Our family’s traditional August soaking detachment from all responsibilities was slothing happily along when, on Aug. 19, I received a Facebook message wishing me a Happy Hoo Hah Day. That’s how I knew it was time to start thinking about back-to-school.
When my siblings and I were teens, my brother invented Hoo Hah Day as a way to indulge while still sheltered by several weeks from summer’s last call on Labor Day. We observed by concocting a favorite beverage and running wild in the yard at night. Now as the mother of a 9-year-old, my first priority for back-to-school season is still to happily top off summer before we yield to practical preparations.
I have a tendency to moon over my child, given the glory and honor of raising a human being on this planet. But this is florid talk for a mom with a growing front-yard water leak and a 14-year-old Chinese exchange student who will arrive for a 10-month stay the day after we return from vacation.
The late Gabriel Garcia Marquez told us in his novel “Love in the Time of Cholera” that “without river navigation, there is no love.” So I have deferred the archiving of summer camp art projects and called the plumber.
You are invited to join me as I choose a laser approach to September planning. We could go all Type A on this, with multiple lists and calendar entries meant to ensure a full year of seamless routines. But that’s so 20th century. Let’s make a September plan that addresses priorities and can be edited in October and beyond.
First, finish summer. We have days, not weeks. There isn’t time to read the Harry Potter series together, but you can share a few chapters of the first book. Did you promise a beach visit? Labor Day at a resort is still possible if you’re willing to pay last-minute prices. I had promised days of play at home, which we are placing before and after a family trip. Try waking everyone at school wakeup time for these activities and earlier bedtimes will follow.
Next, I believe that emotional and physical health precede all positive pathways in life. So I am closely focused on any support my 9-year-old daughter might need before fourth grade starts. She didn’t want her name printed, but she’s looking forward to returning to school with substantially the same classmates as last year, including her friend William Sutton (who wants his name printed in very large letters).
And I’ve identified a few go-to people who speak Mandarin to bridge language gaps for our exchange student. You might want to speak with your child about entering a new school or watching a best friend move away.
If you feel your child comes under too much pressure at school, you can talk to him or her about focusing on one task at a time, one day at a time. I haven’t been able to sell meditation at my house, but you can try.
The transition to kindergarten is extremely difficult for most these days because it is a full-day, seat-based academic affair. Many parents who can swing it give their children, especially the 4-year-olds, frequent days off. Some families also maximize older children’s excused absences for illness and religion. The official line emphasizes perfect attendance but the parent line at the playground emphasizes the well-timed mental health day.
For parents who want to maximize attendance for work and school, compare planned school closings with important work events. For example, the date for elementary school afternoon parent conferences is Nov. 13. Middle school afternoon conferences are Nov. 20, high school ones are Nov. 7 and District 75 conferences are Nov. 18.
Concerning logistics, we need to answer one dense question. Who goes where at what time, with what supplies, and what will they eat and wear?
Double-check the schedule for the first week, when many younger children have early dismissal. Public school starts Sept. 4 and private schools start a few days before or after.
School bus schedules change often in the beginning, so don’t stake your career on a 7:50 a.m. pickup. If you personally take your child to school, remember that commuting is more crowded once school’s in. I’m planning an extra 20 minutes each morning to ease our daily launch. Update the “blue card” so the school knows who is, and isn’t, authorized to pick up your child, get a backup, and ask what happens at school if you’re late.
Afterschool activities often start a few weeks into the year, but check signup dates now so you don’t miss out.
We purchased school supplies throughout our summer wanderings, but you actually don’t have to have the full granny cart of requested supplies on the first day.
Many elementary schools comingle all supplies, so your purchases won’t be directly used by your child and aren’t coming home. We carefully selected my daughter’s extra-thick pencils but they disappeared into a communal bin at her public kindergarten. One enduring mystery of New York City school life is where all those name-labeled rulers and pencil boxes go in June, because they always need to be repurchased months later.
If your budget is stretched, you can send some obviously communal supplies like tissues and the three reams of copy paper most schools require later on. They can’t use all of it in the first month and will appreciate fresh supplies come March.
If you don’t need uniforms, plug a few wardrobe holes to get started and when the weather cools, you’ll be assured of getting the right size, possibly at a good price.
In the morning, everyone will need breakfast and clothing. “Everyone” starts with me, so this year, I will remember to eat breakfast with everyone else.
For lunch buyers, elementary schools usually provide free lunch to all until payments get sorted out. Packaging nonperishable items for a full week on Sunday saves a ton of time in the morning, so I’ll make a habit of it this year. And I’ll sketch out the first week’s dinners ahead of time. We’ve been punting all summer with takeout and go-out, which can be disruptive once homework kicks in.
You’ll likely want to give each child a bit more responsibility this year. You can practice now, with things like putting shoes near the front door or choosing clothes the night before.
Once school starts, make a human connection with your child’s teacher and administrators. They also might be nervous, and a few kind words will establish a relationship for handling any issues that might arise later. The first day is the time to remind everyone about dangerous food allergies, no matter how solid your 504 plan.
Try to attend at least the first PTA and/or SLT meeting. I spend a lot of PTA time and find that parents who attend some events are better-informed and often form lasting friendships. If you haven’t the time or patience, kind words encourage others to keep up the good work. “I can’t chair the fundraiser, but I’ll donate.” Or: “Thank you for the work you do.”
Unless your child has an IEP, or individualized education program, defer curriculum questions. Give your child and the teacher a chance to get started before second-guessing them. I have a pretty good picture of where my child was at the end of third grade, but I don’t know how she may have consolidated knowledge over the summer.
For many families, the school year is not much different from the summer day camp season. By focusing on a few practical adjustments, I hope to free our family to enjoy as a teenager from another country discovers America and my curious child grows toward adulthood. Here’s to inspired scholarship for all.
Victoria Zunitch is a Queens Chronicle contributing reporter who lives in Forest Hills.