2019 Back to School Guide

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Taking the Stress Out of Back to School Mornings

Simple hacks to make this school year the best, and most organized, ever
By Sarah Lyons

School mornings can be stressful for both parents and kids. The morning can be very hectic with limited time to eat breakfast, get dressed, gather belongings, and get to school on time. Here are some ideas for families to lower the stress and create a smoother school morning.

Lunch solution
Packing a healthy school lunch (or multiple lunches) can take up a lot of time in the morning. Get a head start on lunch preparations by starting the evening before. “If my kitchen is clean, I feel like I am ahead of the game. Every night before going to bed I prep lunches for the next day, put away clean dishes, and reload the dishwasher.” says Kim Burnette, mother of two. By getting a head start the night before, you eliminate a big step, leaving you time for other things in the morning.

Backpack solution
After the kids have completed their homework, have them pack their backpacks up. Parents can sign permission slips, go through school papers, and gather any supplies needed for school the next day and pack them up. Does your child have their gym uniform and band instrument? When everything is ready the night before, there is less to do on school mornings.

Wardrobe solution
Check the weather the evening before school so that kids can lay out their clothing and outerwear for the next day. With the coats, hats, gloves, and boots laid out there is less scramble to find everything the next morning. Also try laying out the entire week’s clothing on Sunday. “We have a small plastic set of drawers with 5 drawers that can be purchased in the storage section at Target. We put an outfit for both of the kids in each on Sunday.” says Alicia Dafferner, mother of two.

Prep yourself
Many parents find that if they can wake up before the kids, they feel more refreshed and prepared for a productive morning. This gives them the time to take a few minutes to wake up, enjoy a cup of coffee, or grab a quick shower. Mother of three, Jessi Cole, says “I find that it helps if I get up early and get myself ready before my kids get up. That way, I only have to worry about them.”

Breakfast solution
Help make breakfast healthier and quicker by planning ahead. Sherry Hoffman, mom of two boys, says “I make several breakfast options that are freezer and toaster oven friendly on the weekends that we can choose throughout the week.” Ideas for freezer-friendly breakfast items include breakfast burritos, waffles, french toast, or muffins. There are also easy to make options like whole grain cereal, yogurt with fruit and granola, or a breakfast smoothie. Many of these items can be prepared the night before to help morning go smoother.

Early to bed, early to rise
“I have noticed that it makes our mornings much smoother if my kids get enough sleep, so early bedtimes are a must.” says Hoffman. Kids who have a consistent early bedtime are more rested for an early wake up. Rested kids are in better moods and stay on task on school mornings, causing less stress and conflict in the morning.

Eliminate electronics
With limited time to be prepared for school, it is best to eliminate electronic distractions. Parents and kids need to focus on the goal, which is getting to school on time. Distractions like television, handheld devices, and video games only slow down the process. Remind kids that there will be time for electronics after school, when their chores and homework are complete.

Adjusting to a new school schedule can take awhile, but if parents do their best to prepare the night before and teach kids to do the same, the mornings will run much smoother.

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SuperFood Snacks

Picking foods that fuel the mind and body
By Laurie Wurth-Pressel

Some foods are packed with so many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that nutrition experts have dubbed them “Super Foods.” Be sure to include these powerful and delicious snacks in your child’s lunchbox this school year.

Blueberries. They rank highest among all fruits for antioxidant activity. Try mixing them in yogurt if your child doesn’t like eating them plain.

Yogurt. This dairy product offers an excellent source of protein and calcium, as well as good bacteria for gut health. Some yogurt brands marketed toward kids contain a lot of sugar, however, so choose wisely.

Hard-boiled eggs. Purchase omega-3 eggs that contain higher amounts of fatty acids proven to benefit skin, allergies and brain function.

Watermelon. This juicy fruit will help your child stay hydrated and it’s loaded with vitamins A and C.

Avocado. This heart-healthy food contains monounsaturated fats and more than a dozen vitamins and minerals. Make a guacamole dip and serve with chips.

Carrots. Packed with carotene, carrots are excellent for eye health, reducing inflammation and boosting immunity. Serve with a side of ranch dip or shred into salads.

Oranges/tangerines. Rich in vitamin C, orange slices are a perfect choice during cold/flu season.

Corn. This vegetable contains thiamin, which is essential for energy production. Try sprinkling sweet corn on a salad.

Bananas. A rich source of potassium, bananas can help build strong bones. Your child may love them dipped in a low-fat chocolate sauce and then frozen for the lunch box.

