Back to school, back to routine

For many area students, the past two months have been filled with basking in the sun, vacations, sleeping in and a much more relaxed schedule. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. It’s August, and we’ve all seen the back-to-school ads.

With a new school year comes new challenges for parents and children. We found three area experts to provide advice for having a smooth and successful transition.

Tips for elementary schoolMaureen Waskow — an elementary school teacher for 17 years in Dubuque and mother to Alice, 10, and Trent, 8 — believes the greatest challenge for parents and children is balance.

“As adults, we are more in tune with what our bodies need, and it’s easy to think that our children can express their needs as well,” Waskow said. “This is not true. Children have a more difficult time transitioning and admitting they are tired, so as a result, they may act out instead. If in doubt, relaxation is the best medicine.”

Waskow offers the following tips for a smooth transition:

• Avoid over scheduling weeknight activities. Children are transitioning from zero to three hours of sustained work each day to seven hours.

• Get enough sleep. Emphasize appropriate bedtimes and the need for extra sleep once the school year begins.

• Have a plan. Many situations will arise due to weather, so talk to your child about the what-ifs. What if school gets out early due to heat, snow or ice? How will your child get home? Having a plan will help ease any anxiety the child might have.

• Think about how you will get messages to your child. An email to both the office and the classroom teacher is best. Do not count on only messaging the teacher. The teacher might be out that day or not get to his or her inbox due to busy schedules. A dual email system allows for certain communication. Emphasize to your child that no news means no change in the regular after-school plan.

• Don’t be too quick to bail out your child. It’s inevitable that homework, lunch, library books or an instrument will be left at home. Allow your child to find a solution within the school setting. It’s OK for students to experience the natural consequences such as a point reduction, eating hot lunch or not being allowed to check out a book for another week. Children learn by making errors and solving them on their own. At home, parents can have a conversation with their child about the learning and growth that happened, rather than impose another consequence.

• Foster independence. Have conversations with your child about the upcoming school year. What areas are a strength? Where can he or she improve? When it comes to evening routine, it’s tempting to do things for your child because it’s faster, but allow your child to do simple things like emptying the book bag, emptying the lunch container and repacking it, and gathering anything needed for the next day.

Tips for middle and high school

Moving on to middle school or high school is a significant milestone and can be intimidating and have more challenges than attending elementary school, including a larger building with more students, as well as more class options throughout the day.

Brian Howes, middle school principal at George Washington Middle School in Dubuque, said that the greatest challenge at the beginning of a new school year is transitioning back from summer break.

“Most students (and staff) have less routine in the summer, and it takes a while to get into a routine,” Howes wrote in an email.

To help students transition back, Howes recommends that parents set aside time during the summer for educational activities.

“Hopefully students are reading year round! Other educational activities in the summer could include vacations that incorporate some educational component, math puzzles (suduku) and even some trivia type board games,” Howes suggested.

To ensure a smooth transition, Howes offers the following tips:

Attend the open house (middle school) or registration (high school) before the school year begins. Students can meet teachers, get their locker and combination, and become familiar with the building.

Schedule your sports physical before school begins. This will ensure the student is ready to begin practices or playing.

Get school supplies and organize them. Bring supplies to school either on the first day of school or during an open house before school.

Establish a routine at least a week before school starts. Go to bed earlier, work your way into getting up at the time you will need to for school, etc.

Complete registration. Parents need to fill out the electronic registration. If you have problems, don’t hesitate to contact the school for assistance.

Student IDs. All students are required to wear their ID every day, all day. At the end of the day, attach IDs to the book bag or put them in the book bag to ensure students have them the next day.

Tips for post-secondary education

It’s easy for parents to think that once their child reaches post-secondary education, he or she has it all figured out, but it doesn’t hurt to have some advice from those who have gone before. Morgan Muenster, a senior at Loras College in Dubuque, acknowledges that she is a procrastinator and has a few tricks up her sleeve to ease her anxiety before school begins.

“If the syllabus is online, I get a head start with some readings because I know it will be busy when school starts,” Muenster said.

Since post-secondary education differs significantly from k-12 education, Muenster shares what she has learned over the past three years as a college student:

Buy textbooks online. Slugbooks.com is a website that compares textbook prices across various websites so you can get the best price possible.

When in need, ask around. Other students and recent grads are a valuable resource, so use them. They might be selling textbooks or furniture. This can save students a lot of money.

Get to know your professors and your advisor. These professionals will often let you know about internships and additional educational opportunities.

Pay attention to your appearance. Don’t dress up, but don’t dress down either (no pajamas). Being mindful of your appearance makes a better impression upon your professors, and they will appreciate your effort.

So, parents and students, set yourself up for a successful school year and enjoy these last few “dog days” of summer.

Maryjo Williams is a freelance writer from Dubuque.

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