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Ten ways to get your kids ready for back to school

Summer can be a fun, exciting and care-free time for kiddos. And, unfortunately, it's winding down quickly. It'll be back to the books for kids shortly and that means it's transition time. My sweet Emma is heading off to kindergarten and I am a wreck wondering how she will go from this beautiful summer of sleeping in and hanging out, to a rigid schedule of reading, writing and arithmetic.

I've been digging into my back pocket to remember all of the great "get ready for back to school" tricks that I surely used with my big girls, but, it's been a while. So, for some advice, I contacted Kristin Scholz, director of development of EPIC (Every Parent Influences Children). EPIC supports the people who have the most influence on children by providing evidence-based programs for parents, a character education curriculum for families and schools, and training for schools and agencies.

Scholz said that for the most part, parents hold the key to success for their children, "Decades of research proves that when young children are surrounded by literature-rich environments, are spoken to and read to frequently, have the skills needed to start school and are appropriately supported in the early grades, they can be successful in school and reach their highest potential, regardless of social or economic challenges."

So what does that mean? How can we give our kids the best chance of success for this school year? Here are 10 ideas culled from my own mom experience and suggestions from EPIC.

Encourage reading

Reading to your child could make all the difference in their readiness for school. But, it's more than reading –  it's listening, too. Let them read to you. Let them pick out the books. Maybe they'll need help with some words, but let them try it out. Remind them how to sound the words out, split the word up and encourage repetition. Set aside a special reading time – it gives your child something to look forward to.

It is a part of our bedtime routine each night. The girls love picking out a book and spending that quality time together with us. Bring books for your child to read in the car, bus or in waiting rooms. When traveling, read road signs with your child. Talk about what they mean. Encourage them read words on billboards, in doorways or on businesses.

Head to the library

Help your child get a library card from the public library near you. Help him or her pick out interesting books to read. While you're there, check the library schedule; they often have fun events, story times and other cool opportunities for kids.

Subscribe to a children's magazine

What kid doesn't love getting mail? This will be a special treat for your child. My kids have a subscription to National Geo Little Kids Mag and they love it.

 Encourage writing

Write notes to your child and leave them around the house. Have a scavenger hunt. Get them to do some fun projects like making a scrapbook, doing crafts, even making home-made cards for friends and family.

Teach everyday skills

Give your child a calendar to write down special events. Do a countdown to the start of school, their birthday or Christmas. This is a good way to teach them the days of the weeks and months. Show your child how to use a yardstick, ruler and tape measure and teach them how to tell time.

Teach economics with chores

Give your child chores to perform on a regular basis and pay them for their efforts. Count the change or bills together. Encourage them to count higher each time. This will teach responsibility and respect for your home and belongings, too.

Teach them healthy eating

Let your child help in the kitchen. They can help with reading recipes, measuring foods and using a timer.  Teach them about healthy eating habits, talk about what they might want to take in their lunch box or have for breakfast. Find healthy and tasty after-school snacks.

Limit television time

Select certain shows for your child, preferably educational shows. Turn the television on for the show and turn it off immediately after the show is over.  Maybe you can find a book on the same topic of the television show to connect the experience to reading. For years, we've had no-TV Tuesdays in our house. The kids don't even ask after a while.

Go wild with words

Play games that involve words or storytelling. Encourage your child to use his or her imagination. Look up words in the dictionary, play vocabulary games, even Google things that are fun for them. My 5-year-old is very interested in bees and their role in the world. So, we did a Google search about bees and watched videos that were pretty fascinating. We both learned quite a bit.

Get them to bed early

This is my biggest worry. My 2-year-old is in bed by 7:30 every night, but Emma is a different story. At 5, she's already a night-owl. It hasn't been a huge problem yet, aside for some cranky moments here and there – but I have to nip it in the bud. My plan is to start winding back by about 15 minutes every night. It won't be super noticeable to Emma, but it will help little by little.  (Expert sleep total recommendations for preschoolers is 10 to 13 hours of sleep every day; ages 6 to 13 is between nine and 11 hours per day, and ages 14 to 17 is between eight and 10 hours.)

Bottom line is to get your kids ready for school now, help create a love of learning and an appetite for information, and watch them be all that they can be.

Scholtz stressed time really is of the essence. "According to a special report: 'Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters' issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation last year, third grade is a pivot point in children's academic success. If they have not mastered reading by the end of third grade, their future success is severely jeopardized." That is not meant to scare you, just prepare you by letting you know what expectations your child will face in school.

Remember to make learning fun. Don't get frustrated when they've had enough or can't figure stuff out. They will learn in time as long as they have good guides to teach them along the way. You are your child's first and most important teacher. Get involved, stay involved and enjoy every moment of your parenthood journey; they grow up very quickly. Believe me, I know first hand.

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