Thursday, August 7, 2014

5 Tips for a Great First Day for Parents

Everyone has high expectations for the first day of school.  As a former school principal, I know a few things about the First Day of School Blues.  In my 25 years in education, I have experienced  a great deal more parent meltdowns than student meltdowns on the first few days of school.  Remember, your child looks to you for cues to define his/her school as  "great" or "terrible."   Here's 5 quick tips before you hit the blacktop for a GREAT first day. 

Know the lay of the land

Check your school’s traffic policies around drop off and pick up.  There is a flurry of activity close to the bell time, and a driver in school areas should expect to be patient.  It is common in elementary school for a parent to join their child on the first day. We LOVE that, but remember you will not be the only person with this idea, and school parking lots are small.

If you live close, walk in; if you must drive, plan to park several streets over from the school. If your child is in a primary grade, and you are not able to walk in, you might want to team up with a neighbor, particularly if this is a new school setting.  Your school  might already have a "Walking School Bus" or a "Walk and Roll" program that can help you locate other families walking in.   If not, maybe you could start one with your neighbors.

Have a quick exit plan. Teachers want to get started pretty quickly, and long goodbyes may make it harder for your child to get in the school groove. If your child will need to find his/her own way to class, scout out the campus so your child feels comfortable about where to go.

Make the pick-up plan apart of your mapping.  If your child goes home with someone else, be sure to note that in your registration papers, or pin a note to your student's shirt.  If you are walking in, pick a tree or bush and make it "our spot."  In most schools, you will not be allowed to wait a the door for the bell to ring, so let your child know not to expect that.  Be sure your child knows that the school office is a safe place and that the people inside the office are there to take care of students.

Trust that your child is in safe hands

Your child may not get in the “popular” teacher’s class and may have “no friends” in this year’s class. Don’t show disappointment about teacher placement and/or other students in the classroom in front of your child. Children have keen ears and can tune into adult conversations, when we think they are not listening, particularly if we are talking about their life.

Regardless of what the “word on the street” might be about a teacher, your child may have a wonderful year. Remember, the school staff works diligently to create equitably balanced classes for each child. To create balanced classes, school teams look at numerous factors such as work habits, academic abilities, student behavior, and special needs and abilities. In many districts, schools are staffed very tightly and have developed combination classes between some grade levels and there simply is not an option for moving students.  If you ask, you may find that the school is switching students around the first few weeks of school because of student enrollment, and you can put your child’s name into that hat. If you’re “stuck” make it a positive year, volunteer in the classroom, offer to help with tasks, and above all else show respect and professional courtesy to the teacher.

Check out the school website for general information

School offices are understandably inundated on the first day of school, and many things you might want to call about are already on the website. If you have an emergency, then do contact the school, but most general information is on the website, or in written communication you may have already received from the school or teacher.  Unless it is an actual emergency, school offices don't interrupt classes with general parent instructions. If your child has specific health related needs, most school offices are open a few weeks prior to school; call beforehand and ask for protocol regarding student health plans.  They will steer you to the right person.  If you are a returning parent and want to help other parents find their way on the first day of school, contact the school; the school  may be happy to have the help.  The weeks prior to school are the best time to make contact with the school office.

Put “school bound” items near the front door in a special place

Starting the day out right means finding everything. Many parents find it helpful to have a “take to school” spot for children to check on the way out the door. Backpacks, jackets, supplies, and eventually homework can be organized and ready to go prior to going to sleep the night before. Make a few “outfit” choices with your child to be prepared for the first week and store the outfits together in the drawer or closet. For most schools, on the first day of school the student is expected to show up with a backpack. Teachers have pencils, paper and a “supply list” to suggest needs to parents. Don’t worry if you can’t afford things on the list; if you can afford it, maybe send a few extra for those who can’t.  A smooth transition out the door, can set the entire day up for success. 

Have a lunch plan for your child

Most schools have a healthy and affordable lunch for purchase.  This may be less expensive than packing a lunch. If your child will be bringing lunch, he/she can help you prepare it the night before. Most schools do not permit glass bottles, sodas or overly sugared food items because of nutrition laws around the Federal Lunch Program.  Ask your child not to trade or throw away food. Explain that if the unused food comes home, you can be better informed about what to purchase and how much to pack. Also, food allergies are common in schools; talk to your child about respecting the “no nuts” areas and washing their hands if you plan on packing nut butters or processed foods that may contain nuts. If your child has severe food allergies, please let the school know as soon as possible.
Don’t worry if you didn't have time to pack a lunch before school. Drop it off on your way to work.  While most schools don’t allow parents to go to the classroom for drop offs during the school day, dropping off lunch in the office is common place.  Keep your child responsible for their own lunch, by letting them know to check with the office.  Say, “If you don’t have a lunch, check in the office.  I’ll leave either the lunch or lunch money there.”  
If your child was on the Federal Lunch Program in prior years at the same school district, the program rolls over for the first 30 days of school, but you have to reapply each year. You can get information about the program from your local district  or at The National School Lunch Program site. 

If your child is new to a school district, because of privacy laws, there will be no record of prior applications. Fill out the forms as soon as possible and ask how you can make arrangements for your child’s lunch before the first day.  Many school district provide a grace period or a courtesy meal for students without lunch.  

When we are prepared, we have a better day.  Get ready, Mom and Dad.  Our vacation is over, and yours is about to begin. 

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