Back to School Guide 2014

. July 31, 2014.



It’s that time again! Back-to-school is a time when parents rejoice, kids groan, and leaves fall. Bedtime is earlier, breakfast is even more important, and kids must choose how to spend their precious after-school hours. Germs are spread, bullying is resisted (and hopefully one day nonexistent) and parents must determine how to get their kids to use their ever-present smart phones and IPads for good and not evil. The back-to-school sales are only a harbinger of all that is to come when the kids go back to school.


Back-to-school means back to germs as children become more susceptible to viruses and infections that are easily spread in the classroom and on the playground. The most important thing parents can do to keep their kids from getting sick? Make sure they wash their hands, well and often. Teaching children how to thoroughly wash hands, and to wash them for long enough (Kleenex brand suggests singing Happy Birthday twice) is an important first step in preventing the spread of germs. Parents should also encourage kids to keep their hands away from their face and mouth, and to always wash their hands before they eat.

“Even the most diligent and dedicated of parents will not be able to prevent their child from falling ill at some point during the school year,” says Dr. Beth Tarini, UMHS Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. “Parents can help keep their child’s immune system in tip-top shape by making sure that each day their child eats a healthy diet, get at least 8 hours of sleep each night and exercise.”

Pink-eye is another condition often spread in school, a virus that is easily spread from one person to another, often causing an epidemic in classrooms. How to prevent pink-eye? The CDC suggests:
-Avoid sharing pillowcases, towels and blankets.
-Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
-Do NOT share makeup, glasses or contact lens cases, or makeup applicators.

Extra Curricular Activities

Thomas Jefferson once advised, “Leave all afternoon for exercise and recreation, which are as necessary as reading. I will rather say more necessary because health is worth more than learning.” Colette Hemker, Youth Sport and Outreach Coordinator at the Ann Arbor YMCA agrees that extracurricular activities are incredibly important for kids’ overall well-being. “The benefits are numerous, but fall into three main categories: health, school performance and learning important skills for life,” Colette explains. “They gain self-confidence, learn about teamwork, leadership, time management, self-discipline, sportsmanship, conflict resolution… the list goes on and on.”

Extracurricular activities are becoming increasingly important for children as opportunities to be involved in sports, the arts and student organizations are dwindling at many schools. “A lot of schools are making budget cuts so the first programs to be removed are physical education and fine arts programs. So now more than ever, it is especially important for kids to become involved in active and engaging programs.”

Overall, allow your child to try new things, but don’t push them. Let extracurricular activities be a place of freedom, enjoyment and exploration for children. Parents can help teach their kids about scheduling, priorities and time management. Extracurricular activities, like all things in life, are best with balance.

For more information about programs offered at the Y, visit


Bullying comes in many forms – physical harm, threats, gossip, intimidation, name-calling, the exclusion or isolation of another person. It can happen in school, on the way to or from school, in extracurricular activities, via text, or online.

Kevin Epling knows the signs of bullying all too well, after his son, Matt Epling, heartbreakingly took his own life twelve years ago, after being bullied by upperclassmen at the high school he would have begun attending in the fall, having just completed the eighth grade. Kevin has since become an anti-bullying advocate, passionate about making sure that “no child goes through what Matt did and no family goes through what we have.” Thanks to his commitment to helping other families, Michigan families have Public Act 241, also known as “Matt’s Law” to better advocate for children who are being bullied in school.

According to Kevin, signs that your child is being bullied include:
-Changes in attitude
-Slip in grades
-Lack of interest in things they love to do
-Damaged backpacks or clothes
-Loss of possessions

If you see any of these signs, Kevin urges parents and teachers to “ask about it and let the student know you are there for them to talk with.” Become familiar with their conduct and bullying prevention policy, as well as Matt’s Law. Go to your meeting with the school representative well-informed, and “make sure the school is following their own procedures,” Kevin explains. If cyber-bullying is the problem, be sure to keep all records of internet activity on social media sites, email, and phone usage including text messages, in case this information must be called upon in the future. For more information on Kevin’s anti-bullying efforts visit

