Back to School Guide: Setting up for success (Toledo Parent Feature)
Updated: Apr 16
The start of the school year is simultaneously exciting and nerve-wracking--both for students and parents alike--but being fully prepared can help diminish anxiety so that everyone can focus on the positives of another year of learning.
First Week Jitters
Many students cannot wait for school to start; others loathe the return to school. It’s not easy to alleviate those first week jitters, but here are some ideas to hopefully lessen any apprehensiveness.
Back to school shopping is an excellent way to mentally and practically prepare for the school year. Whether you go all out and buy every single item you need or stick with one new--or new to you--school outfit, it can be a fun bonding time and a way to increase excitement for your child.
A “first day of school” outfit, something that makes your child feel comfortable and confident, can create positive emotions in your child regarding that first day. What we wear has a surprising effect on our mood, so a “power outfit” is just one more way to plan for success. This may not work for all kids, particularly older ones, but even if they seem nonplussed by the idea, clothes they like may still have positive effects, even if they refuse to admit it.
For students new to school--preschoolers, kindergarteners, new students--mentally preparing them may be the most effective way to lessen nervousness. If possible, tour the school before students arrive. Try to set up a brief meeting with the new teacher--just a few minutes to say hello and put a face with a name.
A friendly and familiar face can go a long way on the first day, so introducing your child to one or two of his fellow classmates can definitely help. If there aren’t any kids in the neighborhood, reach out to your child’s new teacher and ask for a recommendation. Teachers know their students and can usually pair your child with someone who will suit him/her.
Once you have a name, schedule a casual play date--a trip to the park or a swim in the pool. Again, for older kids, this might be too forced and awkward; finding a summer event or sport might be a better method for casually meeting other students.
Making Morning Easier
All parents know the rush and chaos of getting kids to school before that first bell rings. Here are some tips to simplify the morning routine:
Choose outfits the night before: Lay out your child’s outfit--one that you or he chose--in a convenient place, such as his breakfast chair or dresser. Another option is to pick outfits for the entire week--checking the weather to make sure he is dressed appropriately--and find bins or shelves with at least 5 slots for the 5 days of the week. If you don’t want to buy bins, you could also label hangers Monday through Friday and hang them within your child’s reach. Besides saving time, this also helps to avoid last-minute indecision.
Prepare meals ahead: Pack lunches the night before, and depending on the breakfast your child eats, you can lay out some or all of the needed materials to reduce the amount of time spent preparing in those early hours. If you want to take it a step further, meal prep for the entire week allows your family to know what to expect, cuts down on grocery bills, and reduces waste. You won’t buy what you won’t use and you won’t allow produce or meat to spoil since you know when to use it or freeze it.
Designate a school space: Create a space specifically for school items, such as bookbags, shoes, and coats. If you are limited on space, you could hang a coat rack at kid-level in the coat closet or buy shelves to place vertically or horizontally in the entryway or a closet. There are plenty of ideas to fit your needs on Pinterest. In the morning, toss your children’s lunch box in his bin, where all of his other items should be there the day before.
School Bus Safety
Whether your child is three or thirteen, riding the bus for the first time can be terrifying--probably more so for mom and dad! However, basic safety measures can help put everyone’s mind at ease.
For young children, a laminated badge for their backpack that includes their full name, bus number, and address can be helpful in preventing any confusion, especially if your child is too young to remember the information or too shy to respond to adults. At home, parents can help students memorize their address, phone number, and bus number in case of emergency.
Older students have a different set of possible issues, namely inappropriate behavior/speech and bullying. It’s important to remind kids to keep their hands to themselves, and if they see something inappropriate to inform an adult. If a student isn’t sure if something warrants notifying an adult, advise her to tell her parents upon arriving home. Then, as a family, they can decide if further action needs to be taken.
While it is rare, occasionally a bus driver, oftentimes a sub, will miss a child’s drop-off. Advise your child to immediately alert the bus driver; the driver will typically loop back around to drop off your child. For older kids, they may choose to simply walk the distance between stops if it’s manageable.
While riding the bus can be frightening for parents, it does give children a sense of independence and pride. Friendships can be formed in that unstructured #bustime without the direction of a teacher and the agenda of a curriculum. However, that being said, every family must find the option that works best for them and their children.
Maintaining a balance
In today’s society, we are often lured into thinking more is better. We enroll our kids in all of the activities they like with the admirable goal of encouraging their interests. Between school, extracurriculars, sports, and homework, it can become difficult to maintain a balance.
