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Backto School Guide Friday, August 19, 2011 Special Supplement to:



What do you do when the kids go back to school?

Get the school year off to a good start By Jennifer Blyth Wondering how to get your youngster off to a good start this school year? “The best advice I would have is for parents to talk with their kids about the upcoming year – fears, things they are looking forward too, what they might learn, etc.,” says local teacher Mel Postle, an elementary teacher for 20 years. It might also help for parents to think back and talk about their own experiences at that grade. Practically speaking, continue to spend time reading with kids over the summer, get organized, get your school supplies and spend time together put-

ting kids’ names on them. Whether it’s a child’s first time entering the classroom or he or she has done the back-to-school thing a few times, having a few jitters isn’t uncommon. However a few simple steps can help. • It’s important for parents and students to get back into the school swing of things a few weeks before the first day of school. Start setting alarm clocks for the hour at which kids will have to get up, and get them in the habit of rising from bed and starting the day. Walk or bike the route to school, or find out where the school bus stop may be – you’ll also see how much time is

needed to get ready in the morning! • Mention school frequently. Begin talking about school and what you need to prepare, talk about seeing friends, extracurricular activities and other favourite elements. Hearing about school frequently can reduce feelings of anxiety. • Don’t be nervous. Children often look to their parents for guidelines. A parent who is overly nervous or sad about the first day of school could make their kids nervous, too. • Be prepared. Lay out clothes, get a good night’s rest and set the alarm clock. Preparation can ease the mind of parents and students.


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B2 • Back to School



BacktoSchool Organization

Encourage students to use a planner to stay organized and on top of assignments.

While parents are often involved in their children’s elementary schools, there’s a natural tendency to take a step back when entering first middle, then secondary school. And for many parents, “you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t” when it comes to whether or not they should be inquisitive about their child’s educational progress, says Belmont Secondary’s Paul Bendall, who teaches English and AVID – Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college preparatory system for learners who have post-secondary potential and desire but need help with areas such as organization and writing skills. The problem for parents can be twofold: Getting involved, setting high expectations, seeking progress reports, and pushing to get homework done can seem like nagging and lack of trust. However, if you take a back seat and let them rise or fail based on their own whim and motivation, you don’t care. “The cautionary note on the latter is that adolescent children seem to make riskier personal decisions if they think their parents don’t care,” Bendall says, adding that “in the end, it’s best to stay involved, establish the most effective way



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to make contact with teacher(s), whether email or phone, and chat with children about their progress at school on a regular basis.” The use of planners – often initiated in the elementary school years – can help middle and high school students enormously. Expect children to write down assignments and due dates. Establish the habit of checking your child’s agenda every few nights. If no homework is noted for several weeks, “this should raise a red flag — check with the teacher for a progress report,” Bendall suggests. When launching the discussion at home, if you’re not getting the right answers to “do you have homework?” change the question. Instead ask, “How are you planning on spending your study hour (or half hour)?” Bendall suggests establishing a regular time and place for students to sit down in a study hall-like session – several onehour sessions a week would definitely help. “They can still do homework the other nights, but this way you guarantee something will be done. If your child professes to no homework, have them review (or rewrite if illegible) their notes and

quiz themselves, look for and finish those half-done assignments from last week, organize their binder, or teach a concept to yourself or a sibling.” If possible, establish a routine when it comes to the study session and locate it away from distractions like the television, computer, cell phones, loud siblings, or a bed: “it’s for sleeping, not studying and your body knows it.” To help keep students organized, consider using one master binder for all of subjects, which avoids the claim, “I brought home the wrong book.” Have a filing cabinet or box where students can place work and assignments they have removed from their binder when cleaning it out monthly or bi-monthly. “Do not recycle or throw anything out as incomplete assignments are often in the mix of purged papers. For students on a semester system, storing notes allows for end of term review prior to exams as well,” Bendall advises. “In short, for students entering middle or high school, organization is the bugbear. Using a planner or agenda, keeping a master binder while establishing study session times and staying involved are all strategies to help keep students on track to a successful school year.”

