Take Aim at School Success

Originally published in the August issue of Bell County Family.

I’m a big fan of planning ahead. While my plans may not always go as, um, planned, I at least am pointing in the right direction. So, as all us mom-types look down the barrel of another school year, it’s best to be as prepared as possible. Aim it right, and you have a good chance of enjoying a reasonably successful school year. Aim at nothing, and you’ll hit it every time.

Parents should take the time to meet their children’s teachers. It doesn’t have to be an in-depth power session, but sit down and discuss potential issues that affect the child’s education. If there are health concerns, such as food allergies, make sure everyone who needs to know does. Learning challenges should also be addressed to avoid a mid-semester report card shock. The goal of school is to educate the child, so the parent and teacher should form an alliance to achieve it.

Next, take a close look at extracurricular activities. Lots of activities offer meaningful life skills and important developmental aids, as well as being just plain fun. But there are not enough hours in a day to do them all. Each child has unique talents and interests, so consider one or two activities that best fulfill a child’s current stage in life. Sumo wrestling probably doesn’t fit the bill for most elementary age kids. Most importantly, leave enough time for family activities. Team sports should not take the place of parent-child relationships. One is for a season. The other is for a lifetime.

Starting a new schedule to support the new school year will help things run more smoothly. Begin slowly edging into a more school-like routine. Earlier to bed and earlier to rise prevents morning shock on that first week of school. My rule of thumb is to allow 30 extra minutes for getting ready in the morning. Somehow, we can always find ways to fritter away that extra time. So, instead of scrambling around at the last minute and sprinting for the bus stop or car, I “adjust” our schedule to pad in the extra time.

We have a terrible problem at our house with a gremlin that breaks in and hides just one of each pair of shoes. I’ve considered calling the police, but I don’t think they will be much help. Instead, I assign two children to be in charge of shoe patrol. Wayward shoes are searched out and returned to the central gathering place for shoes in our house. That gives everyone a better than average chance of finding at least one pair of matching shoes each morning. If sandals are all that’s available on a rainy day, then maybe a certain child will go to greater measures to keep her shoes together. I can hope, can’t I?

The shoe gremlin’s brother specializes in hiding school books. When he burglarizes our home, usually just prior to a test, we take a more aggressive approach and offer rewards to siblings for finding missing books. The chances of getting everything in a backpack on the way out the door is exactly zero, so all necessary books and supplies for the following day are packed the prior evening. We also plan snacks and lunches each evening. Drinks are poured and refrigerated, ready to be added to a backpack or lunch bag in the morning. We form a mini-assembly line to cut and bag snacks, such as veggies and fruit. Sandwiches and other food that require a fresher approach to preparation is all that is left for the morning.

Like most parents, I am going to take a good aim at a successful school year. We homeschool, so most of my parent-teacher meetings will be with myself. I talk to myself anyway, so this shouldn’t be too new. We participate in a teaching co-operative, and I am going to work with one of my daughter’s teachers to strategize how to help her in a subject that she struggled with last year. Our general extracurricular rule is one cultural activity and one physical activity. For now, we choose music and dance. With the exception of our co-op day, we don’t have to be anywhere too early. Nevertheless, we will start inching into an earlier rise time and turning off any distractions which stop the children from completing their morning routines. No dress up before breakfast, in other words. Finally, we will start the school year off with a clean sweep for stray shoes and books. It won’t take long for them to get misplaced again, but instituting daily pickup keeps most things in compliance for a while. Finally, never put off to the last minute what can be done ahead. Snacks and lunches don’t have to be an afterthought. Hope everyone has a great school year!

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