THE tell-tale signs have begun appearing - Christmas decorations replaced by shelves of books, pens, pencils, highlighters, sticky notes in every colour and shape, lunchboxes, water bottles and more.
Summer holidays are drawing to a close; return to school looms ever nearer.
For some families, it's a welcome sign that the endless refrain of "what are we doing today?” is coming to an end; for others it marks an end to the monotony that sets in after the excitement of Christmas; and for some who enjoy the break in school routine, it sparks a desire to stave off the inevitable.
Many families will already have all the books, uniforms, bags, shoes, haircuts completed, others will rejoice in the extended trading hours offered by many back-to-school merchants to make their "just-in-time” purchases. There is no magic formula or one size fits all "best” approach.
There is, however, one strategy that is particularly effective in supporting children at school. It is endlessly flexible, can be shaped to fit the unique circumstances of each family, costs nothing, and is accessible to all - routines.
Schools provide and indeed, thrive on, routines. Routines are sometimes seen as a constraining feature of school life but in reality they provide a predictable, secure and safe foundation for young people. With good routines students are free to make the most of the creative, complex and challenging learning experiences which are at the heart of a good school.
However, such routines can prove challenging after the long summer hiatus. So now is the time to help children begin to make any necessary adjustments such as regular and reasonable sleeping and meal patterns, organising the areas where they will complete school work, practising travel routes to and from school (for first-timers), and wearing shoes for gradually increasing periods of the day.
Of course, it's not just the students who need to get back into routine. Parent engagement has been strongly identified in research as a critical factor in the success of young people at school.
Young people understand the many demands on their parents from work, other family members or other circumstances, but they do want and need their parents to commit to a manageable level of engagement and be constant in this.
They might not always say that is what they want, in fact they may say the opposite but most - regardless of their age - do value and welcome parents showing an interest in school. Make 2017 the year when getting involved in education is part of your family routine.
Know the name(s) of your child's teachers and, if possible, try to meet them. Know the names of their friends. Establish a routine at home of each child sharing something from school with the rest of the family - daily is great, weekly may be more manageable, but it needs to be regular. Sharing at a meal time is a great way to combine nourishing food with nourishing conversation.
As with most routines, this one needs to be formed and guided. To start with parents might have to direct the conversation to encourage responses from young family members. Some sharing starters include: share some moments from the time after lunch until end of school; talk about the different lunches you saw people eat today; share three things from your lessons today - something new, something interesting, something challenging or you didn't understand. Encourage children to devise new topics for sharing and make sure the adults share also.
A routine of sharing builds a foundation for communication, facilitates a much higher level of engagement in your child's schooling, and, importantly, creates a regular space and security for discussing the more challenging topics that may arise in the future.
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