August 09, 2005

Experts offer tips to get kids ready for school

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The calendar may still say summer, but parents know early August is the time to prepare their children for the start of school.

Education experts at Southern Illinois University Carbondale have several ideas to help parents assist their child's re-entry – or in the case of kindergarten students, the first foray – into a routine of school lessons and homework.

Even in the few weeks remaining before the beginning of the school year, parents can work with their children to combat "summer loss." That phenomenon happens with all children who spent the summer focused on everything except academics, said Marla H. Mallette, an associate professor in curriculum and instruction in the University's College of Education and Human Services.

Teachers generally spend the first four to six weeks of a new school year reviewing lessons learned the previous year, Mallette said.

In mathematics, children typically lose two-and-one-half months of skills, while in reading the loss and gap center around socio-economic conditions. Lower socio-economic homes might have fewer opportunities available for children to read during the summer and lose about three months of reading skills. Conversely, middle-class students could gain a few months in skills over the same period.

Parents can help combat summer loss in mathematics and reading, she said.

"It is very important that we are reading and writing with children all the time," Mallette said, adding that another key factor is making sure children are reading materials that are appropriate for their age.

She suggests allowing children the opportunity to work on simple math calculations when going on trips, cooking meals or even shopping. Setting aside time each day for children to work on small problems and read is important.

One of the most integral role parents can play is maintaining a positive outlook about the child's upcoming school experiences.

"With younger children you want to be real positive because it's a scary and new experience," she said.

Mallette also suggests that children accompany parents when searching for school supplies. Having them participate in back-to-school shopping shows a "positive, exciting image that school is a good place," she said.

Another important consideration for children returning to school is safety. The main injuries that affect school-aged children are motor vehicle-related injuries that occur while in a vehicle, while riding a bicycle, or while walking to or from school.

Bart J. Hammig, an assistant professor of health education in the Department of Health Education and Recreation, said parents need to encourage bicycle helmet usage among children, and make sure kids are safely buckled in if using a booster seat. Now is a good time to begin reminding youngsters about walking safely to and from school, he said.

"Young children, in particular, have a difficult time judging the speed and distance of automobiles so crossing the street is a little bit more than looking both ways," he said. "It's also assessing the distance and speed that cars might be traveling."

Parents can start now establishing routines for children to follow during the school year – including setting and observing bed times and wakeup times. He also emphasizes the importance of setting examples and being good role models in terms of physical activity and nutrition.

"It's a good idea to involve children in the decision-making process in terms of the types of food they eat, the type of physical activity they engage in and the type of injury-prevention practices they may adopt," he said.

There also are schedules and guidelines that parents can utilize when it comes to homework, Mallette said. Those include:

  • Giving children an opportunity to write about what they read, and talking with children about what they are reading.
  • Help children understand homework instructions but allowing them to do the homework and only check it when the child completes it.
  • Designate a specific area for homework.

Parents need to remember the importance of reading to their children, talking to them and supporting their efforts, Mallette said.

There also are medical-related issues that parents must consider in getting their children ready for a new school year, according to Carla Griffin, director of nursing at the Jackson County Health Department.

Students entering kindergarten or first grade, fifth grade and ninth grades, or entering a new district must have a school physical. Most districts require the completion of physicals prior to the start of the school year or when the child registers, she said. State law requires lead screening for children age 6 and under prior to admission to preschool, nursery school, kindergarten or other licensed child care program.

There also are immunization requirements for children entering kindergarten and high school. Many national health organizations, including the Academy of Pediatrics, encourage a pre-adolescent visit for children ages 11 to 12. That is the time to check immunization status for a variety of items, such as tetanus/diphtheria, Hepatitis B, varicella and meningococcal.

A new Illinois law this year requires children entering kindergarten, second and sixth grades to have a dental exam. Children must show compliance with the requirement by the end of the grade year, Griffin said.

Enhancing outreach and continuing education efforts are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.