It doesn’t seem possible that it is time to say goodbye to the relaxed days of summer, but alas, it’s August and that means school bells will soon be ringing. As you and your family prepare to tackle a new school year, here are some tips to make the transition to a new grade a little easier on everyone including ideas for juggling school and sports, how you can say goodbye to bullying, and how to prepare your little one for preschool, all in this year’s Back to School Guide.
Juggling Sports & School | Bye Bye Bullies | Prepare for Preschool | Handling Separation Anxiety | Building Bridges
NDA twins Madeline and Emily Vining share their secrets to success
By Erin Marsh
The demands of education—the rigorous curriculum, national testing standards, and tough competition–can make the time commitment of extracurriculars trying. Twins Madeline and Emily Vining, seniors at Notre Dame Academy (NDA), manage to juggle the requirements of school and sports, showing success with both.
Keep the balance
Emily and Madeline began running cross country as kindergarteners through the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) diocese program and continued through elementary school. They dabbled in soccer, basketball, and swimming, yet the girls quip that they “dropped those once we got to high school. We weren’t as good at (other sports as we were at) running!”
Dan and Patty Vining, the twins’ parents, tried to maintain the equilibrium between sports and school. “We always said they could do one sport/activity at a time,” Dan said. “We didn’t support competing in multiple sports at one time. We believe you need to keep balance in life.”
Once the girls reached high school, they added track and field to the athletic mix, dropping other sports. Madeline runs the 2 mile, 1 mile, and ½ mile, and Emily laughs, “I run everything! From the mile down to the 400 and everything in between.”
The girls, turning 18 in September, spend between four or five hours every weekend at their track/cross country meets, and they practice daily with their team for two hours. Despite these long hours, Madeline and Emily excel academically. Madeline hopes to study engineering or law next year in college; Emily wants to major in medicine or engineering.
Secret to success
Madeline shares the secret to effectively juggling multiple commitments: detailed planning. “I definitely need to organize and plan ahead. I have a planner, and I have my week all planned out, including what homework needs to be done and when practice is.”
Emily adds that it’s about “taking the thing that’s the most important and working that into [the schedule] first and making sure it gets done.”
Madeline credits their parents for developing their attention to detail and organizational skills. “My parents definitely taught me [how to organize and plan] starting in grade school. They taught me it’s better to just get it done, and then you don’t have to worry about homework later.”
Advice for parents and students
For parents just beginning the journey into sports, Dan advises, “Try different things and experience different things. As a parent, ask yourself what are they interested in? Help guide them to things where they are more naturally inclined. That helps from a success standpoint.”
“Let the kids determine a path,” he adds. “Sports can get overly competitive, maybe more so with parents than with students, and I see a lot of traveling sports. That balance has been lost in some sense.”
For students learning to handle both sports and school, Emily suggests, “Balance both and have a strategy for them. Look at the bigger picture–like good grades and being good at sports. What’s the better outcome?”
Despite the stress that sports can add to a teenager’s full academic load, both girls love running and being part of a team…being part of something bigger than themselves. Emily explains, “I think definitely a big part of sticking with it has been being part of team. It makes me come to life and come back the next year.”
Madeline echoes Emily’s sentiment, including that it’s also about “having a good team and a good coach who makes you want to work hard.”
The girls and their parents agree that despite the travails of a full schedule, the benefits of working as a team, competing against others, and learning to handle both success and failure outweigh any negatives.
Teaching kids to be kind
By Emily Remaklus
Over the years schools have changed in a number of ways—teaching methods, use of technology, class requirements—but one thing that has, unfortunately, not changed is bullying. Bullying is sadly an issue throughout all American schools, with 21% of kids from 12-18 years old reporting some form of bullying.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” The behavior has to be repeated or at least have the potential to be repeated.
3 types of bullying
There are three common types of bullying. The first, and often the one most people think of when they hear the word “bullying” is physical. This, like it sounds, involves physically hurting someone or their belongings. Verbal bullying is also pretty straightforward. Its when someone says or writes mean things, and can include teasing, name-calling, making inappropriate sexual comments, and taunting. Lastly is social bullying, also called relational bullying. A little less obvious, this is when someone tries hurting another person’s reputation or relationships which can be done by leaving someone out on purpose, spreading rumors, or embarrassing someone in public.
