Back-to-School Organizing

For Peter, education is a stepping stone to greater things in life. "Education is a constant exercise in letting go—letting go of the things we believed and moving on to something new; letting go of past prejudices or views and expanding them and then growing to the next level," he says.

In order to embrace the new opportunities, ideas and perspectives that an education presents, Peter says it's important to be prepared—and what's more important than getting ready for your very first day of school?

A child's first day of school can be both exciting and stressful for parents and kids alike. Peter talks to a mom named Amy about her advice for parents as they send their kids off for their very first day of school:

  • Create a level of excitement for the first-day-of-school experience, Amy says. "We look at school as … an exciting time in your life—meeting new kids and learning new things—and we try to instill that in our kids," she says.
  • Breed familiarity. Amy says she frequently took her son for walks past his school before he started kindergarten so that he would get used to the location and the school grounds.
  • Get your child ready for learning at home, Amy says, with educational toys, games and, above all, books!
  • Prepare for school the night before, Amy says. Pick an outfit and have your child pack his or her backpack in the evening to make getting out the door in the morning that much easier.
  • Avoid smothering your child when you drop him or her off for school on that first day, Amy says. This will help them make a smooth, emotionally healthy transition to school.

Cathy has been a grammar school teacher for 14 years. For the past eight years, she's also been running a popular educational resources website for students, families and teachers.

Based on her experience, Cathy shares with Peter the skills and knowledge she says kids need before they start the school year in order to be successful:

  • How to have a routine: "If [students] have good routines at home, it's very easy for us to give them good routines at school," Cathy says.
  • How to cooperate and work as a team member: Cathy says parents should arrange for their children to participate in activities where they can learn to play cooperatively before school starts.
  • How to read and count: Cathy says kids who learn their numbers and the alphabet at home are generally more successful in school. "Not just reading to them, but having the children see you read as an adult," she adds.
  • How to experiment: Engage kids in hands-on activities, such as baking cookies or art projects, to give them an educational edge, Cathy says.

In high school, most students have mastered the basics but must be ready to face new challenges and responsibilities head-on. Peter talks to Dr. Von Mansfield, principal of Homewood-Flossmoor High School outside of Chicago, Illinois, who says the key to success in grades 9 through 12 is knowledge of what lies ahead.

"There's going to be life four years from now that you will be totally responsible for, so it's a transition of having maybe mom, dad, aunt, uncle or grandma—whomever may be your primary caregiver—kind of turn over the reins to you, and that you will be in control," Dr. Mansfield says.

How can parents send their big kids off to college with as few hiccups as possible? For answers, Peter turns to Karen Levin Coburn, the associate dean for Freshman Transition at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and co-author of Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years.

Karen says parents can help smooth the transition with the following advice:

  • Don't do everything for them. Let your child get his or her own credit card, pay the bills and pack, Karen says. "If not everything gets done they'll learn there are consequences," she says. "It's a way of showing them that you have some faith in them—that they can do it themselves."
  • Learn about resources at your child's college. When parents are informed about tutoring, dining, health care and other resources on campus, it helps relieve anxiety, Karen says. "They can then be a coach to their kids when their kids do run into problems instead of trying to jump in and solve the problems for them," she says.