Beat the Back-to-School

Kids shouldn't view the start of school as a drag and the end of their summer fun and freedom. Parents, here's your chance to turn this around! As your children's first and most important teachers, it's up to you to instill in them an appreciation of education and a lifelong love of learning.

Parents should look at several key areas — starting with attitude.

The Right Attitude

While there's a part of most kids that dreads the restrictions and work-load that comes with school days, there's also a part of them that looks forward to the start of school.

Parents need to tap into those feelings of anticipation and excitement with encouragement and praise. Make it cool to want to go back to school.

Do this by talking with your kids about the upcoming school year. Take a look at the calendar together and count the days until school starts. It's your children's job to be good students. Help them to see that this is important.

Talk about the wonderful things that school has to offer — the excitement of discovery and learning, the pride in accomplishments, the independence found in taking charge of each opportunity, the joys of friends and a growing social life, and the fun of extracurricular activities.

What's not to love?

Well, there are a few things. Your children will have very reasonable fears, despite your greatest efforts to pump them up. Talk about these things, too.

Let your kids know that it's normal to regret the loss of free time that school-work requires, that it's okay to be anxious about an unknown teacher or that there may be some social issues they'll have to deal with.

It's also important to let your kids know that you'll help them in applying the teachings of the Catholic faith throughout their educational experiences.

Changing the Schedule

Child-development experts emphasize that having a predictable routine is vital for kids, especially younger ones. So, how do you change from a summertime schedule to a school-days schedule without feeling like you've just hit a brick wall?

Here are some practical tips:

1) Gradually merge the family into observing school hours.

About a week before the first school day, get the family up a little earlier and have them go to bed a little earlier each day. Your goal should be that by the time school starts your children are already used to these new hours, so that they're alert for the first class and still have energy for the last class.

2) Add a quiet time in the afternoon that will later be used for homework.

Decide together on the best place and time for doing homework. In the days before school starts, use this time to read silently (you, too!) or do other independent educational activities. Some ideas: ERead to your children. Get listening skills tuned up and send the message that reading matters.

EReview math facts or play a math-facts game. Make it fun.

ERead the Register together and discuss current events.

EDo an art or music project.

EConduct a science experiment.

E Go to the library to research the lives of the saints.

3) Establish a family calendar on which you post every-one's events.

Color coding is a good idea if you have many children or many activities. Post the calendar where everyone can see it. Make a rule that only one person can write on the calendar and that all family members have to tell that person when some event is added or subtracted.

As the year progresses, be sure to look at the month's activities together so that your children know what to expect.

Those School Supplies

At every age, kids know what's cool and what they like having.

Get the list of what materials are needed from your school and go shopping together. Let your children pick out their own materials so that they like the stuff and want to carry it around.

Getting school supplies organized offers your children a wonderful opportunity to assume the lead. Take time and talk to them about how to put together their notebooks, pencil pouches and backpacks. Give them some suggestions about what works for you and look around the store for gadgets.

Ready for a crazy idea?

Take just one child shopping at a time. Use it to get to know what makes each youngster click and to send the message that he or she is special and important.

Parents can also get their children's input on breakfast. Teachers stress the importance of a good breakfast since it helps youngsters' brains to function.

To encourage proper breakfast consumption, let your children choose from a list of parent-approved breakfast foods. It may be the only thing that gets them out of bed in the morning.

Finally, your kids are going to need school clothes.

Cut costs by checking out local consignment stores first. Then shop the sales.

If your children are attending a Catholic school that requires a uniform, save time and money by shopping by phone.

Start with your school. Ask about stores that sell used uniforms in your area and recent graduates who may be interested in selling their old uniforms.

Catalog shopping is also efficient. Some of the more popular catalogs, such as Hannah Anderson and L.L. Bean, now have a uniform section. They also have Internet Web sites.

Most parents know that clothing is the one area where your children's input is essential. If they don't like the outfit, it won't get worn.

Parents of teen-agers take special note!

School Familiarity

Nothing makes for a bad case of back-to-school jitters like having to face the first day at a new school.

Biggest tip: Visit the school with your children and visit it more than once.

Most parents figure this out, but few do it thoroughly enough. Find the lockers, special classrooms, desks, coat hooks, cafeteria, restrooms, library, locker room, gymnasium and office.

The best thing you can do to give your children confidence in their new arena is to walk through the daily schedule together. Your kids should go through their school day several times, so that when they walk in the front door on that stressful first morning, they have little question about where to go and what to do.

Assure your children that if they get lost or confused, it's okay. They shouldn't be afraid to ask for directions or help from a teacher.

Each school day holds promises of new discoveries for young scholars. Take your children by the hand and help them enjoy these discoveries.