This is the absolute best season for list-makers.
Backpacks, lunch boxes, new shoes.
Single serving chocolate milks, juice boxes, cheese sticks.
Wide-rule, 200-page, red spiral notebook with pockets.
Proof of residency, student physical, PTA directory order.
So many lists! So many potential checkmarks! (So much money!)
After a year of teaching and a summer of prepping for my second year, I have a few additions to the traditional back-to-school lists. (In no way does one year of teaching make me an expert. But it has heightened my awareness of what I can do at home for my own children.)
Background knowledge: Learning is a lot easier when you have a basic understanding to build upon. Some background knowledge comes from classroom lessons in prior months and years. Some comes from independent reading and curiosity. And parents can play a big role in building background knowledge by continually exposing their children to ideas and experiences.
Last year, when teaching key events of the American Revolution to fifth-graders, children who were often most engaged were those who already had an interest in war and those who had visited Boston or read previously about the colonies breaking from British rule.
You don’t have to travel or spend lots of money to help build your child’s background knowledge. You can read books and watch documentaries together, go on nature walks, visit museums, plant seeds and then watch vegetables grow — all while talking, asking questions and seeking answers together.
Rich vocabulary: Students are often challenged to use context clues and inference skills to understand difficult vocabulary words while reading. That’s a simpler task if the context clues are easy to understand, which is made possible by a strong vocabulary.
That means, again, that there should be lots of talking at home. Don’t shy from employing resplendent words — and defining them. Download a word-of-the-day app and challenge family members to learn along with you. If you’re reading aloud, pause at difficult words and talk about them.
Reluctance to rescue: If your child leaves his homework at home, try with all your might to let it stay at home. Don’t drive the forgotten assignment to school. Let your child live through the natural consequence of forgetting.
He may have to work a little harder during the school day or even lose some points on the assignment. But he will be more likely to remember to pack the homework next time if you refuse to rescue.
The same applies to snacks, lunches, water bottles, jackets, musical instruments and stuffed animals on stuffed-animal day.
Positive attitude: Grumpiness and optimism are equally contagious. Those mornings at home when I’m feeling frantic, no doubt my own children feel a little stressed. And then I feel awful for dampening the moods of the entire house. It’s a gloomy cycle.
Bubbly mornings, though — they’re the best. There’s little to no discord. We listen to music as we eat breakfast. We laugh on the drive to school. We each enter our classrooms with smiles to share and confidence to spare — even if we left a lunchbox on the counter at home.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.