To Your Health: Back to school: A review, and positive practices
BY DR. MARJORIE A. GETZ Department of Pediatrics/Advocate Children’s Hospital August 26, 2014 11:50AM
Dr. Marjorie A. Getz | Supplied photo
Updated: August 27, 2014 2:16AM
Back-to-school season is the great reset.
Along with buying new school supplies, we can re-establish habits and practices that worked well, and let go of those that were not effective, establishing new ones. The heart of this reset is creating habits aligned with our intentions that the school year be a good one for our children, that they are happy, healthy and able to learn. Dr. Larry B. Silver, a pediatrician, wrote: “School is the ‘workplace’ for children. Successful school performance is essential for psychological and social growth.”
Like the beginning of the year, this article opens with a review of tried-and-true practices, and then introduces some practices gaining attention. The advice comes from a variety of academic resources, and also from YOU, the experts in the trenches.
Transfer the school calendar into your calendar and onto a family calendar that is displayed in a prominent place in the home.
Adjust your schedule the first week of school with school calendar-related activities.
Visit the school before school starts, including playground and classrooms.
Choose a backpack with wide straps and a padded back. Do not allow the load to exceed 10 to 20 percent of your child’s weight.
Children love routines: Establish morning, after-school/homework, and nighttime routines, with the goal of getting children off to school happy in the morning and having them happy at the end of the day, prepared for the next day. Use visuals to display the routines. The after-school routine should include a nightly backpack unloading/loading and setting out clothes for the next day.
Set up a homework space, which can be shared, that has all the materials needed, including a calendar.
Unitasking and attention: Encourage children to sustain attention on one task at a time.
Make certain your child eats healthy meals, starting the day with a protein-rich breakfast, and packing healthy lunches.
Supervise computer and Internet use and establish electronic-free zones for everyone. A recent study demonstrated what children are reporting, that parents are the worst offenders of being distracted by their electronic devices.
Volunteer in your child’s classroom and school.
Pay attention to your child’s sleep hygiene; a well-rested brain can learn.
Seek happiness for yourself: Happy parents raise happy children who can learn.
Reduce stress. The prefrontal cortex is critical for many executive functions involved in learning, including attention and working memory; it shuts down during stress.
Character and kindness: The sieve through which all actions flow.
Encourage movement and engagement: The physically active body and engaged brain learns.
Promote stick-to-itiveness: Grit and resilience are more important than IQ. Promote problem-solving planning, completing a plan, and bouncing back after defeats.
Promote mindfulness: Encourage children to find the quiet, calm place within throughout the day.
Avoid overscheduling and encourage independent free play and “tinkering.”
Promote school engagement through routines and rituals: My niece plans a special family outing for the Sunday before school starts. It is a great way to end the summer and start the new school year.
Have weekly family meetings: Bruce Feiler, author of “The Secrets of Happy Families,” recommends that families develop a family ethic and engage in weekly meetings to review the calendar and set goals for the week.
Have family nights: This is a shout-out to my great-niece, Anna, and her family. Each Sunday, one family member plans an activity and a dinner. It promotes creativity, togetherness and respecting others’ interests and plans.
Eat dinner together: Research has shown that children who eat dinner with their families do better in school. Eating dinner together is not only about the time spent at the dinner table, but it is also an indicator of the level of functioning of the families. Organized adults can manage the multiple tasks involved in buying, preparing and organizing a family dinner.
Eliminate “the 30 million-word gap:” Research by Risley and Hart has demonstrated that children from higher income homes hear 30 million more words within the first four years than children from low-income backgrounds. Talk and read to your children.
Engage in active listening: Ask specific questions, listen and then reflect back the information shared. Answer questions when questions are asked.
Be decisive when it matters.
Dr. Marjorie A. Getz is with the department of pediatrics at Advocate Children’s Hospital. She is a psychoeducational diagnostician and Learning Behavior Specialist.