Tips from Teachers: The Next Step
How to prepare your children for each new school transition.
As the school year winds down and educational leaders map out next year’s academic calendar, you may be wondering how to best support your children as they take the next step on their educational journey.
After talking with teachers, principals, counselors, and college professors, I have gathered advice on how students and their parents can best prepare for the next step.
Karen Goodshaw, principal at Saint Perpetua in Lafayette, says parents should focus on four areas to prepare their child for kindergarten: academic development, motor skills, social readiness, and personal care. She offers this advice for each category:
Academic development: “Give your child opportunities to interact with text and develop appropriate verbal skills. Singing the alphabet, finding letters on a page or in a puzzle are good examples. You can also share books with your children and encourage them to share books with their friends, siblings, or playgroup.”
Motor skills: “Playing with Play-Doh, coloring, and experimenting with written expression” all help build small motor skills. To encourage the development of gross motor skills, like balance and coordination, play ball games and spend time on play structures.”
Social readiness: “Interaction with other children is important for helping your child to learn to cooperate, share, and follow simple instructions.”
Personal care: “Students must be able to take care of basic personal needs, such as going to the bathroom and getting themselves dressed. They should also be able to help themselves to cups and plates placed in a lower cupboard, where they are easily reachable, to boost confidence and independence.”
Dayna Wagner, a counselor at Walnut Creek Intermediate, believes that success in a new, middle school environment is achieved by preparing students for three different types of change: logistical, academic, and social.
Logistical: The biggest difference between elementary school and middle school is the amount of movement in a school day. Students now have six different teachers, a P.E. class with a uniform change, a locker, and a much bigger campus to navigate. Wagner suggests parents and their student tour the new campus multiple times and walk the student’s class route if possible. Students should also familiarize themselves with school rules and dress code, as well as practice using their new locker.
Academic: To help their child be academically successful, Wagner stresses the importance of organizational systems. Parents and students should “make a schedule together that includes homework time, chores, extra curricular activities, and down time. A routine should be established and consistency is key.”
Students should also have a distraction-free place to study at home and be comfortable navigating the school’s website where homework assignments are posted. To support their child’s self-advocacy skills, parents and children should “discuss the importance of talking with teachers, counselors, and other school staff about challenges that may arise.”
Social: Middle school students often experience major changes socially. Parents should encourage their child to engage in after school activities, clubs, and elective classes to help foster new interests. In addition, parents should get to know the friends (and friends’ parents) of their children.
Wagner wants parents to remember that their children “need them in a different way” during this time and that “more choice and responsibility should be paired with guidance and consistency.” She also reminds families that school counselors are on campus to help students maneuver through transitions and help them with academic and social issues.
High School teachers Nicole Chaplan and Lynn Fritz agree that parents’ involvement and positive influence are vital during high school years. They suggest these tips to support high school age children:
Involvement: Fritz, a Concord native who now teaches in Maryland, says parents need to “walk the fine line between being uninvolved and being helicopter parents.” She advises, “For grade-level students, parents still need to check to see if work is being completed. For Advanced Placement level students, parents need to help their kids prioritize and perhaps whittle down their extra-curricular activities if they are too stressed out. The biggest mistake parents make at this level is treating their kids like adults, giving them full autonomy over their education.”
Chaplan, an English teacher at Monte Vista High School in Danville, says: “Teach them how to overcome, how to be strong, how to know that they are more than capable of taking on a challenge, as well as how to adapt…regardless of their circumstances.”
Positive Influence: Both Fritz and Chaplan cannot overstate the importance of parents’ positive attitudes around education. Regardless of a parent’s own high school experience, family discussions should focus on what is right about their child’s academic journey … not what is wrong.
“Saying, ‘English class is just hard for my child,’ is the wrong mentality. English is a course about thinking. English class is a place to challenge ideas, to think about how one thing relates to another and another and another. To understand that stories, events and thoughts reverberate far beyond a book and that information means something. To believe that any subject should be a ‘given’ gives your child the idea that they do not have to work hard for success.”
Fritz agrees and adds jokingly, “I would like it to be a criminal offense for any parent to utter the phrase ‘Oh, I hated math or science. It was too hard,’ in front of their child. If a student thinks something should be difficult, they will automatically make it harder than it really is.”
Beth Wynstra is a visiting assistant professor of English at Babson College in Massachusetts. Wynstra urges college freshmen to challenge themselves in new ways and advises them to be prepared to:
Go beyond the five-paragraph essay: “Your college professors will expect that you can not only develop and write an articulate and compelling thesis sentence but that you also can support your arguments in anywhere from 8–20 pages.” Students should practice analyzing a text and stating the importance of their argument. College freshmen write….A LOT.
Have your horizons not only broadened but rocked: Students should be ready and excited to meet students with completely different viewpoints and experiences than their own. In class, “you will be in a room full of people who have come from very varied backgrounds and neighborhoods. Keeping an open mind while listening to the insights of your professor and classmates will be very important. The best college students are those who can understand and synthesize others' arguments while developing their own.”
Think about your daily schedule in a whole new way: As students begin to build their class schedule, they should be prepared for a different type of school day. “For the first time in your academic life, you may not have a class at 11 a.m. Do not be tempted to watch "Judge Judy" while laying on your dorm room futon. Although the time spent in classes will be less than you are used to, the workload will be much, much more. If you are not using that 11 a.m. time to research, write, or read for your classes, you will be very unhappy once 11 p.m. rolls around!”
Meg Honey teaches AP U.S. History and AP Art History at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She also serves as a lecturer in the Single and Multiple Subject Credential programs and in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Saint Mary's College of California. Honey and her husband, Kevin, live in Walnut Creek with their daughter, Carson.