Back to School Guide 2018

Back to sl guide

While students are enjoying the final weeks of summer bliss Ann Arbor Family has parents covered with our Back to School Guide, full of tips on making those first days of school great, connect with teachers, and more!

The First School Days | First Day Jitters | Shop Early, Stock Up & Reuse | How To Be An A+ Chaperone | Building Bridges

The First School Days

How to ease the jitters
by Heidi Alene Harris

First days can be tough. Just as adults may have apprehensions when starting something new, young children may feel mixed emotions when they start a new school year. The first days may be exciting for some children, but for others, the thought of starting a new school year can be downright scary. As parents, although it is important to honor your children’s feelings, you can learn supportive strategies to help ease those first day jitters.

A 32 year educator

Ann Arbor Family Press caught up with veteran educator, Debbie Swanson, who has taught both elementary and middle school in the Ypsilanti area for the past 32 years and is currently teaching 5th grade at Holmes Elementary School. Swanson acknowledged that the transition into school may come with many different emotions but parents should be comforted to know that most educators do their best to support the transitions, “I want families to know that most schools and classrooms spend time in the beginning days helping students build relationships and get to know each other, which will definitely help with the transition.”

Veteran Ypsilanti educator, Debbie Swanson, reminds parents that all children process the first day differently.

Veteran Ypsilanti educator, Debbie Swanson, reminds parents that all children process the first day differently.

All kids are unique

Swanson reminds families that because every child is unique, all children process the first days differently. Some children jump right in, but after a couple of weeks the worrying begins. Other children worry a lot in the beginning and after a couple of weeks they have transitioned well. Swanson explained that both of these ways of dealing with new transitions are normal, but may need to be approached differently. Swanson comforts families by explaining that starting school and being a part of a new classroom is a habit that needs to be formed, “It takes about 21 days to build a habit. So, it may take a while to transition. As parents, know that and give them time and before you know it, the habit has been formed and it is all a part of their new normal.”

Swanson’s Strategies to Support the First Day Jitters

1. Routines are important. Ideally, plan to gradually phase in getting ready to go back to school. It is best not to plan a big vacation just before school. Shifting
from summer to school works best by easing into the transition with bedtime rituals, enforcing bedtimes, and wake up times.

2. Talk with Students and Set Goals. Give your children time to talk to you about their fears or worries. Listen and acknowledge their feelings without playing into their fears too much. Check in with them and give them the opportunity to talk after school has started. Take time to set goals such as, “What are you hoping to do this year at school? What might be challenging? What support do you think you might need”?

3. Conscious Discipline. At Ypsilanti Community Schools the educators use a program called Conscious Discipline. Swanson explained, “It has been helpful in teaching even young children about brain states and skills to help care for themselves and others. We focus on the messages of: You are safe. You are loved. You can handle what comes your way. Iwould encourage parents to send these types of messages to their children as they transition from summer to school. ‘You’ll be safe at school. You’ll make connections and build new relationships. To learn more about Conscious Discipline visit

4. Technology. Be thoughtful about technology especially with older children. Help build in time without technology. Swanson advises parents to think about ways to spend chunks of time away from technology, as that will be the expectation in most schools.

5. Books. Books are always a great way to help explain situations that may be difficult for adults to put into words. Swanson suggested “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn and “The New Bear at School” by Carrie Weston for early elementary age and for upper elementary age, “Thank You, Mr. Falker” by Patricia Polacco and “Wonder” by Raquel Jaramillo Palacio.

6. Modeling. One of the most important ways parents can ease the first day jitters is through their own modeling of a positive attitude toward starting the new school year. Children pick up on parent’s feelings. If parents anticipate challenges, try to discuss it with the principal or educator before the school year

Shop Early, Stock Up & Reuse

Tackling the school supply list
by Meagan Ruffin

Grab a friend, load your kids in the car, and head out early for your school supplies this year. Here are a few clever ways to save on your kid’s pencils and erasers, pencil box and crayons and yes, even those pricey dry erase markers.

1. Shop early. Most, if not all of your kids’ supplies are on sale during the summer. I didn’t know this until I started paying attention to those clearance items while doing my weekly grocery trips. I started picking up post-it notes that somehow found their way onto to the shelves with $1 price stickers. The only difference between those and the $3-4 post-it notes were the colors.

2. Stock up. Towards the end of the last school year, I found those super expensive Trapper Keepers on sale for $3. Prior shopping trips with friends who had older children and were more well versed than me, had balked at the cost of these with prices upwards of $13-15 and with multiple kids…well, you get the point.

3. Reuse. Once I saw how many pencils came back with my son at the end of the school year, I thought, there’s no way I’m buying another 24 pencils when I have somehow accumulated over 50. We spent an afternoon sharpening all of these pencils during quiet time and put them nicely in his new 50 cent pencil box. Old with the new…I like that.

