As the dog days of August approach, we collectively begin to redirect our attention from family vacations and summer camps to a return to school, complete with school supplies and new clothes shopping. This weekend marks Tax Free Weekend -- offering consumers a break from the general sales tax -- in Florida. Many other states across our country offer similar sales tax holidays. Most take place sometime during the month of August, to help parents save money on their kids' back-to-school shopping needs. Especially in this economy, this is a great help to help families who need to prepare their children to head back to school on often tight budgets.
It's important to restock the supply of pencils, notebooks, calculators, and backpacks; after all, we can't expect our kids to be successful in school if we don't provide them with the appropriate tools. However, I believe that we often forget to address some of the most crucial back-to-school preparations. The other nice thing about these preparations is that they typically don't cost anything, with the exception perhaps of time.
Families' collective lives tend to be more hectic than ever. When this occurs, we unfortunately forget about the variety of little things that we can do to foster academic success in our children. Here are a few of my thoughts, in no particular order:
One of the most important ways to let your kids know that their academic success is important to you is for you to spend time engaged with them about their learning. This activity doesn't necessarily require a lot of time, but it does require that you give them your undivided attention. Disconnect from your various technologies, at least long enough to discover what happens while your kids are in school. You can help them with homework, or perhaps read to them or along with them as they read to you, or it might be as simple as talking with them about ups and downs of their day.
For me, the key here is that your conversations should become routine. Every day, make uninterrupted time available for engaging in dialogue with your kids, about all that is their schooling, and not just academics. Try to set aside a regular part of the evening for doing this. Also, don't forget to ask them about the social aspects of school; after all, it is very important to them (remember when you were in school?):
Let them know that you've "got their backs" and that you're there to help, whenever and however they might need it. Reassure them that you'll help them study for their spelling tests, that you'll proofread their essay, or that you will check their work on solving polynomial equations (parents can benefit from Khan Academy too!).
Kids -- much like adults, I believe -- perform better when they have a routine as a basis for their day. That's one of the main reasons that schools have regular schedules that they follow. With respect to a home schedule, kids should get up and to go to bed at the same time everyday, they should have the same morning routine, and dinner should occur at roughly the same time every day. It may take some creative thinking, but the more you can stick to it, the better off everyone will be. Also, I believe that it's critical that this schedule be implemented a few days before the first day of school.
Maintaining open communication with your children's school can go a long way in showing them -- and their teachers -- that you care about what's going on and that you're involved with their education. Try not to focus on contacting the school only when things are not going so well. Periodically drop the school an email or a handwritten note; educators appreciate and will respond to a nice complement or a pat on the back. Finally, always make a point to attend, be prepared for, and participate in open houses and parent-teacher conferences.
Most of the things above don't require much but time and effort. Letting our kids know that we care about their education helps instill self-confidence in them. The education of our children should be a family effort, and I wish you the best of luck with this upcoming school year.