Most schools offer orientation or other parent visit opportunities before the school year starts. This is the perfect opportunity to ask some questions about concerns such as school planners/binders, bullies, sick days, absences, clothing/uniform requirements and school lunch options. This is also a great time to pick up all the paperwork so you can get a head start and avoid writer's cramp that first week.
If you didn't get a list in the mail from the school, you might find it at a nearby school supply store. Typically (and depending on your child's age), you can't go wrong with pencils, crayons or markers, glue, scissors and the oft-requested box of tissues for the class to use over the course of the year. Hold off on buying anything else until after you meet the teacher, in case she has any changes.
Some schools offer custom planners that students are required to use. Every company in the world seems to be making their own highly appealing, dazzlingly decorated planners for kids, though -- so find out if a store-bought one will suffice. This can help you avoid lengthy discussions and flaring tempers when your child tries to convince you that her favorite character planner is a "must-have-or-I-will-die" item that all her friends are getting.
Most schools communicate via email nowadays. Ask for a contact phone number, too, in case you have a question that needs an answer right away.
Get your child up early and go through your morning routine at least five days before school starts. Beginning the transition from vacation hours to school schedules a few days beforehand will help solidify the new schedule and help prevent crankiness.
If your child is riding the bus, walk with him to the bus stop. Make sure the route is safe and that he knows where and how to cross any streets. Get the school bus schedule, and figure out how long it will take to walk to the bus stop. Discuss the type of behavior the school expects at the stop and on the bus.
Up until your child is in fourth grade or so, you may want to stay at the bus stop each day, if possible, until the bus comes. After the age of 10 or so, he is not going to want you there, so train him well up to that age.
Never leave your child at the bus stop all alone. If a known bully is around, stay near -- but not right by your child's side, or he will get teased.
If you take your child to school for an early-arrival program for working parents, meet the director beforehand and ask for a copy of the rules. Go over them with a fine-toothed comb so you know exactly what to expect: arrival time, meals served, activities, and exceptions to rules.
If you plan to change anything this year compared to last, have a family meeting at least one week before school. Explain any changes -- for example, new homework rules, activities, or breakfast and after-school snack guidelines. This is especially true if your child goes to an after-school program, although many schools are cutting back on those handy chip, soda and candy vending machines.
Many schools hand out student handbooks that they ask students and parents to read (and in many cases, sign something indicating that they have done so). Don't just sign on the dotted line: Read the handbook. Then, if something bad happens, you'll understand the policies that apply and be in the best position to help your child. If there's a conflict and you or your child is in the right, you can make your case using what's actually in print as opposed to what an individual teacher, child or parent thought it said.
If your school does not send this home until after school starts, call and at least ask about the dress code and any other major rules, especially regarding cell phones and other electronic equipment on campus.
If you are fairly sure your child will need a tutor this year, ask her teacher if he is available for after-hours tutoring. If not, ask for recommendations. Don't wait until your child is failing and tutors are booked.
A note about private tutors: They're not nearly as expensive as most learning centers. A retired teacher is especially valuable as a tutor.
Many schools compile lists of parents by zip code who want to carpool. This is especially important for working parents or those who want to drive their children to school instead of sending them on a bus. In fact, some areas do not offer school bus service.
This will save your sanity. Many are available; particularly great for a busy family is the ThinkBin Family Calendar. Created by two moms with busy families in mind, it includes plenty of space to keep notes. There's also the helpful and adorable Mom's Family Calendar from artist Sandra Boynton.
Each year, kids are stopped at the door or pulled out of class by the school nurse for not having up-to-date immunizations. In fact, your child's school can legally withhold her report card until her shots are up to date. Get a current list of required vaccinations. If you don't vaccinate as a matter of choice, begin your quest for an exclusion -- and understanding -- as soon as possible.
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