4. Buy generic when you can. I usually leave the name brand stuff alone if I know the off-brand works just as well. I will also shop around if I’m already out and about running other errands. I don’t make special trips to find better prices but, recently, while I was shopping for something for the office, I saw a great sale on crayons.

5. Resale shops. Scope out the local resale shops for back-to-school items. I was super excited when I found, not one, but two backpacks that were in pristine condition for less than $5 each. Once I saw how beat up my son’s got after just one year of school I quickly bought those and they are now ready to go for the future.

6. Dry erase markers. Why are these markers so expensive? I don’t know the answer but here is a way to save a little bit on these. First, always stock up if you see them on sale (summertime) and second, buy in bulk. It will be more money up front but cheaper per marker.

Your kids are ready to head back to school and with this list, you can feel good about supplying them with just what they need to start the school year off right.

How To Be An A+ Chaperone

by Janeen Lewis

During the year your child’s class will more than likely take a field trip. Teachers really appreciate the help of parents when they venture outside school grounds with a group of students, and this is a great way to get to know your child’s teacher better. Here are seven quick tips to help you be an ace chaperone.

1. Show up on time so you can get information from the teacher and meet your group.
2. If possible, take a picture of your group so that if someone becomes separated, you know what they are wearing and can show the picture to other helping adults.
3. Learn the names of all the students in your group, and encourage them to pay attention, be on task and stay together.
4. If a child is consistently ignoring the rules, alert the teacher.
5. Take head counts often, especially after bathroom breaks and lunch.
6. Keep your cell phone with you at all times. Get the teacher’s number and numbers of other parent chaperones so that you can stay in contact if you split up.
7. Remember you are there, primarily, to help the teacher and students. While you should model participation and have a positive attitude about the trip, don’t slip away to that new exhibit you’ve been dying to see and leave your group.

Building Bridges

Communicate and connect with your child’s teacher
by Janeen Lewis

Do you feel intimidated when you think of talking with your child’s teacher? What if your child complains about problems with his or her teacher? What do you do then? I’m a parent and a teacher, so I’ve been on both sides of the teacher’s desk. Here are some tips to help you communicate and connect with your child’s teacher so that you, your child and the teacher can all have an amazing school year.

Meet and greet the teacher.

Teachers like to meet parents at the beginning of the school year so that if a problem does occur, a teacher’s first encounter with a parent isn’t a call about misbehavior or academic struggles. If your school hosts a Back-to-School Night in the days before school starts, make it a priority to attend. Introduce yourself and show your support for the teacher.

Be involved.

One of the best ways to get to know your child’s teacher is to be involved in the school and classroom. When school starts, let the teacher know if you can volunteer. Because the beginning of school is a busy time for teachers, wait until after the first couple of weeks when the class is settled in, and then contact the teacher and ask “How can I help?”

If you can’t volunteer during the day, offer to organize donations or supplies for projects or parties by setting up a parent sign-up list online. Ask if you can cut out items the teacher has laminated or track down supplies for a lesson. Come to after-school events, school productions and parent-teacher conferences so that you are visible and can touch base with your child’s teacher.

Keep communications open and positive.

Teachers welcome questions and concerns and they are generally proactive. As a teacher, I would much rather know about a problem early so that I can deal with it in the best way for all concerned. Keep up with written teacher notes, field trip permission slips, report cards and any other written communications the teacher sends home. Remember to keep communications positive. If you have concerns or think the teacher has dealt unfairly with your child, don’t dash off a negative note and send it first thing in the morning. For sensitive conversations, call and set up a time to meet after school.

Try to understand both sides.

Teachers have a lot to manage in their classrooms, and with twenty-five or more students to supervise, sometimes they make mistakes or don’t see every problem. Your child may think something happened in class that wasn’t fair, and it’s easy as parents to react emotionally and blame the teacher. But support the teacher as much as possible while you gather information about what happened. Try to help your child see the teacher’s point of view, and talk about how people can have differences and still work together to succeed.

Advocate for your child.

Don’t be afraid to speak up if a problem in your child’s class becomes pervasive. If your child’s grades start to slip, he or she is continually unhappy or you suspect your child is being bullied by a classmate, work with the teacher to devise a plan to help.

Make a change as a last resort.

Sometimes children have personality conflicts with their teachers. This actually offers an opportunity for growth if teachers and students can work together in a respectful and productive manner. After all, this is what children will need to be able to do when they grow up. But if problems persist, it may be time to request a change to another class and discuss your options with a school counselor or administrator.

Understand that teachers are human.

Most of the teachers I know are caring individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of the children they teach. Often, they are parents too, and although it is hard to imagine, at one time they were students who lived through awkward growth spurts, problems with peers, lost homework and braces. They understand what parents and kids are going through, and they strive to build a positive connection between school and home.