive attitude, and are present in the moment, often thrive in our classrooms. They tackle challenges calmly and cooly, they have better resilience, and a stronger sense of self. These students do well in our classrooms, the school yard, and with friends.

There is no way that stresses can be eliminated in our lives. We deal with different kinds of stressors all day long. However you deal with these pressures in your life, always take the time to talk to your children about it.  This, after all, is talking about balance. It is OK for your child to see you frustrated or irritated. These are all very real emotions that they will encounter and feel in their lifetime. What is important is that you address it with them before they take these observations elsewhere. Just as you would walk through each step of what your doing with an infant to expose them to language, walk your child through your thought process when you reacted so emotionally to an unsavory event. Get them involved by asking them how they thought the reaction helped or hurt the situation. It shows them that it is OK to react to frustrations and reflect on better ways to deal with these unexpected situations.

Being a parent is an all day every day job without any sick or vacation days. Everyone is doing the best they can. If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and unbalanced, sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder that it is okay to slow down, cancel plans, and just take some time to get things back in order. It will make a more balanced life for you and for your children. The key is to not be perfect all the time, but to have an awareness when you need to create more balance.