Schedules can aid in easing confusion and allowing for everything important, including family time and free time. Working with your child’s natural temperament is often successful. If your child needs a break after school and is more of a night owl, then homework after dinner may be best. If your child can’t fully relax until homework is done, finishing it immediately after school may be preferable.
At some point, juggling all of the different activities may become too much, and when that time arrives, don’t be afraid to cut some things out. While we all want our children to be well-rounded, it’s also important for them to have free time...to use their creativity and imagination to entertain themselves. And don’t underestimate the importance of family time!
If you notice your child is so busy that she is stressed, even after limiting extracurricular activities, communicating with his teachers can prove useful. The teacher may have tips for studying and effectively completing homework, and if the teacher hears the same concerns from several parents, she may decide to change her methods. Everyone wants the best for your child, and working as a team is the best way to achieve that.
As parents, we spend most of our time worrying about our children and helping them achieve balance in their young lives, but we must also remember to do the same for ourselves. We may feel guilty for taking time for ourselves, but a little relaxation can help our temperament, making us better, more patient parents. So take a night off and let that neighbor girl earn a little extra babysitting money!
Whether your child eats everything or has a rotation of 4 meals, there are some things to keep in mind to prepare meals packed with nutrients.
Perhaps the most important--and the most time-consuming--habit is to read labels. Try to choose items made with ingredients you recognize, and stay away from added sugars and any of its other names (high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, etcetera). It’s amazing how many things have hidden sugars.
Dr. Jenny Pfleghaar, a mother of three and ER physician who is currently pursuing an Integrative Medicine Fellowship, shares her sage advice:
“Avoid food dyes! Red 40 has been linked to hyperactivity in children and yes, it's still in your food! Check out that bag of Doritos or fruit snacks next time you are packing your child's lunch. There are many other choices that use natural colorings.”
Dr. Pfleghaar continues, “BHA and BHT are other ingredients I steer clear of. It is approved by the FDA as a food preservative but has been linked to cancer in animal studies and banned in other countries. Look for foods that use vitamin E as a preservative or no preservatives at all.”
One way to avoid eating these additives is to choose fresh produce/meat and to #buylocal and/or #organic when possible. There are many community supported agriculture (CSA) programs in the area. Shared Legacy Farms is one, with weekly pickup locations in Sylvania, Perrysburg, Toledo, Elmore, and Port Clinton in the summer and fall. Weber Ranch, for those who eat meat, is another local farm that provides “pasture-raised foods delivered to your neighborhood.”
These may seem like daunting tips, but many stores are making it easier and more affordable to choose foods wisely. Fresh Thyme has a plethora of options for those looking to avoid additives, and Dr. Pfleghaar highly recommends Aldi and Costco: “A great place to shop is Aldi, which is affordable, and all the products in the store have no artificial food coloring. I love getting the trail mix there because the 'M&Ms' have no artificial dyes.”
“Costco is another gem for easy lunch snacks and snacks for home,” she adds. “They have a great selection of organic food and snacks.”
For those with picky eaters, Dr. PIeghaar has some tried and true recipes. “One thing I love to make for my kids is black bean brownies and chickpea cookie dough. Both of these are easy to make in a food processor and have no refined sugars in them.”
“Sometimes, it is a texture situation,” continues Dr. Pleghaar. “You can always try to make the vegetables different ways: roast them, mash them or saute them. You could try cauliflower rice. You can eat the veggies with them; we all know adults don't eat enough vegetables either! Children are more likely to try what their parents are eating.”
In theory, if you continue to introduce your child to healthy eating choices through your own behavior and what you place on his plate, he will eventually come around. After all, many of us were picky eaters and we probably didn’t stay that way!
Meal options from Dr. Pfleghaar:
Tip: “I love using stainless steel lunch boxes for my children. You can really have a lot of fun creating different combinations. It is basically a healthy, homemade lunchable!”
Lunch meat, cheese and crackers paired with fruit is a great combo.
Make it fun with a build your own waffle or pancake lunch with sausage, syrup and fruit!
Hard boiled eggs are easy to prepare and a great protein for children.
My older daughter loves to eat leftovers from dinner for lunch sometimes. I heat it up before she leaves and put the meal in a thermos. Soup, rice, chicken marsala--we have tried it all and she enjoys it!
If your child has allergies, sunflower butter is delicious and nutritious! Pair some with pretzels (we use gluten free!) and you have a balanced snack for lunch or after school snack.
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