By Alix Norman
The end is nigh! The end of the school holidays that is. The lazy summer is drawing to a close, and suddenly you have to scrabble out the To Do list from under the fridge and pin up whole new pages to accommodate your organisational nemesis. “Uniform, books, bag, shoes, stationery…” The list can seem endless, and that’s even before you have to deal with getting the kids mentally equipped for nine months of early rising, academic discipline and some semblance of scholastic aptitude. So how should you go about getting the kids – and yourself – through the gargantuan undertaking that ends with a state of back to school preparedness? We’ve spoken to a parent, a teacher and a psychotherapist to give you some helpful hints on starting a new term.
Terry Antoniades is that rarest of creatures – an organised Dad who is fully engaged in his children’s lives. With three sons over the age of 25, and a daughter Natalie who, at age 9, is in junior school, he and his wife Jackie have put in more work than most when it comes to preparing for the start of a new school year. “Getting the kids back to school is all about routine in my mind,” he says. “We keep to early starts and early bedtimes, and a good eight hours’ sleep every night, even in the summer months. It was harder with the boys – teenagers do tend to push their luck,” he grins. “But we’ve always tried to keep our kids’ sleep patterns consistent throughout the year, so the start of term isn’t a shock to the system.
“As Natalie gets older, we’re also helping her learn to organise herself,” he adds. “Our three boys always knew they were responsible for finding the right books, packing their bags and letting us know if they needed new uniform,” – an expense that the Antoniades have circumnavigated by buying over the summer months. “The cost of uniform often rockets in September, so we’ve always bought all our kids’ uniforms by August,” he explains.
Getting younger kids accustomed to the idea of going back to school is another of Terry’s sensible practices: “Jackie is excellent with our daughter, even during the summer they’ll play educational games. In fact, I bought Natalie a brilliant spelling game the other day, and she loves it – it keeps her mind refreshed while she’s on holiday. And we always try to make sure she’s psychologically prepared – school can come as a bit of a shock to little ones – so over the summer we talk to her about her classmates, ask her about her teachers, and even drive past the school building itself so she’s fully used to the idea of going back to school in September”.
Marianna Kofterou, a family and relationship psychotherapist, agrees with Terry’s ideas: “Kids are generally very resilient and they adapt easily to the new academic year,” she says. “But Terry has the right idea when it comes to the social aspect: mentioning, talking to and seeing the kids’ classmates as much as possible over the holidays. Your children will be returning to the same social circle, and it’s important – especially if there might be any social issues such as bullying or isolation – to maintain that sense of security, which then allows your child to flourish academically.”
Which leads us to the academic side of the back to school issue – what do teachers themselves recommend you should do to help your kids get ready for the start of term? The message from school, it seems, is that the real preparedness has to come from you, the parent.
“Don’t forget that a lot of your kids’ teachers are probably mums as well, and they know first-hand what a hassle it is to get everything in order,” says Emily Kyprianou, who teaches Key Stage 2. “The first week is often a scramble to get the information the school needs from the parents, so it makes life much easier if the students show up in the correct uniform, with everything signed, sealed and delivered. As a teacher I feel awful spending the first few days of term hounding kids whose parents haven’t bothered to check what their offspring should be wearing, or what they need to sign – they’ve put their children in a position where they’re going to be singled out every morning during Registration.”
Organisation aside, Emily has a few simple tips to make sure your child starts the year with the right approach to education: “It’s a good idea to take a trip to your local bookshop about two weeks before term begins,” she suggests. “This way, you’re involving the kids in the process of getting their text books for the coming terms, and hopefully they’ll show a bit of interest in what they’ll be learning this year. Encourage them to look through the previous year’s work – if you can spend a couple of hours doing this together, it will really help – and compare their work to the tasks in the new text books. Not only will it remind them of material they’ve already covered, but it will give them an idea of what they’re going to be learning in the near future. And who knows, they might just follow up on something that interests them!”
“This is a particularly good idea,” psychotherapist Marianna concludes. “A new academic year is a new start, and this can often inspire your children. If parents can encourage this feeling – by buying new stationery or books – you’re sending your child off with the right attitude towards what going back to school is really all about. Learning.”