September 01, 2021
Hitting the Ground Running
By Dr Kathy Weston
I can’t help it. I have those butterflies in my tummy again; the soft signs of nervous excitement and anticipation for the school start. Mainly, I’m excited because, next week (after the two school runs and my husband's departure for the office), for the first time in eighteen months, I might have the house to myself.
I am also excited for the September routine; packing bags, rushing out of the door, chatting to other parents at the school gate and maybe even finding time for a coffee and catch up after drop-off. That’s not to say that I don’t have any wobbles or worries. We all do. I probably don’t really have to spell them out here and I am certainly not going to mention a certain virus. Suffice to say (as per last week’s Wednesday Wisdom), let’s take it one day, one week, at a time.
This week chez Weston, the children cannot believe that summer is over and can’t possibly recall one fun thing that they did. “It only felt like two weeks!” they exclaimed. “We hardly did anything!”. Happily, knowing that this might happen, I had collated some summer snaps from my phone using the super easy app, LALALAB and ordered a quick photobook, which I called, ‘Your Amazing Summer 2021’. So now my forgetful teens have tangible evidence that I took them to lots of nice places and paid for them to do lots of fun activities over the last two months.
Back to my unrestrained excitement. Last week, I had the most extraordinary conversation with an expert in… wait for it… children who set fires (in places and at times when they really shouldn’t). My preliminary chat with author and fellow criminologist, Joanna Foster, which was meant to last for about ten minutes, but ended up going on for an hour. We covered children’s relationship to fire in general, family attitudes to fire and juvenile fire-setting research.
At what point does it become a major psychological concern? How should parents and educators handle this perhaps uncommon, but extremely serious, issue? As a criminologist, this entire topic fascinates me, which is why I am delighted to announce that Joanna will be joining me for a webinar on the topic on 4th November, during the evening. Save the date!
I have been asked to write a few blogs recently, ahead of school start. There are plenty of tips and advice for readers in my recent piece for Galore Park. Apparently, it takes precisely 3 minutes and 33 seconds to read, so there are no excuses not to!
One of the main points I make, which I want to reiterate, is that children go to school to learn. As we see them out of the door each morning, it is perfectly acceptable to tell them to try their best and to work hard.
In the run up to the return to school, our focus is often on practicalities and quelling first day nerves, rather than learning. However, a recent conversation with the utterly brilliant Julie Kettlewell (a teaching professional and expert on ‘metacognition’ – which just means the ability to think about your thought processes) really brought home to me how important it is, right now, at the start of the year, to initiate conversations about learning.
What is an effective learner? What makes a great lesson? What can I do to get more out of my lessons? When I struggle, who can help me? Encouraging our children to think about how they learn can be fascinating and hugely enriching to them. Can you share with your children what you enjoy about learning? What helps/what hinders? When do you get frustrated and how do you manage that frustration?
Learning is tricky, frequently uncomfortable and, more often than not, riddled with error. As families, we can help our children flourish in the classroom by reflecting on the learning process more in family life. Our children were given school reports at the end of term. I’d advise digging them out and re-reading them together.
Co-construct goals and strategies for the term ahead. Talk about what ‘giving our best’ looks like. Let them know that you expect (and want) them to make mistakes and that you welcome them talking about areas of their school work that they find tough. Our children are truly hitting the ground running when they arrive into school having thought (even a little) about how they learn and the learning process. Such chats might also prompt important conversations about organisational skills, expectations around homework completion and the support that different family members can offer.
I will keep this section short and sweet. If we want our children to be happy, resilient and do well at school, there are many variables that we can control from the comfort of our homes.
How much sleep are they getting? Are we keeping a calm home, especially in the evening? Are we modelling good sleep hygiene? Are we setting bedtime expectations? (Yes, this is effective, even for teens). Are they having a great breakfast? This is arguably one of the most important factors determining a child’s level of concentration, energy levels and mood in the classroom.
Are we doing what we can to help our children practise being organised? We don’t want to pack the bag for them, but at the same time, getting organised for school can be hard work. Focus instead on scaffolding the organisational process. What do they need for the school day ahead? Do they know where those items are? Ask them, “How can I help or support you?”
Let’s aim to enable rather than shout, scaffold rather than tell, and support rather than berate! Easier said than done, but let’s aim high this September.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
Parents in Tooled Up schools can scaffold children’s organisational skills before school starts by using our Back to School Checklist. Plus, if you’d like to nudge your children to consider how they learn, our activity prompting them to reflect on their school report, will help. For children starting new schools with classmates they don’t yet know, we have plenty of suggested strategies and conversation starters to try out as they start to establish new friendships, and our suggested questions to ask children after school will help to open up dialogue at home about their day (hopefully eliciting a more productive response than “fine” or “don’t know”).
Last chance to join! Don’t forget that our webinar with home organisation professional Tracy Ross from Blissfully Organised is happening tonight at 7.30pm. It will be packed full of expert tips to help you simplify your daily life and is not to be missed. Tooled Up parents attend for free.