‘Back to School’ signs and advertising are already filling our shop windows and airwaves. And, each year, it comes as a surprise - for most families are still in holiday mode. But, while still availing of the last of days of summer, thinking ahead might not be a bad idea after all.
Think of all the things you had planned to do over the summer and have still not done. Maybe you had intended to go on a family picnic, regardless of the weather. Had you planned a trip to the seaside? Were you to have a family outing to the pictures? Or had you talked of an evening at the theatre — maybe a first such outing for some teenage members of the family? Or a special treat, such as a family trip to the zoo? And, let’s not forget, were you to join your local library – at last.
Check through your particular family summer to-do list and choose what is still possible, both time-wise and financially. We so often let our summers slip away, with promises - to ourselves and our children - not kept and so often regretted. Creating such summer memories does last a lifetime and most certainly helps everyone face back to school, and winter, a little easier.
Being organised makes such a difference as start dates fast approach. School books and uniforms and the myriad choices of lunchboxes and schoolbags all take time. Second hand schoolbooks, where possible, can take many trips and phone calls to source, but starting even a week ahead can make the difference between secondhand choices and the expense of buying new.
With time on hand, it might be a good idea to consider covering same subject books in their own colour. This colour-coding, together with writing titles of books on each book spine, can help bring order to either a school locker or a packed schoolbag.
School uniforms also come into play here, and again, an extra week or two can sometimes allow for better organisation and cost choice. Chatting to other parents will also help first-time school parents find their way through the maze this all is. Last minute rushing can, so often, lead to avoidable expense and costs.
If school is a new experience for the family, then become familiar with the school route: introducing older students to buses they may need to catch or, as a parent, becoming familiar with the route you may need to use if driving your students to school, on your way to work — always allowing for the extra time that school traffic brings.
Estimate any new departure times from home and discuss and agree these in advance, thereby, hopefully, eliminating unnecessary early morning arguments and stress. Stressed students arrive at school in an upset and negative frame of mind, making school and concentration and learning all the more difficult. And likewise with parents by the time they eventually get to work.
Most schools provide parents with a full calendar of school events, such as parent/teacher meetings, school terms, school breaks, and school sports days. Now is a good time for parents to synchronise such events with their own work and family schedule and diaries. Where possible, for both parents to be present at such meetings and events contributes so much to the wellbeing and happiness of a student, together with adding to the growing communication and support so necessary between parent and teacher.
While family dynamics and circumstances do vary, especially with the stress of work, or of unemployment, together with the possible stress of separated parents, it is still worthwhile for parents to try to work out some compromise to share such days. Much to the surprise of many parents, and often for the students themselves when they are older, it is such presence that is remembered as a silent symbol of parental care and concern and love, all helping a young student blossom and thrive in self-confidence and learning and belief.
And, for some parents, where their own schooldays may not have been a happy place, then it is so good to discover a new joy, and a new belonging, through journeying closely with their own growing child.
The young child
Special care needs to be given to the beginning experience for a young child commencing either pre-school or primary school. Think of your child’s confidence, and competence, with managing personal hygiene and toilet issues, and opening and closing coats and shoes and school lunchboxes and bags. A few practice runs at home can make for happy settling-in days with no tears or fears.
Be equally alert to your child’s capacity and clarity in his/her speech, and should this be an issue then, again, discuss this with your child’s teacher. A child’s ability to verbally communicate is vital to his/her early school happiness and learning. Should additional assistance be recommended then welcome the possibility of such help.
Student happiness, be it at primary or second-level, is vital to a student’s progress in learning and developing. As a parent, always be alert to how your student is settling in. From the beginning, keep an open communication with your student’s school and for these final weeks of summer, create one good occasion, such as a long car drive or a trip out for a pizza together, where you both get a chance to talk through, especially with an older student, the opening weeks of the coming school year.
School can be such a wonderful part of life, for parent and student, so together look forward to it and be prepared.
Marie Barrett is founder and a director of MBCS, Marie Barrett Career Services, Loughrea, Co Galway. She is author of The Education Guide and contributes to national and local radio education programmes. MBCS works, individually, with second and third level students and parents, and with adults. Contact (091 ) 841424, email [email protected]