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IT'S ELEMENTARY SIMPLE STEPS CAN HELP CHILDREN EASE BACK INTO SCHOOL ROUTINE

School is about to take precedence over summer. Children who stayed up late and slept in long will soon be blasted awake by alarm clocks. Baseball will give way to multiplication tables. And lazy days will turn into scheduled days.

All this takes an attitude adjustment as the rules change for such important issues as bedtime, television watching, homework, after-school activities and report cards.

How does a family make this transition from summer to school?

Let's start with bedtime.

"As you get to the countdown, start getting to bedtimes that are closer to those during the school year," advises Nancy Kochuk, a spokesperson for the National Education Association in Washington, D.C.

"Then it's not as much of a shock when the school bell rings."

This transition works best if youngsters are part of the process, said Carol Woodard, Buffalo State College professor emeritus of early childhood studies.

For one, children respond better to rules that they've helped construct, she said, and it helps if they are written down and posted.

"Around age 6, for example, they become very rule-bound," said Ms. Woodard. "So you can just tell them to check rule number so and so."

A good segue, she suggests, is letting the child determine how to spend those precious pre-bedtime moments. Maybe a story read by a parent, or 20 minutes of under-the-blanket reading by flashlight.

Or the family might play games, said Sylvia Rimm, a psychologist who directs Cleveland's Family Achievement Clinic at MetroHealth Medical Center.

"Rather than sitting like zombies in front of the TV, they could play Monopoly or checkers," said Ms. Rimm, author of "Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades" and a regular commentator on NBC's "Today" show. "Games can teach math and spatial concepts, negotiation, how to win and how to lose and they are fun."

But then comes the First Day Jitters.

If parents remain calm, children pick up on the mood, said Michael O'Brien, Buffalo Public Schools assistant superintendent for school operations and leadership.

"Mainly, they should be enthusiastic about education," he said. "Those values are contagious."

Kindergartners and children going into a new setting should be walked to the bus stop and tour the school so they'll feel more comfortable, said Shirlee Paveljack, principal of Williamsville's Forest Elementary School.

Ms. Paveljack said it's also a good time for parents to pick up a school supply list in case the one that was handed out in June has been lost. And before the rush of the first week, parents can notify the school clerk of changes in address, day care arrangements, emergency contacts or custody issues.

Within the first month, Mom and Dad should make a point to meet the teacher, at least casually, and to let him or her know that they'd appreciate feedback on their child's progress, the NEA suggests.

"It's really important for a teacher to have some sense of the child and parent early in the school year," said Ms. Kochuk. "Back-to-school nights are critical because they alert the teacher that the parent is interested and supportive."

There are plenty of ways to do that: chaperoning field trips, helping in the classroom, running for office in a parent teacher organization or becoming active in a school-based management team.

"Education isn't a spectator sport," said O'Brien. "We need participants."

If parents have questions, they should call the teacher or the principal, said Ms. Paveljack.

"Sometimes parents are hesitant to call, but we want to know what their concerns are," she said. Also, she said, the school would appreciate knowing if something has happened that upset the child, like the death of a relative or a pet.

"If something interrupts the normal routine it helps if we can understand the mood changes," she said.

Homework hassles

When homework appears, parents should remind children -- and, in some cases, themselves -- that it's the work of the child.

"Let them know that you'll help but you don't do their work," said Mrs. Woodard, suggesting that parents review the work and help the child to do self-evaluation. "Children should work through the process so they can feel successful," she said. "That's what builds self-esteem, not giving them stickers."

Specific times should be dedicated to homework, whether it's after school, just before dinner or right after, said Ms. Rimm, who has also written "Dr. Sylvia Rimm's Smart Parenting: How to Raise a Happy, Achieving Child."

Late evening, however, doesn't work.

"Right before bed, they tend to tarry," said Ms. Rimm. "They sit over their books and do anything to stay up late."

When she researched the lives of successful women, she found that, on average, they studied 45 minutes a day in elementary school, 90 minutes in middle school and two hours in high school.

"If teachers don't assign homework, 10 or 15 minutes of writing stories or math facts will reinforce good habits," she said. "Even kindergartners should have a little time. They love it. It isn't that they'll learn so much, but it's developing a habit."

In the earliest grades, parents should make sure the child gets started on the work; by middle school they can check in occasionally, and by high school, a student should be independent.

A timer can be used as a neutral aid for a reluctant student, she said, but they should take on increasing responsibility.

"You shouldn't sit by their sides as they work," said Ms. Rimm, "but be available for occasional questions."

Beware the TV

Using the Internet, playing video games and watching TV should be monitored and limited, experts say.

"In our house, we have a rule that we only turn the TV on for specific programs, rather than because they think they have nothing to do," Ms. Kochuk said. "It's making a conscious decision about what's worthwhile rather than just plopping in front of the TV."

Ms. Rimm's rule is this: No TV immediately after school.

"Television will put them in a passive mode," she says. "And then it's hard to get back into studying."

Instead, she says, children should have a snack, play with friends and get some exercise after being inside all day.

What about sports, music, Scouts, clubs and other after-school activities?

Start slowly with the youngest ones, advises Ms. Kochuk, limiting them to one or two outside involvements. "Having a finite number of activities leaves time for study, homework and general family time," she said.

Schoolwork is central, Ms. Rimm said, but children should be exposed to enriching activities -- if they don't interfere with going to class or maintaining grades.

"I believe that those who are involved have a much better shot at growing to be productive, interesting young people," said Ms. Rimm. "It's always good to have exposure to music, movement, dance, gymnastics. It's not that you are trying to make them into a ballerina, but they learn to coordinate their bodies to move to music."

And when that first report card arrives?

"The most important thing is that parents realize that effort counts as much as the final product," said Ms. Kochuk. "Not everybody will get A's. There are lots who get good grades without much effort, but others do their best and come up with lower grades. The grades should be secondary. The issue should be to praise the effort."

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