Purple grapes. This tasty snack may be the reason why the French enjoy excellent health. Look for deep purple grapes which contain more flavonoid—a powerful antioxidant.

Advice from a Teacher

5 tips for a good year ahead
By Emily Remaklus

New backpacks full of school supplies are ready to go, the first day of school outfit is picked out, and open house is just around the corner. It’s great to start off the year strong, but how can you help ensure that your child is successful throughout the entire school year? As a teacher myself, I’m hoping these five pieces of advice will help lead your family to a great year!

Get to know the teacher. Teaching is a group effort, and teachers love to know that you’re onboard. Most schools have open houses at the beginning of the year where parents are able to bring their children to meet the teacher(s) and see their classroom. This is a great way for kids to get comfortable in the new space, and for you to introduce yourself. If you can’t make open house, don’t worry! Many teachers send home contact information during the first week. Send an email or give the teacher a call during the first weeks of school to introduce yourself. Be sure to include some information about your child too. What are their interests? Where have they struggled academically in the past? This not only begins a dialogue and good relationship between you and the teacher, but it also allows the teacher to have some insight into your child’s individual needs.

Communicate. Communication is key to building a relationship. Many teachers now are using apps to stay in contact. I use an app called remind which sends text message reminders to parents and students about projects, tests, and papers. These apps are a great way for parents to know what’s going on, but if you have individual concerns about your child its best to send an email or make a call. I find emailing to be the best form of communication because I’m teaching throughout the day and it can be difficult to take parents’ calls. Teachers love when parents are invested in their child’s education, but do keep in mind that, depending on their grade level, a teacher may teach 25-125 students, so try to ask your child first about that missing homework assignment or bad grade on a test before contacting the teacher right away. Also, take advantage of conferences. If you can’t make the designated conference times, see if you can schedule one that would work for you.

Keep your child’s teacher informed. It’s amazing how quickly a child’s behavior can change due to circumstances happening outside of school. Keeping your child’s teacher informed on changes at home — divorce, death in the family, birth of a new sibling — can help the teacher better understand how to help your child. If the teacher knows that there is a change in the student’s life, then we can be more understanding and forgiving if the student struggles more in school during that time. Teachers are also great listeners, and we can help the child through the transition.

Volunteer. For younger grades, parent volunteers are essential and a huge help. Taking 25 students on a field trip or hosting a holiday classroom party can be difficult for one teacher, so your help as a volunteer can make a huge difference. Older grades don’t need parent volunteers quite as often, but as kids grow up they get more involved in clubs and organizations that require fundraising. Allowing and encouraging your child to participate in those fundraising events takes a lot of stress off the teacher adviser for that organization. Plus it’s a great way for your child to learn new skills.

Loosen the reins. As your child gets older, start to let them advocate for themselves. As important as communication is between you and your child’s teacher, it is equally as important, if not more important, for your child to communicate their concerns to their teacher. When you notice a problem with a grade, or you want to know how your child can pick their grades up, have your child ask the teacher first. This helps them gain more independence and it shows that their education is also their responsibility. Teaching is a team effort, not just between a parent and teacher, but also between the student and teacher.

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Kicking Off Kindergarten

Help your kindergartener score a smoother transition into school
by Christa Melnyk Hines

For many parents, kindergarten signals an important transition from the all-consuming baby and toddler years. Suddenly, your “baby” is expected to make more choices on her own, stay focused over a longer period of time, learn new skills and navigate a social circle with less oversight from you. Plan ahead to pave the road to a happier kindergarten transition for all.

Visit the school. Before school begins, attend school orientations and meet the teacher to help your child grow familiar with his new learning environment.

Calm kindergarten jitters. Build excitement and optimism for school. Shop together for a new backpack or lunchbox, school supplies and new clothes. “Even if parents are feeling nervous, they should do their best not to portray that to their child,” says Kathy Weller, a kindergarten teacher. “Be very upbeat about the upcoming new experience.”

Recognize friendly faces. Before school starts, arrange play dates with future classmates. A few familiar faces on the first day may help calm those nervous butterflies.

Read together. Reading to your child teaches valuable listening skills and creates an opportunity to help your child prepare for the kindergarten experience. Check out books like The Night Before Kindergarten by Natasha Wing and Kindergarten Rocks by Katie Davis.

Tackle a few skills. While knowing his colors, the ABCs and how to count to ten will give your child a head start, work on other skills like teaching him to tie his shoes and knowing his full name, phone number and birthday.

