Making A Smooth Transition Back
by Heather Burcham
Parents are cheering and the kids are groaning…
it’s time for school once again! It’s a new year full of successes and challenges, making friends, fun activities, and the dreaded homework. So how can you ensure you’re ready for this school year? Our guide, filled with advice from experts, is here to help!
Whether your child is starting kindergarten, moving to a new school, or just looking to embrace fall’s fresh start to make some new friends, Helen Kaplan, LMSW, social work faculty supervisor at the University Center for the Child and Family (UCCF), offers tips to best support your child’s social efforts. Kaplan, coordinator of UCCF’s social skills groups, suggests when talking to your kids about making new friends, “give your child the opportunity to talk about their feelings of excitement and nervousness and listen without initially trying to solve or judge.”
All children are unique, and what works for one child might not work for another. “You know your child best – some kids do better with one-on-one play dates, and some thrive in a larger group. Use this information when setting up social experiences,” Kaplan recommends. “For younger kids, specifically those that are entering a new school for kindergarten, you can try to set up informal play dates at a park or at the playground at school for all incoming kindergartners as a way to meet each other, [and] for you to meet other parents… For teens, it is even more important to listen and be a safe base for your teen to rely on when peer situations get complicated. Driving in the car or going for a walk can be a valuable place to talk and listen more casually.”
When it comes to peer disputes, “role playing and using examples from television or movies can be helpful,” says Kaplan. As the school year gets in full swing, keep in mind that “all kids go through social ups and downs. If you are concerned about your child, seek consultation with a school counselor or child therapist.”
Throughout the school day, kids adhere to a number of routines put in place by their teachers, principal and staff to make the day run as smoothly as possible. Setting in place daily routines at home can also serve to support kids, and putting these routines in place early, and sticking with them throughout the summer, can help prepare them for the routines that lie ahead during the school year.
“Routines are very important for children and they promote healthy development,” explains Lawrence Kowalski, Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) at the University Center for the Child and Family (UCCF). “Routines support independence, promote self-esteem, and help children build skills they will need for everyday life. Children thrive on consistency and predictability; inconsistencies may lead to anxiety or feelings of uncertainty.”
Daily routines can be incorporated into a child’s life in a variety of ways each day – waking up, getting ready, eating breakfast, having dinner, doing homework, getting ready for bed… These are all opportunities to establish a routine. Kowalski explains, “For example, children should have the same bedtime and wake time daily. Adequate and consistent sleep helps children function on a day-to-day basis. Lack of sleep may behaviorally present as symptoms of common childhood disorders such as inattention, lack of focus, memory issues, and problems with planning.”
Wondering about how to start a new routine for your child in the spirit of back-to-school? Kowalski suggests, “Parents can best support routines for their children by starting them before school starts and having routines year round. Take time to move bedtime back to the school schedule… When starting new routines, prepare your child by explaining the routine and supporting them behaviorally and emotionally by modeling and walking through the routine with them a few times. Most importantly, parents should be consistent to support the success of routines.”
Sheri Stankorb-Geiselman, local mother of two girls, one three, and the other five, who’s entering kindergarten this year, shared how she and her family approach back-to-school shopping on a budget. “For day-to-day clothes, we’re more on a Once Upon A Child budget – or Costco,” says Sheri. Sheri and her family save money through, “hand-me-downs, buying used, or high-quality items on eBay.”
Is there anything worth splurging on when it comes to shopping for the school year? “Quality shoes, under-layers (for these, we love Camden Rose), boots, snow gear, and rain gear are worth spending more on- it’s good to keep little ones warm & comfy & dry!” advised Sheri. Wondering about upcoming back-to-school sales in Ann Arbor? Here’s a sneak-preview of local sales at one of the major back-to-school retailers:
Clara Adiska, sales associate at Staples on West Stadium, shared the many back-to-school sales they have going on now through August 19.
- 100 percent lowest price guaranteed – If you find it cheaper elsewhere, bring in the other store’s add and Staples will not only match the price, but will also take an additional 10 percent off.
- If you buy a backpack, you get 25 percent off your other school supplies!
- For college students, get $50 off any laptop computer or desktop with a valid student ID.
