As the summer starts to wind to a close, kids know what's coming. It's the evil "s-word": school. Blek!
But school doesn't have to be synonymous with fear, loathing, hatred, etc. for your kids.
Whether it's your child's first time attending school or they've gone through several grades already, help your kids enjoy school with tips from two parenting experts: Ann Pleshette Murphy, a psychologist, parenting educator and author of "The Secret of Play," and Brenda Nixon, M.A., a parenting expert and author of "The Birth to Five Book."
As Nixon states, "A parent's attitude is contagious," so getting your kids to love school starts with you -- and your nanny. Here are 10 ways you and your caregiver can get your kids on the right track for an enjoyable school year.
Be a Role Model
As a parent, you're often the most influential teacher in your child's life, and if you employ a nanny, she's also a very important mentor. Nixon says, "When parents read a book or take an adult education class, they're modeling that everyone continues to learn -- which is one way to instill a positive learning attitude in their children."
Think back to when you were in school -- it's likely you had some teachers you absolutely loved and some you weren't too fond of. But regardless of your adoration (or disdain) for certain instructors, you were always taught to respect your elders. The same values should be instilled in your children.
"Speak respectfully about the teacher, so kids will respect and obey them," Nixon advises.
Get Them Involved
School isn't just about time spent in the classroom -- it's also about fun after-school activities, whether they be sports or clubs. Encourage your kids to pursue their interests outside of class and it will give them something else to look forward to when they school day is over.
Music lessons, baseball practices, art classes, karate tournaments. Many kids' schedules are so packed that you need a real live personal assistant to help organize. While your child may love all of these after-school activities, and they're great for socializing and improving future college applications, you don't want your child to become overwhelmed.
"Resist the urge -- and your child's begging -- to sign him up for tons of after-school activities," Murphy says. "All children need some downtime. And the fewer distractions your child has, the more likely you are to keep homework hassles to a minimum."
Talk to your children about the different activities they participate in, what they really enjoy doing and what can be cut from the schedule.
Set up a Homework Routine
Homework is a big part of the school experience. "Designate a homework area," Murphy advises. "Many of us grew up believing that the best place to do homework was alone in a quiet room at a tidy desk, sharpened pencils in hand. But lots of kids do better sprawled on their bedroom floor or sitting at the kitchen table. Let your child pick the spot; just make sure there's a relatively clutter-free surface on which to write, good light and no TV or blaring music."
Nixon adds that it's important to, "Encourage homework before play...However, allow brief breaks during the homework, as [kids'] minds will absorb more when they take brief interruptions from their studies."
If your nanny or after-school sitter will be watching your kids in the afternoon, be sure to clue her in on the new homework spot and routine so your child's regimen remains consistent.
For more help, read up on these 9 Solutions for Homework Challenges »
Encourage Meaningful Relationships
"In making new friends, quality is more important than quantity," Nixon says. "Don't force kids to be 'popular' by making tons of friends. Rather, encourage a couple of meaningful relationships."
Show an Interest
Keep the positivity going during homework hour and ask about assignments, such as what homework kids have and what their favorite subject is to get the conversation going about school.
Be an active participant in their education, too, by volunteering at school. This shows the value you put on their schoolwork and progress and will lead to added pride. If you don't have time to devote to being on-site, be an active participant by signing up for the school list-serve, reading the school newsletter and being aware of what is going on in the school community.
Learn about the 16 Ways Parents Can Be Involved in the Classroom »
Keep the Communication Going
"Keep the home environment relaxed, open and inviting, so kids will come to you with the conflict or issue they're facing in school," Murphy suggests. "Rather than sitting down and confronting a child or pushing a child to open up, use a form of play therapy, where you take a walk or color together and then casually bring up the topic you wish to discuss."
If you notice that your child has taken an interest in a particular subject area, see what you and your nanny can do to extend that learning. Set up some science experiments in your kitchen or visit a local museum to get up close to the fossils your kid has been reading about in textbooks. Showing them real-world applications for the knowledge they are learning in school is empowering and caters to their natural curiosity.
Set the Tone
With early morning wake ups, it's easy for adults to start the day off on the wrong side of the bed. But if you're cranky in the morning, that attitude may transfer to your kids. It's not easy, but Nixon advises you to help kids anticipate an enjoyable day by sending them off with a smile! Drink some coffee first -- it'll help.
Your kids may not be doing cartwheels when the alarm clock goes off in the morning, but this advice may help make it more bearable. By talking to your kids and helping them get excited about school, heading to the classroom won't become something that they dread, but actually enjoy for years to come!
Elizabeth SanFilippo is a freelance writer in Chicago. Her work can be found here.