LEWISTON, Maine — Ahh summer, when kids can stay up late and sleep in.
But that routine is about to end. School starts Aug. 28 in Lewiston and Auburn and other districts.
Now’s the time, experts say, for parents to get their children ready to go back, starting with a stricter bedtime schedule; sleep training if you will.
One week before isn’t too early.
Lewiston administrator and former teacher Kristie Clark, who won the Milken Family Foundation National Educator award for excellent in teaching in 2010, recommends elementary students go to bed at 8 or 8:30 p.m. Bedtime can be a little later for older children, but all need to settle down earlier to get used to getting up earlier.
Even if youngsters don’t fall asleep right away, there’s a value, Clark said, in getting ready for bed early, being read to or reading in their rooms.
Quiet time before bed means no screen time, no television, computers, iPads or texting on phones, Clark said. She would allow children to read on Kindles.
When Clark taught first and second grade, she saw students start the school year excited in the morning, but tired in the afternoon. A better sleep structure at home can help, she said.
Other good ways to start the school new year:
Help children establish a routine.
Make them accountable for their possessions, said Susan Martin, chief academic officer for the Lewiston School Department. Help them organize supplies, clothes, make sure they have a spot or two to put items in the same place.
“As a parent, I can remember those mornings running around like crazy looking for pair of shoes they couldn’t find,” Martin said. “Help them organize the night before what they’re going to wear, their backpack.”
Dress them right for the (warm) weather.
Children are excited to wear their new back-to-school clothes, but at the beginning of the year it’s often warm; schools are not air conditioned. Hold off on warm outfits like sweaters, Clark said.
Show interest and enthusiasm.
“We often say to kids, ‘poor you, you have to go back to school,’” Martin said. “None of us like going from a lack of structure to structure, but focus on the positive.” Talk about friends they’ll see or meet and fun activities.
“Also, the start of school is like New Year’s to students,” Clark said. Parents can talk to their children about what goals they have, or could have, for the new year, what activities they’d like to get involved in, what school community projects, what subjects would they like to be better in.
Attend open house.
Rushing dinner at home to attend an open house to hear principals talk about policies is not as fun as watching “Breaking Bad” or “The Big Bang Theory.” But parents attending an open house achieve a bunch of things, Clark and Martin said.
Seeing the inside of your child’s school, meeting his or her teachers and principal, gives parents a better understand of what’s going on at school. It sends a message to your child that you’re interested in his or her school life and that school is important.
Meeting your child’s teachers and principal helps when later in the year you may need to connect with the teacher, Clark said. It also arms parents with knowledge to ask better questions.
“As parents, many times we ask, ‘How is your day?’ and we get a two-word response,” Martin said. If you know more and can ask about a specific thing or person, you’re more likely to get a good answer. It’s a better conversation starter.
Sign up for electronic grades.
In Lewiston, it’s called “Power School.” The link for parents is on the school department’s website.
Parents can review grades with their children, find out what assignments have been done or are missing. That’s better, Clark and Martin said, than being surprised by a progress report halfway through the ranking period.
Let them eat breakfast at school.
A good breakfast is important to start the day, but not all children want to eat at 6 a.m. If your child doesn’t want to eat early at home, allow them to eat at school. “All of our schools offer breakfast; it’s not just for kids who don’t get food at home,” Martin said.
Help your child problem solve.
When your child comes home with a problem, “instead of making a suggestion, ask them what they might do about it,” Martin said. For example, a child may come home and say he or she didn’t have the permission slip and missed the field trip.
Instead of saying “you should have,” ask ‘How can we avoid that next time?’ and let them answer, Martin said. If children can think about how they can solve a problem, instead of being told what to do, it makes them feel more capable, she said.