Ring those bells, Ring those bells – School is on the way!

By Sherry Duncan

It is the time of year when stores are making a killing on “Back to School” shopping.  Next to Christmas, this has been typically the most stressful shopping time of year for me.  The advertisements for this auspicious occasion typically begin by the end of July.  Big retailers begin to stock their shelves with the necessary items that should accompany “every child” on their trek out the door and off to school.  Add to this school fees, grad fees, soccer (hockey, dance …) academy fees and a few new pieces of clothing you are sure to feel a pinch in your wallet.   To begin, you likely start out with a list in hand.  If you don’t have your child’s school supply shopping list, check online or in the front of the supply store where they may have a copy for you.  I always took my own children with me shopping for supplies.  That way, they felt ownership for the purchases.  Before leaving the house we did a little bit of reconnaissance.  This involved going through the bucket of collected supplies to see what we had left over or recycled.   This can be a money saving strategy but requires some organization in advance.  It’s not too late to start a bucket of your own if you don’t already have one.  You will likely have a few extra erasers or pens so put them in the “school supplies” bucket.  Once you get one started it is easy to keep it going and the kids will know where to look for new supplies half way through the year when their pens have all been lost!

When my children were in kindergarten to grade 8, this is the shopping strategy that I used.  Once we arrived at the store, I typically ensure that each person has their own list and a bucket to put their supplies in while we are shopping.  They put their items in their own bucket and sometimes negotiation has to take place when a package had more than one person would need.  Nothing got in without my approval and they crossed off each item as it was purchased.  Reading the list carefully will be helpful to ensure that your child has the items that were requested.  Ask a sales associate if you can’t find an item on the list – it may be late arriving.  (Warning, don’t take liberties and substitute.  Wait until you get new instructions from the teacher if you encounter this situation).  Often teachers have specific reasons for wanting certain books.  I allowed a fairly large leeway when it came to choosing pencil cases, lunch kits etc.  Don’t hesitate to have your children use pencils, pens, markers, etc from their previous year.  This can be a way to save a few pennies.

When we arrived home with our goods, we all sat around the living room or kitchen table and took a look at the new items and crosschecked everything.  Each child was supplied with a black sharpie marker so that they could mark their own items with their initial.  This is an important step.  Once the children are in school, it can be hard to recognize which “fire engine red” pencil crayon is yours among the 4 lying on the ground near your desk.  As the items are marked, they go into the backpack.  If you are on a limited budget buy basic supplies to get started and discuss this with the teacher.  She/he will advise you as to which items are the most imperative to get started.  This might be helpful to get your children through to mid September.

For teens in grades 8 and above, you may find that they don’t have a school shopping list.  A sturdy backpack, pens, pencils, paper and a binder will likely be enough to get started.  On the first day of class, the teacher will provide them with a clearer idea of what they will require for the semester.

If someone in your family is attending College or University you will have the added cost of textbooks.  Again, each instructor will provide the list of necessary materials specific for that class.  A pen, pencil, paper and binder will be enough for the student to get started.

As adults, you may wonder how can to prepare your child(ren) for their first day of school.  Here are some hints that you may find helpful:

Early Entry, Kindergarten and Grade 1:

Wow!  This is a huge milestone in a child’s academic life.  Imagine all of the emotions that your child may be dealing with including; excitement, fear, joy, nervousness, anxiety, eagerness etc.  For some children this will be the first time away from the parent and in the care of another adult.  Most teachers of this age will have some great strategies for the first day(s) of school and welcome parents to stay until the child feels comfortable.  My third child saw me waiting by the door on the first day of Kindergarten and came over and said “Mom, you can go now”.  It was difficult to leave but I took my cue from her and left.  Other children want to have the comfort of the parent for some time before they feel comfortable.  Please talk to the teacher if your child is having separation anxiety – he or she can be an excellent resource in this situation.

For all children:

Talk to your child about what to expect.  Remind them about the year before and the different things that happened that were positive experiences.  Practice getting up on time one or two days before Talk about what kinds of things could be put in the lunch. Ask what they are scared of and genuinely listen.  This can be a very scary day for children – especially if they are going to a new school.  Ensure your child knows what to do after school including where to go and perhaps how to get into the house if necessary.  (Let them know if you will not be there and what time you will be home). If you feel the need to take your child to school on their first day – and that is totally fine – try to stick around long enough to see that they are settled but not so long that your child thinks something is wrong.

At the end of the day, ask questions.  Avoid yes/no questions and ask for details.  Questions such as “tell me 3 things you learned today” or “tell me what you did during recess” or “tell me 3 things about one of your classmates” will initiate conversation.  If you ask “How was your day” you will likely hear “fine” and the conversation will be over.  Use this time as a way to connect with your child.

Finally, many teachers have e-mail access, twitter and blogs.  This is an awesome way to stay in touch and involved.

Have a great first day back to school!