Back-to-school already? Somehow the lazy days of summer managed to sprint by us, with disorienting speed. Here we are, ready to pack that inaugural lunch box, pick out the perfect outfit for the occasion, and gather our supplies for a new school year.
Last night our family met our teachers and I feel certain we are in great hands! At our kid’s school you can’t go wrong – they have assembled some of the biggest hearts, brightest minds, and most committed educators around.
In our house, we have two completely different learners. One who is hands-on and loves good ol’ fashioned worksheets. I have another who has learning challenges, requires a lot of support, and prefers hands-on learning. I know the teachers will give it their all, even in these continuously challenging times, but what about me? Am I ready for my role in setting up the year for success? What about you? Are you ready for your role in setting the year up for success?
Here’s what I suggest for framing out the start of a new school year.
1. Remember this is Teamwork
For your child to be best educated you need to see this as a team approach. It is not you vs. them and the teacher doesn’t have the entire responsibility for making sure you child learns and retains information. Sure, you need to trust his or her expertise but consider opportunities to join them. For example, check in incrementally and ask how things are going in the classroom. If you hear your child is misbehaving make sure you have the right conversations and follow up at home to redirect and support the teacher’s authority. If you have concerns, bring them to the teacher so you can troubleshoot together.
Remember, your teacher can’t help if he/she doesn’t know about the problem. Like so much of life, great communication is going to be key to a successful year. Don’t worry – I’m not encouraging you to become a helicopter parent – I’m encouraging you to see yourself as a critical support to your child’s teacher. #TeamworkMakestheDreamWork
2. Grab onto the Growth Mindset
From where I sit it appears this school year is going to be another complicated one for everyone. And while not ideal, we’ve got this! Fostering resiliency and emotional intelligence at home is so critically important. A way to do this is to lean into principles of The Growth Mindset. Remind your child (and maybe yourself) that they have done hard things before and they can do hard things again. Affirm that all new things start off a little (or a lot) hard before they get easier. These simple mantras are emotionally supportive of the multifaceted feelings that come with starting a new school year, and doing so again under the lingering fog of Covid-19.
3. Get Practical with Your Support
I love to ask my kiddos’ teachers if there are educational aids (objects/tools) that seem to bring value to their learning in the classroom. Often, I’ll buy the same aid to have at home. I’m talking about tools that are less than $5. For example, a push pop sensory toy can be used to help practice syllables (as you say a word you push in one bubble per syllable). You can also get math manipulatives (base 10 blocks that help with skip counting) and placemats that serve as letter and number reminders. I also let my kids use play-doh or silly putty to fidget with (in their hand) while they are thinking hard and working hard. Remember, these aren’t ideas I came up with in isolation – it goes back to the team, again and again.
4. Remember Your Educators
Let’s pause and employ some serious empathy here. Yes, being a parent during the pandemic is tough. You want the best for your kids and you may worry that these covid-covered years are taking precious educational opportunities away from your child. I hear you and I feel you. But in your worry and fear, don’t get so short-sighted that you fail to see beyond the end of your own nose. While we are worrying about our kiddos, we are wasting energy that we could be using to encourage.
The men and women in classrooms are performing a superhero task that needs affirmation and a hype-squad. Let’s lock arms in a commitment to be encouragers this year. When feeling frustrated, take a deep breath and remember that this is teamwork (see #1 again, if needed). Your negative emotions and reactions will serve nobody well and will only discourage an already struggling human being. Because that’s what teachers are after all – humans like you and me. Although, some days I wonder, “are they though?!” Because what teachers have done for my children feels part Celestial and part Spiderman.
5. Keep it Simple
Those first few days will feel like a lot for everyone – kiddos and parents alike. Keep it simple as you ease into your new routine. Focus on simple meals and emphasize quality time around the dinner table to share about the highs and lows of your day. If you work outside the home, go easy on afternoon/evening meetings those first few weeks. Intentionally put your phone away for the first hour you are home. These early days in the school year are an important time to reassure your kids and your family that it can, and will, be an amazing year. Make time for focused connection and the opportunity to debrief together.
6. Consider Your Goals
What are you and your child striving for anyway? I have to be really careful to not project my own “stuff” on my kids. Sure, it feels good to see all A’s on a report card, but is that really the goal for the year? In our house, we work hard to release perfectionism and instead focus on a goal of fostering a love for learning. That might not align with your value system or concept for education but in our house, that’s what we cling to.
Since I know our goal is fostering life-long learners, I release pressure over report card marks and picture-perfect school work. We still have expectations for our kids to do their best and will give feedback if we feel like they are being sloppy or flippant with an assignment. But, this goal helps me focus on the mission. It means that there have been select times I have allowed my kids to not finish an assignment because I can tell they are doing their best, we are helping the best way we know how (my husband is the better homework parent!), and yet we still can’t figure it out. I always message the teacher and explain what was going on so she knows we didn’t neglect the assignment but rather elected to play the long game instead of forcing a short “win” – which for us would really be no win at all.
7. Be Kind to Yourself
Are you surprised my list doesn’t have more nitty-gritty ideas like cutting sandwiches into cute shapes, putting surprise notes in backpacks, or sending in the most Pinterest-perfect gift for the teacher? None of those things are bad, and boy can they be special and cute. But please remember, your focus and presence is more than enough. You don’t need to push yourself to be “extra” to have value. Lean into the beautiful truth that you and your student can make this year amazing, together. Also, give yourself grace as you have a swirl of emotions around what this school year does and does not look like. You get to have feelings too, and it is important that you process and deal with them, so that you are able to support your kids wholeheartedly. Be kind to yourself, okay?