A parents’ back-to-school guide

It’s the first week of school! The pencil cases are packed, the first day outfit is ready, but showing up prepared isn’t the only concern when your kids head back to school. Sarah Rotter, teacher at Moorestown Friends School, shares some tips to set up your student for success. 

Nerves are normal

Students aren’t the only ones nervous for the first day of school – but they don’t always realize that. Rotter has had her share of nerves and talks to many parents who feel the same way. She likes to tell the story of former MFS head of school, Larry Van Meter, who used to wear paper butterflies taped to his shirt to show students that even he has butterflies for the new year. 

“One of the most helpful things parents can give their kids ahead of the first day back is to reassure them that nerves are normal,” says Rotter. “Kids want to feel seen and heard. They want to feel that they belong in the classroom and the community.”  

Do your own learning

Every student is different, and the best way to find out what your child needs to be successful this school year is to listen to them. But that’s not the only benefit of listening. 

It’s also important, says Rotter, to remember this is a time for kids to navigate challenges and obstacles, and we should give them space to figure things out for themselves. “Parents are often quick to step in and fix things,” she says. “But a lot of the time, a challenge is an opportunity for students to learn how to problem solve.”  

Choose some prompts

Having a lot of information thrown at you in the heat of the moment – like when your child comes home from school after a bad day – can be stressful and hard to navigate. That’s why Rotter encourages parents to establish regular check-ins with students and to come up with a few prompts to use each time. 

“We put emphasis on reflection instead of reaction,” she says. “And that can be a helpful practice for these check-ins. Kids will know, for example, every week or every day, I’m going to tell mom or dad about a time I really encouraged someone. Or I’m going to tell them about a challenge I had and how I reacted to it.” 

When you’ve fallen into this routine of getting regular updates from your child about how they are handling challenges, it can help everyone avoid a big blow up.  

Stick to a routine

For many families, summers can feel a bit like the wild west, meaning bedtimes are pushed back and electronics are brought out more than during the school year. Rotter urges parents to try their best at getting back to a “normal” routine. 

“I always start with trying to eat dinner around the same time each night,” says Rotter, adding that activities like sports can make that a little complicated sometimes. “After dinner, choose an activity like playing a game or reading together to start winding down and preparing everyone for bed. Things like playing video games can ramp up your kids’ energy and make it harder to stick to an early bedtime.” 

Her biggest tip: Choose a time to turn off electronics. And when there’s push-back, just say no. 

Homework space

Rotter has lost count of the number of times she’s graded homework that looks like it was finished in a moving car – because it probably was. Many students are tempted to fit in some work on the way to soccer practice or on the bus to school. Sure, sometimes it’s necessary, but having a designated space can do wonders for busy students. 

“The specifics of a homework routine will be different from kid to kid,” she says. “Some kids work best sitting down and finishing it all in one go, others need breaks. But no matter what, having that space with limited screens and distractions will be helpful.” 

Trust your teachers

Remember, teachers and parents are on the same team, says Rotter. “We all want to set your student up for a successful year, and we should be working together to make that happen.” 

Rotter’s biggest piece of advice for parents is to set up a line of communication with your teachers. Whether it’s tackling a challenge your student is having or preparing them for an upcoming project they’re nervous about, working together can help your student in the classroom.   

September 2023
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