4 bullying roles
Bullying incidents involve many more kids than just the one being bullied and the one doing the bullying. There are four other roles that students of all ages may take on during a bullying situation. Kids who assist are students who don’t necessarily start the bullying, but they assist by encouraging or joining in. Kids who reinforce are those who are not directly involved, but act as the audience for the incident. Their laughing and support encourages bullying to continue. Outsiders are students who separate from the bullying incident, and they don’t reinforce or defend. Lastly, kids who defend are those who comfort the child being bullied and might come to the defense when bullying occurs. It is important to remind kids that even if they are not the one directly bullying, their role in the incident can encourage bullying to continue.
One of the best ways for adults to get involved is by helping to prevent bullying before it even begins. Adults should help kids understand what bullying is, communicate openly, encourage kids to do what they love, and model how to treat others.
If bullying is already occurring, it is important for adults to respond quickly and consistently. Some simple steps are to separate the involved kids, make sure everyone is safe and respond to any health needs, stay calm, and model respectful behavior while intervening.
Bullying is unfortunately an issue that is not easily resolved and is probably an issue that won’t end anytime soon. However, with the right tools we can work together to try to lessen this problem. For more information on how to stop bullying, visit stopbullying.gov.
Things to consider when choosing a preschool program
By Erin Marsh
Studies continue to prove what many parents have learned through experience: a quality preschool program helps prepare children emotionally, socially, and intellectually for kindergarten and beyond.
Sending a toddler to preschool may be emotionally daunting for parents, but childhood experts agree that the benefits are indisputable. Preschool is not simply about gaining an academic edge; children learn independence, gain self-confidence, socialize with peers, and practice becoming a student at preschool.
Preschoolers gain academic skills and pre-literacy skills as well. National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) director W. Steven Barnett, PhD, explains, “Children who attend high-quality preschool enter kindergarten with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills than those who do not.”
Preschool programs are geared for children ages 3 to 5, although a few local programs will accept children as young as 2.5 and/or who are potty trained. These early-education programs follow the school calendar, with no school during the summer, and typically offer part-time (a few days a week or half days) and/or full-time options.
Early childhood education is generally split into two philosophies of learning: play-based and curriculum-based.
In a play-based preschool, children learn through play and exploration. Teachers create learning centers that rotate regularly, each one focused on fine-tuning skills through play, and children are free to choose centers at their discretion with adult supervision and interaction.
In a curriculum-based preschool program, educators use age-appropriate activities to teach pre-literacy skills in order to prepare children for kindergarten.
How do you know which preschool is right for you?
Finding the right fit for your child means researching the various preschools in your vicinity and considering your child’s temperament and interests. Consider location—proximity to your home, work, or caregivers—how long you want your child in school, and whether you want a play-based or curriculum-based program.
Then begin asking for recommendations. Schools with great track records often have long waiting lists, so it’s best to start researching at least one year before you anticipate sending your child to preschool.
Visit and observe
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, visit the preschool and talk with the teacher. Do you feel comfortable? Is the facility clean and organized? Are children playing in different activity centers and learning at their own pace? Are there a variety of skill levels and creations? Are there plenty of materials for students to use in their creations and independent play?
Each child will handle parent separation differently. Some kids don’t look back and others cry every day for weeks. Prepare your child by talking about school before the start date, and discuss all of the things they may do and learn at their “big kid school.”
Schools provide wonderful resources and interactions that are difficult to provide otherwise, and before you know it, your sweet toddler will have transformed into an independent, thoughtful little preschooler.
Tips to handle separation anxiety
By Emily Remaklus
For many young children starting school is an exciting time in their lives, but for some this change can be very stressful. It may be the first time the child has been away from their parents which may lead to separation anxiety that a young child feels when separated, or even perceives that they will be separated, from their parents.