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Back to School • B3



Parents Guide


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By Jennifer Blyth Good study habits start with an organized study space. The first step? “Designate a location that is conducive to studying and ensure that you have adequate lighting and a comfortable chair,” advises Saija Tissari, of Ducks in a Row Organizing. Organizing your space is next. “Make sure you have a good sized surface to work on that is clear of clutter,” Tissari says. Begin by separating the desk and drawer clutter into three piles: • toss old paper into recycling and trash dried-up pens etc.; • store things that you want to hang onto but don’t really need, such as notebooks from previous courses; • keep everything that you need to have at your fingertips for current courses in some organized manner. To help keep your class work organized, start by categorizing work by course – colour-coding or labels may help. Once classes start, keep a handle on the related “stuff ” by using trays to contain clutter. “They conserve space on your work surface and make your papers easily accessible,” Tissari says. Categorize the trays by class and separate supplies on your desk by using a sectioned desk tray for pens, paper clips and other tools. When sitting down to work and study, eliminate distractions – no cellphones or text messaging and close Facebook, Skype and other networking programs. On your computer, organize your files and have a clutter-free digital desktop. Name documents using a consistent system, such as the course abbreviation, assignment name and date. Create folders for each term and in these folders create a folder for each course. Finally, file old documents into appropriate course folders, Tissari advises.

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B4 • Back to School


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Back to School • B5



Parents’ Guide

eas id h c n u l y v Sav

makchildren involved in ng m fro d pe ni m an pl Everyone gets stu ing lunches, from ck pa to at wh t ou ab to clean up. time to time clude e Dietitians servings small: In in the lunch kit. Th ep Ke e tak to s vegetip d few an a t up fruit of Canada offer hes. peeled and cu sy to eat. Cut exnc lu of t ou ge the challen les that are ea it www.dieti- tab time so kids For more ideas, vis tra veggies at supper nches. r them fo lu g Well can include tin Ea g in night beus s he nc Plan lu Make lunches the e fridge. a as ide Gu od with Canada’s Fo and store them in th nch, ve the lunch fore r lu guide and aim to ha food from Pack supper leftovers fo ppens e ha on up st an lea cle at include then kitchen . ps ou gr od fo ce. each of the four ildren who only on a lunch drawer that Be a role model: ch up t Se hy are more ckaging needs see parents eat healt contains all the pa s lve se tic em th hy alt ed container, plas likely to eat he is a vital – insulat plastic wrap, stickers, h nc lu s: he nc lu e Valu ainers, s. Have y; take some cont part of a child’s da delicious, napkins, spoons and fork e ree th ak in m d ea an ar time to plan a special shelf or s. lie pp su s h he nc nc lu lu r fo hy healt ur frigerator yo t ge t: or eff m Make it a tea

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Meal planning key to eating well By Jennifer Blyth For many families, September is the true new year – new school, new routines, new sports and more. After a leisurely summer, families are suddenly greeted with hectic schedules and new commitments that can send nutrition and family meals out the window. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Chef Dwayne MacIsaac, who teaches cooking classes in the community and offers ideas and inspiration on his blog,, shared a few ideas on keeping good, nutritious food part of the fall routine. First, look at what’s on hand and in season at the market – which can offer both inspiration and cost savings. Coming into fall, for example, “there’s just so much beautiful produce available,” MacIsaac says. For busy families, starting not just the school year, but also a new season of hockey, soccer, dance or other activities, September and October can make for crazy dinner times – not to mention uninspired lunches. Being able to regularly enjoy a meal together benefits not only the family nutrition but also family dynamics. “I think it’s really key to sit down and decompress for the day,” MacIsaac says.

For this, “meal planning is key.” By taking a little time to plan ahead considering the week’s schedule, families can be sure to have the necessary ingredients on hand, plus make a little extra to pack in lunches. MacIsaac’s family enjoys hearty meals like curries, stews and soups, which can be re-heated the next day for school. Even pizza – made at home with fresh, healthy ingredients – is perfect for lunch the next day. As an added benefit, these kinds of meals are perfect for sneaking a little extra veggies, seeds and legumes into kids’ diets. For those with younger children, “one of the things I think is really key is just letting kids know where food comes from,” MacIsaac says. Get the family involved in meal planning and shopping, and visit a farmer’s market, for example. At home, kids can chop veggies, toss a salad, grate cheese and other components to meal preparation. “The kids love to be in the kitchen,” he notes, suggesting parents and kids also consider taking a class together – they can choose a theme they both enjoy and learn something new together. For those days when a home-cooked meal isn’t possible, quick-and-easy ideas don’t have to involve pizza. Barbecued chickens from the grocery store can be an excellent value, and can be used in a

variety of ways, MacIsaac notes. Similarly, ready-to-serve greens and veggies can add a healthful kick right from the fridge.

Great idea! Teens and young adults anticipating their first foray out on their own may want to look at a cooking class that can offer some basics, as well as some new ideas, suggests chef Dwayne MacIsaac. Rather than relying on college diets of mac & cheese and pizza, “I think people are really interested in what is going into their bodies.”

