A fresh start – get ready for Back-to-school

The beginning of the school year is like turning to page one of a fresh new book: the plot awaits you, you’re unaware of the upcoming twists and turns, and that last page seems so far away that you can’t imagine ever getting to the end.           

            Many children are quite anxious when returning to school after summer vacation. Most get used to being with family again for many months and are not on a consistent schedule. I advise that the entire family get involved in back-to-school preparation to set the tone for the beginning of a new year.


            The family can help alleviate the child’s anxiety by building up the beginning of the school year in a positive way. Talk about how exciting it is for the child to find out who will be his or her teacher and about the thrill of seeing friends again. Getting prepared for school helps add to the excitement. Take a nice trip to get fresh school supplies and/or go back-to-school shopping for clothes or a backpack. You also don’t have to spend money to create excitement around back-to-school. Reorganize the student’s desk or closet, sharpen pencils, clean out a backpack that has been handed down from an older sibling or cousin…let the student feel that something new and wonderful is about to begin.


            If you have a child who is not quite meeting all the requirements of the previous grade level, the summer is the time to catch up. Kids at grade level or above tend to focus on other activities during the summer, such as sports or art. A child who is behind can truly “catch up” during the summer months, allowing a child to build skills and confidence. I worked with a fourth-grader (going into fifth grade) for nine hours a week during the summer to get his multiplication and division facts into his long-term memory. He started fifth grade with excitement and high self-worth; his mom told me that it set the tone for the entire year.

            I also believe that everybody needs a little academic review in August, two to three weeks before school starts. Over the summer, without the daily stimulation of school nor the routine, children just forget. If a child goes an entire summer without doing math, and then you ask him or her, “How is the fraction two-fifths written as a decimal?”—most likely, you will not get a correct answer. A simple review of basic areas in math, for example, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, time, measurement, decimals, fractions, percents…can make all the difference. Typically, just a couple of review questions in each topic can make the concepts return to the forefront of the mind. In terms of language arts, read a chapter with your child and ask, “Who is the main speaker?” “Tell me what you think will happen next?” “How do you think the main character feels?”

            Many times when the kids go back to school, they are placed in groups. For the child who hasn’t reviewed, this assessment may not reflect his or her true abilities.


            The child should know from the first day of school the order of events when he or she walks in the door after school. My husband and I really learned a lesson about the importance of structure. We felt that our son would be tired coming home from school and that he deserved a break. Therefore, we told him that he could relax and play as long as his work was completed by bedtime. We were shocked by the results. What happened is that our son did not have a sense of time. He didn’t know when to stop playing and to start working. We would say, “Your homework is done right? Don’t you know what time it is? The relaxed atmosphere did not create a good dynamic.

            After this failed experiment, we set up a daily routine. Our children come home and have a snack, talk about their day, and about ½ hour later, they both sit at a quiet table and do their homework (our daughter is in kindergarten, so there is not a lot of work, yet she sits with her brother and writes stories or draws). Homework is started and completed in one sitting (if a child is older and has an overwhelming amount of work, it can be broken up with breaks). After finishing what is due the next day, my son types his word list into spellingcity.com and begins any long-term projects due at the end of the week. The work on these projects gets spread out evenly throughout the week.

            When he is done with his homework, he packs his backpack and places it by the door for the next day, and then he moves to a daybed in our den to read a chapter (or more—it is up to him) from a book that he chooses. The house is peaceful and runs smoothly. Our children also have extra time because once the work is done, they are free for the evening. The structure also instilled in him a sense of pride and independence. Our involvement as parents is minimal; we check over his homework before bed to make sure that there are no misunderstood concepts. 

             A positive attitude, preparation, and structure are the keys to a fresh start! Julie Firstenberg Kamins has recently re-launched her website www.thetutorwhisperer.com, where she shares her tutoring tips, strategies, products, and recommendations. Julie is well known for utilizing alternative methods for reaching children who are not learning traditionally; she also helps guide students through the rigorous college application process.