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Pro Tips for Back-to-School Success

Oh, back-to-school season. Loved by parents and loathed by children everywhere. The days are getting (just a little) shorter, and it’s time to start dusting off the backpacks. But besides planning the first-day-of-school outfits, what else should every family do to get their students ready for a running start to the school year? Our team has some ideas for students from elementary school to college.

Elementary + Middle School

Whether they’re starting kindergarten or heading back for another year of middle school, the start of school for K-8th graders is exciting—but a little nerve-wracking. Try these activities to get everyone looking forward to the year ahead:

1. Plan out incentives for the year.

“If your kid is feeling anxious or a little disgruntled about returning to school, it can be helpful to break the year up into smaller chunks and create a reward they can look forward to. Together with your child, try planning a reasonable goal and reward for each quarter of the school year (about nine weeks). Post your plan somewhere visible in the home (like on the refrigerator) to keep them filled with anticipation and motivated to do well.”  – Whitney Henderson, Navigator-in-Chief

2. Build a book ladder.

“At the start of the school year, work together with your child to identify books you want to conquer over the course of the year. (Check out these new recommendations from Common Sense Media.) Read the books together (or independently for older readers), and make a plan to discuss them over a pre-determined treat at the end of each month—your very own parent-child book club. There’s no need to buy a bunch of books: Plan a monthly trip to the library to stock up. Chat with your librarian or your child’s teacher about increasing the challenge level of your book choices throughout the year. You can also ask them about pacing guides to ensure that you’re setting reasonable expectations about how much time your child will need to read a text.” – Gary Briggs, New Orleans Master Navigator

3. Make friends in advance.

“Using Facebook (or the good old-fashioned telephone), connect with other families whose children will be in the same class and plan a meet-up at a park to get to know each other. You’ll have a chance to talk with other families, and the kids can make connections that will help them feel more comfortable on the first day back.” – David Keeling, Founding Partner

4. Schedule a first-week-back celebration.

One of the things we’ve done for our kids is have a celebratory dinner at the end of the first week back to school. It’s a nice, easy way to recognize that getting through that first week took some work for everyone, and a good time to ask kids what they’re excited about in their new classes. You might identify areas where they’re feeling a little worried, too, so you can be on top of supporting them.” – David

High School

Our Navigators recommend setting high schoolers up for success by establishing routines and organizational systems at the start of the year. Encourage your teens to try these things to get off to a good start:

5. Get organized.

“Will your high schooler use a digital calendar to keep track of important dates and projects, or a hard copy one? Will they budget time each week for things like SAT or ACT preparation, an after-school job, extracurriculars, and socializing with friends? The beginning of the year is a good time to talk through these questions and set up a shared calendar, whether it lives on the refrigerator or everyone’s cell phones, so you’re all on the same page. (Check out these tips on high school time management.) If getting organized feels overwhelming, suggest your student break their organization tasks into chunks, such as (1) decide on a calendar system; (2) get their binder ready to go; and (3) identify areas they’ll need extra help with, so you can support them along the way.”  – Meghan Stroh, New Orleans Navigator

6. Have a planning party.

“Most high schools give out their syllabi in advance. Once you’ve stocked up on school supplies, have your student invite a few friends over with their own tools and use the party to encourage them to get organized and decorate their folders with pictures or inspirational quotes. (Here’s a good checklist for how to organize a high schooler’s binder.) Bonus: Write an inspirational note and tuck it in their bookbag for them to find on the first day of school. Who says your high school senior is too old for some extra love?” – Whitney

Off to College

Sending your kid off to college is such a huge milestone, and maybe a bittersweet one, too. They’ll have so much independence, which is great, but now is a good time to talk through some strategies for managing their newfound freedom so they don’t get overwhelmed.

Boston Navigator Chris Espinoza is our resident college advising expert. Here are some things he recommends new college freshmen do before they even hit campus (or as soon as they arrive):

7. Get to know your school’s version of the tutoring center.

“This place can go by a bunch of different names—Academic Success Center, Writing and Math Center, or Center for Academic Support are all common—but whatever it’s called, it serves a great purpose, and you’ll want to identify it before you even get to campus. Your tutoring center will be your one-stop-shop for free help if you’re ever having difficulties in class. Many colleges and universities have faculty and/or peer tutors available to assist students, and they also tend to have commonly used course books and materials available to borrow or use to make copies.” 

8. Connect with your academic adviser.

“One of the first people you’ll want to get to know on campus is your academic adviser. They’ll be able to help you pick courses, find internships, connect you with other faculty members who may be able to help you reach your goals, and assist you when you encounter challenges with your coursework. Establishing a relationship right off the bat is one of the most important things you can do in your early weeks at school.”

9. Sign up for clubs, organizations, and student leadership opportunities.

“Once you’ve found your way around campus, figure out where you’ll invest some extracurricular time. Clubs and activities are a great way to network with faculty, staff, and other students in and outside your academic program (and make friends, obviously). You’ll start building experience you can talk about in job interviews later on and connect with faculty who can be great references. (Bonus: There’s often free food.)”