Clara advises parents looking to save money on back-to-school shopping to “Come to Staples and sign up for rewards – you get a bunch of discounts!”
With fall and cooler weather comes the inevitable cold and flu season. But how do you know when to keep kids home sick, and when to push through the school day, despite the sniffles? Dr. Alisa Young, family physician at the University of Michigan Health System, offers signs to look for to know when to stay home. “Getting sick and feeling under the weather is a normal part of growing up,” Dr. Young explains. “Helping your child recover while also preventing spread of illness to others at school is important. Here are a few signs that suggest some infections that your child would best recover from at home or that may require further evaluation from their doctor:
- Fever: Temperature at or above 101 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.4 degrees Celsius.
- Vomiting and Diarrhea: Having two or more episodes of emesis or loose stools
- Coughing: Not only does coughing spread infection, but after a night of coughing, your child will likely be too tired to focus all day in school and likely be contagious or leading to an exacerbation of chronic diseases like asthma or allergies.
- Rash: When it is spreading and you know it is not from the sun, poison ivy, mosquitoes, etc.
If your child just does not look right to you, or the above symptoms do not improve, bring to see their family doctor or pediatrician.”
In an effort to prevent the spread of illness at school, be sure to let the school know when your child has contracted something contagious, “especially if they had something highly contagious like Pertussis (Whooping Cough) which requires completion of 5 days of antibiotics prior to return regardless of resolution of symptoms,” Dr. Young explains. “With most illnesses, such as ear infections and strep throat, children can return to school after 24 hours of being on antibiotics.”
Ideally, every kid who had cold or flu symptoms would stay home from school, just in case, to prevent the spread of germs. However, kids get sick quite often, and if they stayed home every time they had the sniffles, they would likely miss a lot of school. Dr. Young’s advice? “When the symptoms above have mostly resolved or have been evaluated, it is okay to send your child back to school.” If you do choose to send your child to school when they’re feeling under-the-weather, here are some things you can do to support them through the day. “The most useful thing you can send your child back with is the knowledge of how to take care of themselves,” advises Dr. Young. “Using tissues, coughing into your sleeves or elbows, hydrating well, and washing hands thoroughly are lifelong behaviors that will keep your child healthy and prevent the spread of germs. Stocking their backpacks or lunch boxes with sanitizing gels, packets of tissues, and water bottles may also serve as healthy reminders.
Rodger Bowser, chef and managing partner of Zingerman’s Delicatessen, and the father of a six and an eight year old in Ann Arbor Public Schools, offers expert advice on packing delicious and nutritious school lunches that your kids are sure to enjoy.
Sandwiches are a common lunchtime staple, but when made with ingredients from Zingerman’s, they take on a whole new level of yummy. “We have two kinds of bread here at Zingerman’s that kids really enjoy. One is called the Bake House White, it’s a nice square loaf, soft bread, and then we also have something called a Whole Wheat Loaf, that’s also a square that slices up really well… it makes excellent sandwiches.” Other ingredients from Zingerman’s can balance out the meal – “Shopping here for kids’ lunches is actually pretty easy, but most people don’t know about it. We also have some pretty good peanut butters. All kids don’t like spicy stuff right now, in my kids’ age group, so turkey and ham works out really well, but we have been slowly introducing salami.”
Gone are the days of brown bag lunches, and now students bring eco-friendly reusable containers that broaden their options beyond PB&J. “We don’t brown bag it, we do a lot of reusable containers. It goes in a plastic tub with a lid, so it allows us to put other things in there like hummus, vegetable sticks and dips. They love it, they eat it, but some days they come home and you’re like, ‘Why didn’t you eat your lunch?’” Rodger laughs. “I don’t think it’s because they don’t like it, it’s just because they’d rather go outside and play. But that’s a mystery to me sometimes!”
Kids sometimes don’t eat their lunch, no matter how delicious, and parents don’t always need to pack a complicated meal for kids to be well-fed and sustained throughout the day. “Carbs, protein, fiber, vegetables. We try to pack a complete meal. Sometimes I’m really happy sending yogurt and fruit and maybe a little granola. They eat the whole thing and get plenty of protein and carbs and fresh fruits… If they eat it and get a healthy meal out of it, I’m happy… The granola here [at Zingerman’s] is good, it’s packed with a lot of nuts and Michigan rolled oats, and we use coconut oil instead of butter, and maple syrup instead of sugar.”
