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By Pablo Muirhead, Ph.D., coordinator of MATC’s Associate in Arts: Educational Foundations Track and instructor of Spanish and teacher education

Back-to-school checklist

Got your school supplies yet? While it is important for your child to have the necessary materials to start school, the most important thing they need is a “school mindset.”

At this time of year, we all begin to transition from our summer schedules to the fresh start that a new academic year always offers. If you have school-aged children, I’d like to share some thoughts for you as you help your child adjust to this new rhythm.

All the places the children will go

Particularly if your child is attending a school for the first time, it is always helpful to visit the physical school site. Here are some questions to work through with your child:

  • How will I get to school?
  • Where is my school?
  • What class am I in?
  • What will my after-school routine be?

As adults we often know the answers to these questions, but let’s go the extra mile and work through these issues with our children, particularly if they are younger and/or attending a new school this fall.


If you haven’t already picked up school supplies, make it a family event to go out and stock up on supplies for the academic year. Many school systems have lists on their websites indicating what is needed. While it may be more time consuming to take the children along, this activity helps them adopt the school mindset.

Ready, set …

Summer schedules often lead to later a bedtime, which means you have to help your child transition to his/her new routine. Some schools start as early as 7:30 a.m. and others as late as 8:55 a.m. Do you know what time your child’s school begins? Plan accordingly. Give yourself ample time to get through the morning routine so that your child can make it to school on time. You will likely need to start getting your children to bed earlier. The National Sleep Foundation (http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need) recommends the following:

Ages Should sleep between
3-5 years old 10-13 hours
6-13 years old 9-11 hours
14-17 years old 8-10 hours

Most of us do not get enough sleep. As the National Sleep Foundation states, “Sleep is food for the brain.” To be successful, we need to get enough sleep. Regardless of age, the following can help us sleep better:

  • Established routines are helpful
  • Device-free bedrooms clear the mind

And if you’re curious about how much time adults need, we should be getting between 7-9 hours per night.

Know the teacher

Relationships are important. Know your child’s teacher. Establish contact with him/her early in the year. Perhaps your schedule does not allow you to go to school often, but that should not stop you from contacting the teacher. Let him/her know that you want to help your child be successful in school and that he/she should let you know how you can do that most effectively.

Be a part of the school

Can you volunteer in the school? Whether you do so regularly or once or twice throughout the year, it makes a difference.

When your child sees you in the school, it normalizes schooling for them and helps them engage more. Additionally, it is a great way for you to see your child in a different light.

Get them talking

If you are like most, you have probably found yourself at one point or another at both ends of the following exchange:

Parent: How was your day?

Child: Good

Parent: Tell me more.

Child: It was good.

The key to getting genuine answers is not in asking the same questions and expecting new answers. Instead of predictable questions, which result in the same old answer, try asking new questions. By asking open-ended questions that focus on specifics, you will give your child the chance to deal with something more tangible. After all, how do you answer the question, “How are you?” Do you really go into detail or do you simply respond with a traditional “fine” even if things are not going well?

So, check out some of these questions to get you started:

  • What was the funniest/most interesting/strangest thing you heard today?
  • If a famous person could go to class with you tomorrow, whom would you take? Why?
  • If extraterrestrials had visited your class today, what might they have thought?
  • Tell me something new that you learned today.

Model the way you want your child to answer by sharing news about your own day. Once you get into this mindset, you will come up with your own questions that will lead to better discussions with your child.

Transitions into new school years offer fresh starts. Enjoy this year. Make the most of it. Most of all, help your child experience the most success possible.

Here’s a link for more information about Milwaukee Public Schools: http://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/en/home.htm

Other school systems have information on their websites as well.