Using SMART Phones Smarter

In the age of technology, smartphones and IPads are an ever-present part of kids’ lives. Instead of battling against the draw of Angry Birds and Facebook, find ways to utilize your child’s love for technology to encourage their learning, help with homework, and enhance their academic learning objectives. Julie Pritzel, principal at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School, suggests these apps, based on grade level or age:

-Grades 1-4: News-O-Matic “So much of reading we do as adults is for our own pleasure and knowledge building. Kids are no different. Learning about current events and scientific concepts builds background knowledge they can use in other content areas.”
-Grades 2-8: Accelerated Reader/Renaissance Learning “Using Accelerated Reader after a student completes reading a book allows for purposeful reading to practice comprehension.”
-Ages 4-6: Bob Books Reading Magic Lite “This app offers many beginning reading opportunities with phonetic connections. Students practice reading patterns that occur frequently in each book.”
-Ages 6-8: Reading Rainbow App “The read aloud feature is excellent as a child can read the words while listening. Vocabulary exposure is critical to continue reading fluency in the older grades.”

Parents should model reading – kids emulate what they see. Take the time to read and in doing so you will encourage your child to read as well.

Changing Bedtimes

Early to bed, early to rise makes for a grumpy child or teen after a routine of lazy summer days and eventful summer nights. Dr. Mark Bowers, Licensed Pediatric Psychologist at the Ann Arbor Center for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and Lindsay Muncey, Board Certified Behavior Analyst at the Kaufman Children’s Center, share a few things parents can do to make this transition easier for kids when it’s time to go back to school.

The first step to a school-appropriate sleep schedule is to determine the gap between their current summer schedule and their ideal school schedule. “As the beginning of school approaches, parents should move up the bedtime about 30 minutes per week,” Dr. Bowers suggests. The same rule applies for waking up. Begin to wake the child up 30 minutes earlier each week as school approaches.”

For younger children, Lindsay Muncey suggests creating a visual cue to motivate the child. “Have a visual cue for the child to get them excited about school starting,” Lindsay says. “This will help the child to be more excited about going to bed early and getting up early.”

For teens, getting their input and creating an agreement is the best way to get them on board. Dr. Bowers emphasizes, “Limit screen access at a certain hour first and foremost. Schedule a meeting with the child and negotiate bedtime and consequences if the agreement is not followed.”

Overall, maintaining academic study over the summer eases the transition back to school for children and teens.

Money Savvy Tips

Back-to-Savings: Savvy Shopping for School
The National Retail Federation says back-to-school spending is expected to rise this year from a fall in spending last season. Retailers will be having better sales, and back-to-school specials will be happening earlier. How do we not empty our wallets with so many good deals calling our names?

1. Plan ahead. Making a list and sticking to it saves the most money. Check the ads in your weekly newspaper or online before heading to the store to make sure you are getting the best deal for every item on your list.

2. Read the fine print. Don’t judge a sale by its headline – look into the details to avoid being disappointed at the register. Ann Arbor writer, money-saving blogger and parent Angie Smith advises, “Check the sales. The door buster sales (items for free, a penny, etc.) often require a minimum purchase, so read the tiny print.”

3. Reduce, reuse, DIY! Before making a shopping list, see what items are leftover from last year, like unused, or barely used, notebooks, pencils and backpacks. You can utilize simple DIY projects to re-cover notebooks or binders to make them feel like new again.

4. Embrace the teachable moments. Though parents and children may not always agree on back-to-school shopping priorities, take the time to teach kids about budgeting and spending wisely.

5. Give them a budget. Giving a child an allowance for back-to-school shopping can help them to learn to budget wisely, teaching them that if they spend just about the whole wad on one pair of expensive sneakers they will have to settle for sale-rack shirts and pants.

6. Encourage them to find sales. If your child or teen can find ways to save money on notebooks, binders and other necessary items, they may have money left over in their budget for that must-have first-day-of-school outfit that is sure to impress their friends.