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Routine is key in back-to-school transition

By Camilla Benbow

(Originally printed in The Tennessean on July 25, 2013)

Nashville public school students go back to school next week, and once again I’m hearing responses of: “That’s crazy!”

Aug. 1 does seem awfully early to be heading back to school.

Skeptical Nashvillians need to remember that Metro Nashville Public Schools is an urban school district, with all the attendant challenges that come with having a large number of students from low-income families or from homes where the primary language is not English.

These students are vulnerable to losing much of last year’s knowledge gains during an extended summer break. Nashville’s balanced calendar, now in its second year, was conceived as a remedy.

As parents and students gear up to go back, here are a few quick tips toward a successful transition. Most of these revolve around a general theme of routine.

Children need regular bedtimes to ensure they don’t arrive at school tired. If your children have been staying up late during the summer, start dialing back now to an earlier bedtime. Once kids are up in the morning, a nutritional breakfast will get them ready for the day. Breakfast is probably the most important meal of the day but so often skipped or even lacking in proper nutrition because of the need to get out the door. A doughnut or sugary cereal just does not cut it.

At the end of the day, regular family dinners are an opportunity for parents to ask children questions about schoolwork, teachers and after-school activities. Make this a time for extended learning, taking a class topic a bit further and becoming involved in your children’s lives. It is so important to just listen, to hear their concerns or dreams or what excites them.

If your child is attending a new school this year, be sure to check its website for information about what to wear. Metro Nashville Public Schools allows schools to set their own policies about Standard School Attire. Especially when children are new to a school, they want to fit in. I know that personally as I tried desperately to fit in when I was nine and had recently immigrated to this country.

When school starts, it pays to get on top of information right away. Block time out now to go through all the information that schools and teachers send home during those first few days. Return forms promptly. Don’t compromise your children by having them nagged by the school to bring in the forms.

Most importantly, be sure to get to know your child’s new teachers during those first few weeks. Make plans to attend back-to-school night to meet teachers and principals and to learn firsthand about curriculum, learning objectives, the outcomes to be tested as well as expectations for classroom behavior and homework. Assisting with homework is one of the best ways that parents can help with schooling.

The start of a new school year is a good time for parents to get engaged or re-engaged in their children’s schooling. When children see that their parents value education, they value it more themselves. And that makes them more likely to be successful.

Camilla P. Benbow is Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Her column on education appears every other Thursday in The Tennessean Local section.