Symptoms of separation anxiety can be noticeable before the actual separation happens. Some signs that a child might have separation anxiety are an extreme over attachment to parents and/or a worry that something bad might happen to their family. At home this could mean that the child doesn’t like to be alone in one part of the house when their parents are somewhere else in the house. They may have a tough time saying goodbye to their parents and could even have physical symptoms—stomach aches, headaches, etc.—when they are anticipating being separated.
Lessen the anxiety
To help ease the anxiety of separation, preparation is key. Prepare the child for what they can expect in school. Take advantage of open house opportunities where children can get familiar with the school before the first day. This helps make the new building seem less intimidating. If a visit to the school is not possible, talking about what the child can expect at school can help. Also make sure to help the child feel excited, too. Talk about all the fun things that will happen in school, let them pick out what they want to wear, have them help you shop for new school supplies. If the child is excited about school, they will feel less anxious.
As the first day gets closer, start creating a morning routine so they know what to expect. This can help lessen the anxiety.
On the first day of school give your child a special goodbye and make your exit. It can be difficult to leave your child right away, but lingering will just make the goodbye more difficult. Teachers know how to help new children get settled into the classroom and can help them find a fun activity to distract them.
If you know your child is likely to have some anxiety during the day, sending something small and special, like a note or picture, can help act as a reminder of mom and dad for the child. Also, having something exciting planned for after school, like a trip to the library, can be something for the child to look forward to and gives you a great chance to talk to your child about their first day.
Communicate and connect with your child’s teacher
By Janeen Lewis
Do you feel intimidated when you think of talking with your child’s teacher? What if your child complains about problems with his or her teacher? What do you do then?
As a parent and a teacher, I’ve been on both sides of the teacher’s desk. Here are some tips to help you communicate and connect with your child’s teacher so that all involved can have a great year.
Meet and greet the teacher. Teachers like to meet parents at the beginning of the school year so that if a problem does occur, a teacher’s first encounter with a parent isn’t a call about misbehavior or academic struggles. If your school hosts a Back-to-School Night before school starts, make it a priority to attend. Introduce yourself and show your support for the teacher. You may not be able to have a lengthy discussion, but making this initial contact helps break the ice.
Be involved. One of the best ways to get to know your child’s teacher is to be involved in the school and classroom. Let the teacher know if you can volunteer during the day or offer to organize donations or supplies for projects or parties by setting up a parent sign-up list online. Ask if you can cut out items the teacher has laminated or track down supplies for a lesson. Come to after-school events, school productions and parent-teacher conferences. If your career is related to something your child’s class is studying, offer to come in and answer questions.
Keep communications open and positive. Teachers welcome questions and concerns and prefer to know about problems early so they can determine the best way to deal with them. Your child’s teacher should be open to your questions and suggestions. Keep up with written teacher notes, field trip permission slips, report cards and any other written communications the teacher sends home.
Remember to keep communications positive. If you have concerns or think the teacher has dealt unfairly with your child, don’t dash off a negative note and send it first thing the next morning. For sensitive conversations, call and set up a time to meet after school.
Try to understand both sides. Teachers have a lot to manage in their classrooms, and with twenty-five or more students to supervise, sometimes they make mistakes or don’t see every problem. Your child may think something happened in class that wasn’t fair, and it’s easy as parents to react emotionally and blame the teacher. But support the teacher as much as possible while you gather information about what happened. Try to help your child to see the teacher’s point of view, and talk about how people can have differences and still work together to succeed.
Advocate for your child. Don’t be afraid to speak up if a problem in your child’s class becomes pervasive. If your child’s grades start to slip, he or she is continually unhappy or you suspect your child is being bullied by a classmate, work with the teacher to devise a plan to help.
Make a change as a last resort. Sometimes children have personality conflicts with their teachers. This actually offers an opportunity for growth if teachers and students can work together in a respectful and productive manner. After all, this is what children will need to be able to do when they grow up. But if problems persist, it may be time to request a change to another class. Discussing your options with a school counselor or administrator may help you navigate a tough year.
Understand that teachers are human. Most of the teachers I know are caring individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of the children they teach. Often, they are parents too and, at one time, they were students who lived through awkward growth spurts, problems with peers, lost homework and braces. They understand what parents and kids are going through, and they strive to build a positive connection between school and home.