September is here and you’re probably getting your kids ready for school. Anticipating the first day can be exciting, especially for kids who’ve spent a summer apart from friends.
But for those who are starting the year in a new school or whose first language isn’t English, back to school can cause children a great deal of anxiety. What can parents do to reduce the back-to-school jitters and get them ready for learning?
After years of teaching and later training teachers on how to make learning meaningful (not to mention I’m a mother of two!), I’ve learned a few back-to-school tricks. These tricks are good for all children but are especially helpful for children who speak a language other than English at home. They are fun, easy, and help get the ball rolling for a successful school year in language and literacy.
Start reading before the first day: It’s only natural between summer outings, visiting the family or simply relaxing that children read less over the summer. Helping your child choose a good book in Spanish or English before school starts will get their reading muscles flexed before the first reading assignment comes.
For pre-K or early elementary, choose a few picture books from the local library. For independent readers, they can choose on their own. Make a point to ask your child about the reading during and after. Some good questions during are: “Who are the main characters? How are they interesting?” Then follow up with questions after they’re done: “Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not? What made this book different from other books you’ve read?”
Children in school are not only expected to read daily, but will be asked to share their thoughts about the book during and after. Whether it’s in English or Spanish, getting your child talking about books will go a long way.
Create a list of expectations: It’s easy for children and parents to worry about living up to the expectations of the school or teacher. It’s important to remember that it’s the job of the school to provide all children with a meaningful educational experience.
That means schools want you to be satisfied. Ask your child to write down a list of expectations they have for the school year. What do they want to learn? What traits would they like their teachers to have? What projects would they be interested in participating in? This exercise communicates the key message that both students and teachers have expectations, and for learning to be meaningful, there must be clear and open communication.
This writing activity will also get those hand muscles working! Can your fourth-grader practice writing in script? For younger kids, get them talking and write their ideas down for them.
Learn with school supplies: Supplies are expensive and schools ask parents to contribute more each year. So, don’t leave shopping for supplies until the last minute. Instead, make buying school supplies a‘learning experience.
First, plan a scavenger hunt for supplies you already have. Use the list provided to you by the school or make up a list on your own (supply lists by grade are easy to find on-line or at the library). Have younger children count the items they find and tally on a piece of paper. This is especially fun for smaller objects like crayons and erasers. Older children can decide which items are reusable and why (a conversation about recycling might come about organically).
After you know which items need to be purchased, your children can scan local penny savers and advertisements to locate the best deals. Older kids can help with a budget! Allow your children to personalize supplies by writing their names or adding stickers.
Creating a fun experience around school supplies communicates to your children that school is worth planning for. It also helps focus their energy on the excitement of school rather than the back-to-school jitters.
Raquel Ríos, PhD, is an educator, critical theorist, philosopher, artist and writer. She has traveled extensively in the United States and internationally as a professional development specialist for learning organizations on change leadership, inter-cultural competence, language acquisition, critical literacy and social justice. Raquel writes novels for the young adult audience with publication pending. She currently lives in New York.