Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back to School

(This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting column in The Daily Review Atlas)

Hark! The school bells ring beckoning children to return to it's hallowed halls like the Pied Piper of academia. Look! The backpacks are stuffed with disinfectant wipes and crisp notebooks. Hear! The impeding shuffle of squeaky, new tennis shoes worn by children with fresh haircuts. See! The remnants of summer lingering on their sun kissed noses.

While it is - for some - the most wonderful time of the year, many parents loathe back to school season. You know the ones who linger a smidge too long hiding their tears as they kiss their children goodbye. While some stand crying in the kindergarten classroom others weep as they pull away from a new dormitory where they've left their baby (and their wallet) behind.

Whether you embrace this time of year or not, the reality is that this new school year is the marking of a brand new season. The beauty of August is that it faithfully brings a new opportunity for a fresh slate. And not just for students! Adults and children alike can make small seemingly insignificant steps today to ensure the year is a successful learning adventure for everyone involved.

We all understand that what we learned in kindergarten became a foundation for what would learn in the first grade. And first grade skills became the scaffolding by which we applied future information. In fact, each year is a preparation for what will come next.

That is why it is imperative that families place a value on each and every grade level of their child. Don't despise preschool show and tell for it is laying the ground work for that high school speech class. Practice those times tables today because Algebra is just around the corner. And tempted as you are mom and dad, don't complete that science fair project for your child. They need to learn how to do research, come to conclusions and work with deadlines. How else will they ever become successful in the marketplace?

Secondly, make a point to communicate with your child's teachers from the very beginning. Often parents fear they are a bother to busy educators but nothing could be further from the truth. Good teachers want to partner with you in your child's education experience. Chances are they will vigorously welcome an open line of communication between the classroom and your home. Be proactive! Offer to volunteer or simply send a short note of appreciation for the work and time that teachers spend investing in your child. You may be amazed how much a positive relationship with your child's teacher affects an entire school year.

And finally, do not underestimate the power of a good night's sleep. Experts disagree over the exact reasons why our bodies need a daily shut down but one theory states that it is for the brain's benefit. Perhaps all the data our mind has received throughout the course of a day needs to be organized and filed in our great cerebral cortex. If that's true then sleep is imperative for school age children. Encourage healthy bedtime routines including eliminating all forms of digital stimuli. Collect the phones and internet devices every night if you must because strictly enforcing healthy sleeping habits are an essential to a healthy, long life. 

As a mother of five children I know first hand what its like to hide my own tears so I can comfort my wailing, clinging child. I've walked the fine line between being an aware parent and a helicopter mom. I know personally how scary it can be to reach out to a teacher for help on behalf of my child.

But we must get beyond ourselves, our fears and our bad experiences and remember it is for our children's future that we offer them our support. This is the start of a brand new year. We can embrace the freshness or wallow in our grief for the time that has passed. Embrace this new season and make it the best year yet! Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

Stephanie Sikorski is a Parenting Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville CUSD #238 and can be reached at

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