It is interesting how the same event can bring such different reactions. For the parents, the start of the school year brings a sense of relief that the kids will finally be out of the house and that we can go back to regular working schedules. For the students though, the start of the school year often brings a sense of despair that summer is nearly over. The start of the school year can also bring a sense of nervousness, especially for students who are starting new schools or are entering new classes.

As I write this blog, my students are here in our dining room, packing their bags and checking off the supply lists to make sure they have everything they need. Looking at their faces is making me depressed! You would think that there was some terrible tragedy that struck my family. Luckily of course, the only “tragedy” is the realization that in another three days, vacation will be over. Thinking back to my own childhood, I guess it would be fair to say that I also had the same feeling of despair and hopelessness that my own children have right now. This got me thinking… Why is starting school so bad? There are a lot of worse places we could be sending our kids. In school, they actually get to see their friends, play sports, participate in activities, etc. If it were not for the learning and the homework, school may actually be a fun place.

So, how can we help our kids look on the bright side, and realize that the next 10 months will not be as horrible as they expect?

  • Set some goals- We all know our kids’ strengths and weaknesses. We know where they be able to coast, and where they will struggle. Well, now is the time for some positive reinforcement. There is no shame in using some positive rewards to recognize progress and achievement. For the younger kids, make a chart with some goals for the first month of the year. When my son was about to start second grade, behavior was a big issue. We set some achievable milestones with weekly rewards. While there were still some good days and bad days, my son actually became excited to go to school so that he could reach his goal.
  • Be proactive- Of course, no student wants to start the year with extra academic time, but in the long run, many students are actually appreciative of the pre-emptive help. If you know that your child is facing an uphill battle in a certain subject, you do not need to wait for a poor test grade to take action. Many high school students actually feel better starting the year off with a tutor. This is especially true for students who are entering a new school or who are living in a new country. In the US, students who switch from public schools to Jewish day schools often need extra help in Judaic subjects and in Hebrew language. Here in Israel, new Olim often need extra help in subjects such as Lashon and math. It is often worth starting these efforts early to avoid more serious issues later on.
  • Find some good Chugim/after-school activities- School does not need to be all work. In Israel there are all sorts of chugim offered both by the schools and by the various cities. Chugim can include sports, art, drama, technology, and many other types of activities. In US schools, there are always after-school programs for sports, drama, and other interests. While it may be a bit inconvenient for parents to add another carpool or to shell out more money for activities, these types of non-academic programs can often make the difference between a cooperative student and a despondent student. My kids started Chugim almost from the first day of grade 1, and they have continued with various activities ever since.
  • While we all know that school will never as enjoyable as summer vacation, we can help our children to enjoy their academic year, and to grow both as students and as people. The more support that we can give our children at home, the more confident they will feel, and the more they will try to succeed.

    School does not only have to be about books and homework. We can help our children see that school can in fact be, both productive and enjoyable. So, by this time, the bags are packed and the looks of gloom on my kids’ faces have settled into the realization that school is coming. I know that with the right encouragement and support, my kids will have a great school experience.

    Here’s to a great school year!