By Mairead Leong
An old saying states that, “Well begun is halfway done.” This is a good saying for one of the most overlooked portions of the school year: the first few weeks. Lessons build on previous lessons, so it is very important to ensure that your child starts out on solid ground. Help your child succeed from the start by following a few guidelines.
Yes, there are fantastic vacation deals for late August and early September. Yes, it is stupid for your child’s school to begin just in time to let out for the Labor Day holiday. Yes, the weather is hot and not conducive to being outside. No, that does not mean it is okay to blow off “just a few days” of school. In fact, missing time at the very beginning of the year is possibly the worst idea for your student.
The beginning of the year may seem pointless — after all, it’s meeting the teachers, learning the rules, taking placement tests, and dusting off last year’s ideas. Exactly. That’s why it is so important to be there. The first few weeks of school allow your student and your teacher to get to know and understand one another — what rules (arbitrary though they may be) will you child need to follow? What are the teacher’s expectations? From the teacher’s perspective, this time is also critical — what are the student’s weak areas? What do I need to review or re-teach?
Skipping time, even if it is just a few days, means that your teacher has less of an understanding of where your student stands, which means that your student is already falling by the wayside. Even if your student is academically talented, she or he is coming back from summer break. Research shows that students lose months’ worth of information over the course of the summer. If your student misses the placement test that would let the teacher know what to review, your student may be in an extremely disadvantageous place once lessons start building on that missing information.
If you do take your child out of school for a legitimate reason (religious holiday, emergency, illness), make sure to contact the teacher and let him/her know ahead of time or as soon as possible. This will let the teacher know that your child is not just on a beach vacation and will allow the teacher to help your child catch up.
It’s not a huge deal if your student doesn’t have a binder on his or her first day back, right? Really, what will the students learn? Why will s/he need a full set of folders during the first week?
Simple. The organizational patterns set at the beginning of the year are important. If your student starts out in a slip-shod manner, both teachers and classmates will recall that this child is disorganized, flaky, and did not value education enough to go get the necessary supplies. Even more importantly, letting your child breeze through the first weeks of school sets a tone; it tells the child exactly how much value you put on education.
Ask your child to bring home and share the copies of class handouts and the class syllabus. Go over them with the child to ensure that your child has everything s/he needs and that s/he understands how to excel in class.
Keep an eye out for pre-tests and diagnostic tests. Your child will probably take many of these “what do you remember?” exams in class; ask for a copy of the child’s results. If your child did poorly, ask for a conference with the teacher.
These diagnostics provide a preview of your child’s year. If your child needs help in September, the situation will be far worse by November if left unchecked. However, you can use these tests to your student’s advantage. Once your child’s results come home, you can contact a tutor to help brush up on the rusty spots. If your child aced the pre-test, you can look into enrichment to keep the subject interesting and encourage your child to continue excelling.
While it is somewhat melodramatic to announce that pulling your child out of school for a few extra days of vacation will doom him/her to a year of misery and failure, those first few weeks of school are extremely important. Help your child set the tone for the year by encouraging him or her to be organized, to be mentally and physically present, and to take the diagnostic tests seriously.
If the diagnostics show areas that need improvement, help your child to reclaim the lost knowledge or to improve his or her skills. If the tests show that your child is excelling, help them stay on that path by encouraging enrichment. Set the stage for success by starting early. “Well begun is halfway done” may be a truer sentiment than you think.