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U of U Expert Offers Tips on Transitioning Young Students Back into School

Aug. 8, 2006 — While primary and secondary students may still be enjoying the dog days of summer, the countdown to the start of school has begun. Less than three weeks of summer vacation are left for most primary and secondary students in Utah and across the nation. Should parents spend these weeks focusing on fun-or multiplication tables? Pack as many activities into the remaining time-or begin cramming for school?

Mary D. Burbank, clinical instructor in the University of Utah’s Department of Teaching and Learning, in the College of Education, says while it”s important for parents and children to enjoy the final days of summer, it’s also a good time to begin transitioning back into academics in ways that are “more palatable” for the students.

“Parents might think about short-term scheduling changes-that is, being attentive to the way the day is structured, monitoring bedtimes and getting children back into the school routine,” says Burbank, who has taught special education in Utah and middle school in Utah and North Carolina. “They also might take trips to the library and plan reading times for their children during the day, gradually increasing the amount of time that they are reading with parents, siblings or individually. Books on tape are great for engaging children in a kind of literacy that”s less threatening. The tapes are especially useful for students studying a language”

Burbank underscores the importance of beginning the new school year with a positive attitude. “Talking about what’s going to happen during the coming year is helpful. For instance, parents of students going from elementary to middle school might take their children to visit the new school to get a sense of what the transition will be like. Students entering high school may want to visit the new building, however they may or may not want mom and dad there for that,” she says. “If students haven”t seen friends over the summer, it might be a good idea for parents to arrange play dates to introduce and re-introduce kids to get them back into social routines.”

Parents of high school students who dread going back to school might help their children focus on events they find initially more interesting, such as sports, arts or clubs. “Remind them of all of the positive opportunities that are available within a high school that might be more enticing to them than academics at this time of year,” she says.

For younger students making travel brochures of the places they visited during the summer and scrapbooks of and chronicling summer activities in a journal is, Burbank says, “a fun and exciting way to formalize literacy and numeracy-that is, writing in a format that’s relatively non-threatening. These activities also serve as a closure activity for the summer. It might be fun to leave a few blank pages for what”s going to happen in the fall and during the school year.”

Parents may want to involve their children in the purchasing of school supplies, a symbol of the transition back to school. “The purchase of supplies is obviously determined by individual family budgets but can be as small as pencils or can include backpacks and calculators,” Burbank says. “Parents who are in need of assistance with the purchase of supplies may want to contact local agencies and, in some cases, schools that are often able to provide additional support.

“From an academic point of view, help your child review some of the required reading assignments. That may help kids who struggle get a bit of a head start,” Burbank notes.

Burbank encourages parents of children who are struggling academically or socially to build relationships with the teachers. “It is critical that parents, teachers and students understand that mutual support is necessary for student success. Parents should get dates in advance for and attend back-to-school nights and parent teacher conferences. Parents and teachers should contact each other when there is need for discussion and to share good news,” she says. For parents new to the American school system, parent advocacy programs and family involvement programs are among the more standard resources available in many school districts.

Burbank says pre-planning is key to making a smooth transition back into school. She offers these tips for parents:

  • Obtain school forms and paperwork before school starts to avoid last-minute rushing

  • Have up-to-date insurance and immunization information readily available

  • Familiarize themselves with school dress codes

  • Get copies of the school policies and procedures

  • Obtain a list of required school supplies

  • Review required book lists to get a head start on reading assignments

Resources to prepare students to return to school include Internet sites and books that range from “Amelia Bedelia Goes Back to School,” by Herman Parish, to “The Ultimate Guide for High School Success and Survival,” by Martin Spethman and Chuck Klein.

Transitioning from summer into the beginning of school allows for additional routines to be added as the school year begins-completing homework, readying clothes, packing lunches and arranging carpools.