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Back-to-school prep used to mean mastering a few basics like learning to sit still and listen after the lazy days of vacation were over, settling on a school night routine and buying a backpack full of pencils, paper and paste.
In today's wired world, prepping for September is much more complicated. Your student's new first grade classroom may be equipped with the latest technology—do you know how all of it works? Your elementary school could have a strict set of rules about bringing cell phones to class—are you and your child aware of the restrictions? Your child's tablet or laptop might contain a collection of distracting games—do you want it to hold only homework assignments?
How can you prepare your 21st century tech-savvy child for back to school, starting now?
Dr. Michelle Kees, a University of Michigan Health System child psychologist, suggests involving your child in back-to-school preparation to reduce anxiety. "Talk about your new routines for school, bus or parent pick-up, after school plans so children understand what the days will be like," she advises. "Allow kids to pick some of the supplies they need—your child will like a notebook she picks out so much more than one someone else picks out!"
Great advice; but these days, the notebook is just as likely to be digital as paper-based. Modern classrooms are wired to the max and adjusting to these new technologies—or learning to put limits on familiar ones—can be a challenge for parents and students alike. Start early and use these tips to stay on top of tech issues as you and your kiddo transition from summer to school.
- Connect early. The middle of the summer isn't too soon to contact your child's future teacher and school. Find out all about the classroom and the technologies that your little learner will be using. Ask: Are there computer stations in the classroom or library? What programs do these computers run? Even the youngest children—kindergarten through first grade—often have a variety of learning programs loaded onto their classroom computers. If you connect with the teacher early enough, you might get a chance to review what's available.
- Be a prepared parent. Once you discover what kinds of gadgets your child will be exposed to, make sure that you understand enough to help her. If you're unfamiliar with how something works, practice with it before the start of school so that you can answer all of the questions that might come up. New programs, apps and other learning tools are appearing every day and you—the parent—will want to be on top of things!
- Know your limits. Most schools now have policies regarding cell phone, smart phone and other tech device use in the classroom and on school grounds. Learn the rules well ahead of time—and start practicing limits with your child now before she has to go cold turkey with the texting.
- Clean house. Be sure you and your kid are on the same page about the purpose of the tech gadgets she currently has—and how she plans to use them in the new school year. Start the clean-up of her existing devices, such as a tablet or laptop full of games, now. Get rid of distracting programs and prepare to dedicate the device to homework. This process should start early so that your child has time to understand and absorb what your expectations are for the coming year.
- Homework help. Create a schoolwork nook now and try to make it as compatible and effective as possible for your little learner. Will she be practicing reading or math with a favorite program at school? Install that program on your "homework" computer before the beginning of the year. Will she be expected to log-on to assignments from her home computer? Do group projects online? Talk to teachers early and to ensure that your budding Einstein has everything she needs to succeed.
- Social tech. Use social networks to connect to kids and parents in your child's future class. Making new friends and fitting in is always a big source of anxiety when starting the school year. Contact other parents and see if you can set up a "class" page or site. Don't wait until the last minute—the earlier you start, the more friends will join in the fun. "Kids will love re-connecting with school friends who they might not have seen over the summer break," says Kees. "Kids love when they see someone else they know at school, so making those connections can help school seem more familiar."
Saying goodbye to summer doesn't have to be so suddenly stressful that your little one tosses and turns at night. All of these activities can be started during the summer months to ensure a smooth transition from fun in the sun to school success!
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