Plan transportation. Avoid transportation snafus by sticking to a plan and keeping your child (and the teacher) informed. If your child will ride the bus and is nervous, listen and reassure her. Drive the route ahead of time. Also, seek out a “bus buddy” for your child; that buddy can be a responsible older neighbor child or another bus-riding classmate. On the first day of school, arrive early at the bus stop. Introduce yourself and your child to the driver.

Assure your child that you (or whoever you’ve designated), will be waiting for her when the bus returns after school.

Get good eats and sweet dreams. Make sure your new kindergartener gets plenty of rest and eats healthy meals, which will help him better manage the stress of the transition and stay focused during school. Wake up a little earlier to avoid a rushed first day.

Team up with the teacher. Share insights about your child’s strengths with the teacher to help her understand what motivates and interests your child. “Parents should approach school with the idea that the teacher has their child’s best interest at heart,” says Dr. Holly Schiffrin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington, who specializes in child development and parenting practices. “The parent should convey that they are on the same team as the teacher (even if they have different ideas about how to assist their child).”

Manage adversity. Every child is bound to have a rough day. Encourage her to resolve her own problems and take responsibility for her actions. “Ask your child for her input and perspective, genuinely listen, acknowledge and empathize, and then shift the focus towards reaching solutions as a family and in unison with your teachers and school,” says parent coach Tom Limbert, author of Dad’s Playbook: Wisdom for Fathers from the Greatest Coaches of All Time. “Focus on giving your child the tools, morals and lessons she will need when not in your presence, which now will be more and more often.”

Mark the occasion. Celebrate your child’s first day of school with a special outing after school like a frozen yogurt, dinner out or a playdate at her favorite park. Who knows? You may find that initial celebration turns into an annual first-day-of-school tradition for your family.

Preparing for an IEP Meeting

Getting ready
By Jamie Lober

Every child grows and develops at his own pace. “You need to have an idea of developmental milestones and if he has met them or not,” said Sarah Hall of Oregon Counseling Center. When you talk to your pediatrician and identify any delays, it is important to relay that information to the school so you can ensure your child is able to succeed. Fortunately there is a plan available to make sure he does exactly that.

Individual education plans, commonly referred to as IEPs, can include a variety of options for different students. When you know what questions to ask, what to bring and do before the meeting and understand how to construct, follow up and check up on the IEP, your child will have an easier time navigating through the educational process.

Get organized
A binder is one of the best tools you can have. “You might want to include tabs like evaluations/assessments, teacher conferences, communication with school, work samples, ongoing assessments and resources/information on your child’s disability,” said Tammy Alexander, certified dyslexia therapist at Alexander/Armus Reading Specialists.

Ask what is required of you before the meeting. “They send you a packet with the information you need but you need to bring a birth certificate, social security number and utility bills proving where you live,” said Hall. You can expect with little ones that they may possibly be observed playing, while older kids may get feedback from teachers or others involved in their care/education.

Know what you’re dealing with
If you know about your child’s disability and do some searching or join organizations with missions related to that disability, you can find out what accommodations or programs may be best suited for him. “For example if your child has dyslexia you want the intervention specialist who works with him to be using structured literacy reading programs to remediate his deficits such as Orton-Gillingham or Wilson Reading System rather than embedded phonics or whole language programs,” said Alexander.

Jot down your questions, concerns and observations.
Be mindful not to forget anything and do not be afraid to ask the school for a draft IEP before the meeting so you can read it over in advance and know what to expect. One of the best things you can do is to encourage your child to mix with those who are developing based on targeted benchmarks. “Preschools are set up with children without challenges and children with challenges mixed together so the kids can see what the school is looking for when it comes to appropriate behaviors modeled for them,” said Hall.

Advocate
Remember that you know your child better than anyone. Communicate his strengths, struggles and needs. To be effective you have to be familiar with your child’s learning disability.

The more you read up on it, the better job you can do. Accommodations can be anything from speech or occupational therapy to having more time or a separate place to take a test that is quieter.

Give consent
Be aware that you may be asked to sign a draft of the IEP at the end of the meeting. “It is important to understand the accommodations and services that your child is getting before you sign and give your consent,” said Alexander.

Do not feel pressured to sign at the meeting. You have a right to take the draft home and review it. “If you do not understand what is being said, ask for an explanation. You can always ask to schedule another IEP meeting if you have further questions or concerns that you would like to discuss before signing,” said Alexander.

Do not feel bad if your child requires an IEP
“Just because he has an IEP does not mean he will always have it. But an IEP will get him the services he needs so he can be kept in the less restrictive environment,” said Hall. The idea is that the plan is tailored to your child’s needs.