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UW's Wright offers back-to-school tips for making 2013-14 best year ever

August 14, 2013

Travis WrightWith another summer quickly winding to a close, UW-Madison’s Travis Wright took the time to outline a game plan to help students and their families prepare for the start of the upcoming school year.

Wright is an assistant professor of early childhood education with the School of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction.  He’s also a licensed professional counselor and a former middle and high school teacher.

“In the mad dash to get ready for back-to-school, don’t forget to reflect on what your family learned from last school year or fail to develop a plan for making this one the best year ever,” he says.

Following are Wright’s Five Back-to-School Tips:

Reflect on Last Year

Before moving into the future, take a few minutes to talk with each of your children individually about what worked great and what didn’t go so well last school year. Discuss what things helped them be successful and what got in the way. This helps them (and you) learn from the past and reminds everyone that a new beginning is possible – which is especially important for students and families who didn’t have the best year ever.

Set Goals and Develop an Action-Plan for the Upcoming Year

Have an honest conversation about hopes and fears for the coming year.  This may take more than one session! But, investing the time now to get on the same page will make the entire year go much more smoothly.

First, ask students to list what they would like to accomplish this year -- academically, socially and personally.  Second, add your hopes and expectations for them to the list.  Third, discuss with each other how your goals overlap and how they might differ. Fourth, reach an agreement about what the priorities will be for each category.  For each goal, make sure to have a concrete indicator of success.  For example, practicing guitar 15 minutes per day or achieving a 3.5 GPA.  Make sure this is something that you both can live with and feel good about.  It is important to end this conversation feeling like you’re on the same team.  Otherwise, you’ll be at odds with each other all school year!

Next, for each priority/goal, each of you should list your fears for the coming school and other potential barriers to achieving your priorities.  Brainstorm ways that you might address each fear or barrier.  Also, it is especially important to ask your child how she or he will let you know that they are having a difficult time or need help. Also, ask them what types of help or support mean the most to them.  This is a great chance to learn from your children!

Rules and Incentives

As children get older or family dynamics change, your family policies may need revision.  Back to school is a good time to revisit house rules and expectations.  Decide with them the consequences of not following the rules, and what you might do to help your children be successful. As well, talk about ways that children might be rewarded or celebrated for their hard work.  Some families have short and long-term goals. Friday movie and pizza night at home is a great incentive for completing chores and working hard in school during the week.  Maybe the person with the biggest achievement during the week gets to choose the movie -- or family members could nominate each other and take a vote based on kind acts performed during the week. A special family outing or vacation might be the reward for a productive year.  Notice that quality time is the real incentive behind each of these incentives.  For your children, there is no reward more important than quality time with you!

Establish and Rehearse the Family Routine Before the First Week of School

Two weeks before the first day of school, talk with your children about your family’s daily routine. Agree to a morning and evening schedule, including daily chores and the time for wake-up, departure and bedtime! Especially for younger children, write a checklist of activities on a dry erase board and post on the fridge or bathroom mirror. Allow children to check off each activity as completed.

Make a summer memory and show your children you love them more than anything!

Do something special as a family just because! Go fishing, write a play and perform it for the neighborhood. Stargaze together or recreate one of your favorite childhood memories with your children.  During the school year, it is very easy to get so focused on grades, achievement, classroom behavior, after-school activities and adult responsibilities that we forget to talk with our children about anything else.  Sometimes, they may think we only like (or dislike) them for how they are performing in school.  Summer is a great time to show children that we love them just because of who they are. There is no better way than making a special memory with them.

Also, children know that the first thing they will be asked when returning to school is, “What did you do this summer?”  The first day of school will be much more exciting if they know that they will have something to tell.

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