The start of a new school years brings excitement, energy and sometimes a bit of anxiety among students of all ages. The slower pace of summer has been replaced by the anticipation of a school day schedule. It seems there are more cars on the road and the presence of those big yellow school buses is undeniable.
Beginnings are important, and each year students have the opportunity for a fresh start. Although the back to school sales began shortly after the 4th of July, I admit to getting excited in August thinking about the new school supplies, clothes or school uniforms. Whether it is a new backpack, notebook or computer app, I know students and parents alike embrace the endless possibilities that a new school year brings. In those first few weeks, we are filled with optimism.
As parents, we have an important responsibility to help our children make a positive transition back to school. In the same way that teachers spend the week before school getting ready for students, parents can help their children make a smooth transition to the new year by talking with their children and asking the following questions:
• What are you looking forward to this year?
• How will this year be different from last year, and what changes are needed to adjust to new classes and teachers?
• What goals do you have for the year? How can I as a parent help you achieve those goals?
• Are there new students in your grade or school? Can you help them learn about school, introduce them to your friends, and be helpful to them in the first few days of school?
• What do you need to do to live a healthy lifestyle this academic year? How much sleep do you need?
• How can I as a parent help you be organized and ready for the start of school each day?
Teachers and parents must learn to strike the delicate balance between helping a young person succeed, and allowing them the opportunity to struggle a bit and learn from mistakes or missed opportunities. We want our children to develop the skills of self-sufficiency at all ages. Literacy and numeracy are the core characteristics of every school’s curriculum, but equally important are problem-solving skills, empathy, self-respect, and care and concern for others.
At Whitby School, our Montessori and International Baccalaureate curricula emphasize the importance of both academic and the social emotional skills. Our goal as educators is to work with families so that the young people become critical thinkers, thoughtful communicators, and principled individuals who lead a balanced lifestyle and are respectful of the other’s perspective.
In school, as in life, children will have days when things just don’t seem to go well. Especially with younger children, we need to provide the comfort and reassurance to a child who has had a bad day. Our opportunity as parents and teachers is also to teach a young person how to cope with those inevitable bad days, think about what behaviors might change in the future, and affirm for the child that he or she can move beyond this temporary setback. That’s easy to say, but hard for all adults to do when we believe we can solve the problem ourselves and make it better for the child.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for parents these days is managing screen time for our children. This is a generation of young people who only know a world where technology is everywhere. To help understand the values that are at the heart of this cultural norm, I have been educated by reading Jean Twenge’s iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (and What That Means for the Rest of Us). I encourage all parents, regardless of the age of their children, to read Professor Twenge’s book. I am sure you will find it fascinating.
The familiar advice, “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child,” is a gentle but powerful reminder to adults about our role in helping young people grow into confident, resilient individuals who become healthy and balanced citizens, prospering in both good and bad times.
There has never been a more exciting time to be in education. The neurodevelopment science of the last two decades has taught us how the brain functions and processes information. We are all wired differently, so educators and parents today know so much more about how children learn than we knew in the past. Technology presents us with almost limitless access to information. The opportunities are endless for this generation of young learners. As parents and teachers, our responsibility is to prepare them for a future we cannot even imagine.
This article originally appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel on 9/5/2019.