Back to School Advice for Every Age
From Arizona Parenting Magazine, August 2022
After a summer filled with less routine and scheduling, getting ready to start a new school year can take some work and may even come with anxiety for both kids and their parents. No matter whether you have a student beginning a journey in kindergarten or are enrolling your child into a new school this year, going back to school after the summer can be a challenging transition for many families.
Help put some of those jitters at ease and start the school year off right with a few helpful tips and advice from some experienced Arizona teachers and mentors.
Preschool & Kindergarten
Looking to help prepare your child for preschool or kindergarten? Start playing with Play-Doh, said Phoenix Kindergarten Teacher Jennifer Buchanan.
Play-Doh activities help children to build hand muscles and fine motor skills, which they need for writing, zipping zippers, opening snacks and more.
Buchanan also wants parents to know that “this is not the kindergarten we attended as children.”
Kindergartners will not just be playing at school and fine-tuning their social skills with their peers. They’ll be learning about routines and procedures, along with the alphabet and how to recognize numbers. Parents can prepare by getting their children used to daily routines, helping them learn to write their names in upper case and lower case, encouraging them to speak in complete sentences, and asking them questions based on the Five Ws when reading together: who, what, when, where and why.
Buchanan also said parents can help ensure a successful transition to kindergarten by staying in communication with their child’s teacher. This includes checking backpacks and the school’s messaging app for notes from the teacher—and reaching out if they need any help.
Elementary & Middle School
Edgar Ochoa, a junior high school teacher in Phoenix, wants parents to know they do not have to raid the entire “back-to-school” section at Target before the school year starts. He advises parents to stick to the teacher’s syllabus because it includes the exact materials your child will need for class.
Many schools even offer online links for parents to order a package of the exact school supplies that their children need for class; the schools supplies are then shipped directly to the student’s home before the first day of school.
If parents can, Ochoa encourages them to attend their school’s “Welcome Night” before the school year starts to meet your child’s teacher and receive information that will be important to your child’s success during the school year about communication apps, grading, policies and more.
Sleeping routines are easy to break during the summer, so it is important for students to get back in the habit of a school-appropriate bedtime routine sooner rather than later.
Ochoa also wants students to know that their teachers are genuinely rooting for their success. He said that it is okay to tell them what is working and what is not working in the classroom.
“We are learners, too, and you are doing us a favor that will help other students as well,” he said.
Finally, parents and students need to make sure they are fully aware of the school’s policy on phone use at school.
“Nothing is going to make your life worse than getting your phone taken away by your parents who are tired of getting calls from school about violations,” he said. “TikTok will still be there when you get back home.”
Lindsey Peterson, a teacher at Apollo High School in Glendale, encourages parents and students to get a head start by attending their high school’s freshmen orientation or parent night to ask questions and tour the campus for an extra edge of confidence on the first day of classes.
It is also important to get into the habit of getting up earlier, Peterson added.
“Establish a morning routine in the last few weeks of summer to give yourself time to adjust so that when you have to get to school on time, you’re already well practiced,” she said.
Peterson also advises students to come to school with the mindset of getting involved in campus clubs, sports and activities that interest them.
“High school is the time to challenge yourself, step outside your comfort zone and get involved. No one ever leaves high school wishing they had made fewer friends or spent more time at home by themselves, but they do leave wishing that they had taken advantage of the opportunities to meet people and make memories,” Peterson said.
Saguaro High School Teacher and Social Studies Dept. Lead Ashley Crose adds that students don’t need to do anything special for class before the year starts; they just need to bring themselves.
“Who they are shapes my classroom every year… their anxieties and fears of this new experience and the easing of those fears and learning that the classroom is a safe place to learn…their prior knowledge or even lack thereof… that is what helps us to build a little community, a family, in each period, every year,” said Crose.
High school can be a difficult time for many students and Peterson said it is important for parents to develop open communication with their high schoolers before challenges emerge. This will help to ensure they have a safe and open place to talk about anything that might be concerning them. Parents can also find out what resources exist within the school to support their child if they need to connect with another trusted adult, like a counselor or social worker.
“Thinking about people at school or at home that can be a support through challenges or frustrations makes it that much easier to approach them if the need arises.”
There is a lot for students to consider when starting college. Have they registered for the right classes? Have they confirmed their financial aid package and housing? Have they paid their tuition and fees? Have they purchased or rented textbooks?
Once the major items are checked off, having a student planner, flash drive, notebook or laptop should be next on the list, said America Fontes, a success adviser for Education Forward Arizona who mentors college students.
College is usually a whole new world for students academically, socially and personally, said Education Forward Arizona Success Adviser Zach Rosas. Being open to new experiences and getting involved by joining a club or attending campus events can help new students to meet others.
“Find a good balance for your social life, academics, and personal time,” he said. “There is no ‘right’ way to do this; you just have to go through trial-and-error phases to figure it out.”
Rosas also recommends that students take advantage of everything that is available to them for free. Student events with free food and merchandise, free campus resources and college student discounts at local stores and restaurants can all be helpful for cash-strapped students.
“Remember to seize the day, make good friends, make new memories and most importantly enjoy your journey,” said Fontes.
This article was originally published in Arizona Parenting Magazine in August 2022.