Preparing for the first day of school is about more than buying supplies

August 23, 2013 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

The first day of school is less than two weeks away, and we are not ready.

We have not yet bought our pencils, notebooks, erasers, markers and box of tissues. We haven’t even thought about the first day of school outfit (which seems to be less of an issue for my fourth grade son than for his teen-aged sisters). I haven’t made a copy of my son’s most recent physical, and I have no idea what I’m going to pack for my picky eater’s lunch this year.

A slight sense of panic bubbles up when I think about what the calendar looks like for the next two weeks then consider what we need to accomplish by day 1. I am reassured by the fact that our family has been down this road 12 times before (the oldest will be a senior), and I’m fairly certain everything will get done. If it doesn’t, well, I suppose we can send in the tissues on day 2.

The physical tasks we need to accomplish can be mapped out; my husband and I can divvy up the list and check things off. But how can we prepare their minds? What can we tell our children that will help them succeed in this school year and beyond? The messages we want to share are things they’ve heard before, but a little refresher never hurts.

Pay attention.

When someone is talking to you, listen to what they are saying. Your teacher is not standing in front of your class, pointing to the white board, because she likes to hear herself talk. She wants to teach you something that you need to learn. Pay attention and you will learn. Pay attention and others will learn (because if you’re talking, they’re not listening to the teacher either).

Do your work.

Your teacher is asking you to complete a page of math problems for homework for a very good reason. He’s trying to reinforce what was taught in class. It’s not punishment. It’s meant to help you. So do the work. Read, write, do your math problems. If you don’t do the work, you won’t know whether you understand what is being taught. Do your work, and you will succeed.

Ask questions.

If you don’t understand something, ask a question. You should, of course, be polite. Don’t interrupt. Raise your hand and wait to be called on. But don’t be afraid to ask a question. Maybe your classmates have the same question but are afraid to ask it. Go ahead, ask a question. It’s a fantastic way to learn.

Be kind.

Sometimes it seems as if The Golden Rule has become a cliché. And yet, it’s one of life’s most important lessons. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be kind, and be a good friend. Don’t make fun of someone else, and don’t be a bully. If you see a classmate alone on the playground, walk up and say “hi.” The kindness you show to another will be returned to you. Being kind can never be overrated.

Be respectful.

This goes hand-in-hand with “be kind,” but it warrants separate mention. Respect your teacher, respect others’ personal boundaries. Respect that not everyone will like the same baseball team, presidential candidate or lunch option. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean they’re a bad person or a loser. It simply means they have a different opinion. And that’s OK.

Believe in yourself.

You have learned so much already. You learned to read and write. You can do math problems, science experiments and you’ve drawn some amazing pictures. Believe that you can do anything you set your mind to. If you believe in yourself and stay positive, you can make your dreams come true.

There’s no doubt there are dramatic changes taking place in education in New York state. At Parent Today, we’ve written about Common Core. We’ve talked about test scores and APPR, and we’ll be writing more about what those scores should mean to us as parents. All of that education-related information matters. But it also matters that we equip our children with some basic life lessons, and that we believe in them. If we believe in them, they will believe in themselves. It’s the best way to encourage school success.

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