Overall, packing lunches can be a family experience, and a chance for kids to have choices and feel a sense of ownership over their lunch. “It’s a really good idea to go shopping with your kids and having them taste the food – that seems to work out the best for us. We’ll stand in line and we’ll try things, and talk about packing their lunch with them throughout the week. They’re the ones that actually choose it and I think that helps tremendously, even at a young age.”
During the school year, kids spend the majority of their days sitting in class, missing out on the exercise that often comes along with summer days filled with fun outdoor activities. Though time for exercise may no longer be built-in to their daily schedules, kids still need a significant amount of activity each day, and can greatly benefit from staying active throughout the school year.
Dr. Keri Denay, family physician at the University of Michigan Health System, reports, “The American College of Sports Medicine recommends children and teens get 60 minutes of moderate or greater aerobic activity every day. This can include walking, biking, swimming, hiking, skating, soccer, etc. Regular physical activity decreases the risk of developing chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes, is important with weight management, and is even a natural mood booster!”
Jenna Bacolor, Executive Director of Ann Arbor Rec & Ed, who also has a Masters in Public Health from the University of Michigan and spent many years working in health promotion for the Washtenaw County Health Department, adds, “The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children get three types of physical activity: aerobic, muscle strengthening and bone strengthening. Children can strengthen their muscles by doing things like climbing on jungle gyms and trees. They strengthen their bones by jumping rope and other weight-bearing activities. All of this comes naturally to most children!”
Maintaining physical activity throughout the school year can happen through programs like Ann Arbor Rec & Ed. “Of course, community education and recreation organizations like Ann Arbor Rec & Ed offer lots of options for kids to have fun and be physically active during out-of-school time,” Bacolor recommends. “Rec & Ed provides a wide variety of no-cut recreational team sports and instructional sports programs. Our afterschool and summer camp programs also incorporate lots of physical activity.”
Although programs like Rec & Ed offer excellent options to keep kids moving, it can benefit the entire family to be active together. “Exercising as a family is a great way to ensure children (and adults!) get the recommended amount of physical activity. Think about going for family bike rides or walks or even playing a family soccer game,” Dr. Denay suggests. “Scheduling time for activity like you would a meeting, sporting event, or doctor’s appointment helps protect the time need to exercise.”
When the snowflakes start falling, it can become even more difficult to stay motivated to get moving. Dr. Denay offers this advice, “Winter months can be harder but is equally important. Go to a local shopping mall to walk, go to indoor laser tag or trampoline locations, or consider signing up your child for some winter activities such as basketball or swimming!” Bacolor inspires families to embrace the winter weather – “Families can still find ways to be active during the winter. Being outside takes a commitment to bundling up, but there are lots of fun family activities in the winter — from sledding and building snow forts to snow shoeing and skiing!”
Technology is changing the way we work, socialize, create, communicate… and learn. Dr. Elliot Soloway, University of Michigan professor in the School of Education, College of Engineering and School of Information, explores the use of technology in education through his research and development of educational apps that are meant to enhance the learning of students. “I am a big believer in ‘social learning’ – in supporting children and youth as they learn together. My research group has developed a suite of ‘collabrified apps’ – apps such as Co.Write, Co.Map, Co.KWL, Co.Sketch – that support children working with each other, co-creating, co-editing documents,” Dr. Soloway describes. “We need to teach kids HOW to learn, how to be part of the knowledge economy.”
Despite the seemingly endless amount of information at our fingertips, schools still value rote memorization. Students can benefit from learning how to utilize collaboration and creativity through technology to find information and use it effectively. Dr. Soloway explains, “Education is social – John Dewey, one of the greatest educational minds of the modern era, and professor early in his career at the University of Michigan, made that comment. We learn from and with each other. Mobile technology, from Twitter to Facebook, Wikipedia to Tumblr, the youth of today are interacting and learning with and from each other because they can, because they have mobile devices, because they know that form of social learning adds value.”