Easing the transition from summer to school

As the end of August nears and summer vacation comes to a close, parents and students across the county are preparing to head back to school.

Back-to-school time can be stressful for both children and their parents, but there are tips everyone can follow for an easier transition back into the classroom.

Dr. Cynthia Roldan, director of inpatient pediatrics at Carroll Hospital Center, said it is important for parents to be prepared ahead of time to minimize stress for both themselves and their children.

Medically speaking, parents can prepare by ensuring their children's immunizations are up-to-date, and it's also not too early to start thinking about flu vaccines, which will be out in a couple months, she said.

Parents should prepare for children who have any specific medical conditions by making sure their medications are refilled before school starts, and by attending school orientations to talk with teachers and administrators about any specific issues or needs students might have.

She said it is especially important for students to get back into a regular sleeping routine and to get at least eight hours of sleep each night, although the amount of sleep needed varies. It is important to realize that teenagers might require more sleep than what they or their parents think.

"Sometimes when you see children or teenagers who are very emotional or are having difficulty concentrating, they might be just extremely tired," Roldan said. "You might think they need eight hours of sleep, but sometimes they need more, like nine or 10 hours - it all depends on the specific child."

Cindy McCabe, director of elementary schools at Carroll County Public Schools, and Tom Hill, director of middle schools, agreed that sticking to a sleep schedule is important for students of all ages.

"Having enough sleep makes the day better for the kids, but it's the same with adults. If you get the right amount of sleep, you're much more engaged," Hill said. "Our kids are so active now, both mentally and physically, that getting the sleep that they need is even more important."

McCabe said creating a steady routine for when a student is going to do his or her homework is important, too.

"When the student comes home from school, will they sit down and do homework then and get it done right away, or will there be a period of time when maybe the child goes out to play, get out energy and then does homework," she said. "All of that should be talked about and agreed upon before the school year starts."

McCabe said each student should have a neat, organized and quiet space in the house where he or she can do homework.

Hill said homework areas differ from student to student - it could be a desk, the dining room table or even a bedroom. No matter where it is, having an environment where he or she can concentrate helps to make students successful, he said.

McCabe said in addition to sticking to homework and sleep routines, it is important that parents and their children take time each night to prepare for the following day, especially for elementary-age students.

This could mean making sure backpacks are packed and clothes are picked out for the next day, she said. Students should also eat a healthy breakfast to get them ready for the day, which they can do at home or purchase at school.

Roldan said parents should start preparing children for their new routines in the weeks before school starts.

"Parents should talk to their child about the new routine and how it's totally different from the summer's lack of routine," she said. "They need to start preparing at least one week ahead of time."

While there are differences between elementary, middle and high school, McCabe said it is always important to have a steady home routine to keep children organized and prepared.

Sherri Bream, director of high schools at CCPS, agreed that organization and routine are vital to success for older students, too.

"I think high school kids, especially those who are very active, have to really think about how they're going to organize themselves for the year," she said. "When you put some of that time in up front to create organization and structure, it's less stressful for the student than if they let things pile up."

But Bream said her number one piece advice for all students, more important than perhaps anything else, is to start the school year with a positive attitude. She said kids should think of each year as an opportunity to start a new beginning.

"Schools are one of those unique situations where every year there is a fresh start. Kids have new classes, new teachers, and the opportunity to remake themselves and refocus," she said. "When I was a high school principal I always used to say, 'Why don't we just come in with a really positive attitude. I don't care what happened last year. This is a brand new start and we're going to make it a great year.'"