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B6 • Back to School




Parents’ Guide

College bound: By Jennifer Blyth The first year of college or university is an exciting prospect for most students, but as most grads will recall, it’s also a time of transition – academically, personally and socially. But being aware of both the challenges and opportunities this affords – being mindful – can be a huge help in having a successful first year. “I think one of the hardest challenges as I see it – and I’ve been involved with this for 20 years – is that developmentally, everything about where they are is moving away from parental influence,” explains Janet Sheppard, a counsellor with the University of Victoria. While students may relish the idea of independence, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Fortunately, there are more and more resources on campus to help, if students know where and when to look. “The two qualities that move a student from surviving to thriving are resilience, a capacity to bounce back when things get tough, and resourcefulness, knowing when it’s time to go for help,” Sheppard says. “Sometimes students fall through the cracks because they feel like they should already know (something). For this reason, an important first step is to get to know the campus and what’s available; a student orientation is invaluable. Transitioning from high school to college or university also means a new environment with

new people and opportunities, and it’s important for students to be engaged in that experience,” Sheppard says. “Students who are engaged on campus – who find friendships, who join things, who go to all their classes – they do better and they get higher marks.” Students don’t need to have lots of friends, but just one person they feel comfortable going to the cafeteria with or talking to is key. “Finding a friend is really important.” Faced with massive lecture halls – much different than a high school classroom with 35 classmates and a teacher they know – can be intimidating. Connecting with professors is a good step, whether it’s asking a question in class, going to office hours or chatting after class. “If they can screw up their courage and talk to a professor, that can be huge.” Other options include on-campus clubs, intramural sports, volunteering or student organizations. Moving from high school to university-level classes can also be challenging, even for students who are accustomed to doing well without significant effort. Where high school teachers can accommodate each other’s assignment and test schedules, for example, at university, students will face multiple projects and exams at the same time. For this reason, learning skills are invaluable. “Two of the biggest things students talk about

Tips and techniques for a successful post-secondary transition are time management and work load,” Sheppard notes. Faced with these challenges, it’s essential students try to maintain good nutrition, exercise and sleep habits, which can help them better handle the stresses that accompany university life. And if mistakes happen – which they will – learn from them and move on. What did the student learn from the experience? What support did they find? Student counsellors can be invaluable here: “Finding that safe person to talk to is a really good way to get inside your head.” For parents, “I think one of the most important things to realize is their best role is something like a coach or mentor,” Sheppard says. Building on the sports analogy, “as a coach, sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. You can help pick them up but you don’t go on the field to play for them. When they do fall off the rails, an important part of the coach’s job would be to believe in the student’s ability to get himself back on track.” While this new role can be challenging for parents, the learning experience will help the student build resilience, which will serve them well in their academic career and in life. “There is so much growth that goes on at this point in a student’s life,” Sheppard says. The key for students is “finding ways to talk about it, be reflective and to work at getting clear about what is important to you.”

Getting to know your new campus and making at least one good friend to talk to are keys to a successful transition to college or university.

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Back to School • B7



Parents’ Guide


Help kids find the right extracurricular activity Whether sports, arts, music or volunteering, a little planning will help children find the right fit for their extracurricular activities.

While it can be fun and healthy for kids to participate in extracurricular activities, finding the right fit may not be as easy as it sounds. From age and interest to cost and commitment, there’s plenty to consider when choosing an activity that works for both you and the child.

Getting Started Start by speaking to kids about their interests. Just because you loved playing soccer doesn’t mean your daughter is thrilled to hit the pitch. A creative child might enjoy an after-school art class several times per week. Other programs can help their personal development. A child who’s shy in public but loves hamming it up at home might embrace an after-school theatre program. Once options have been discussed and narrowed down, ask if you can take in a session or two before committing. This will give kids and parents a sense of the program and whether it’s a good fit.

What do you do when the kids go back to school? “When the kids are back in school, I get back into a regular practice of Bikram Hot Yoga and hiking Mt. Finlayson with friends.”

– West Shore mom Dawn Coughlin


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costs. Though many programs are up-front about fees, some have additional fees that can add up, such as uniforms, equipment, class trips, etc. Extra fees don’t have to exclude a program from consideration, but it’s better to Get the 411 know about them in advance than be surprised When looking for an extracurricular activity, later. inquire about areas such as the staff-to-child ratio and the staff ’s professional background. Ask Consider a Child’s Grade Level If you’re unsure of whether an activity might about the staff ’s references and if certification is necessary or recommended, make sure the staff be too simple or too advanced, consult teachers about finding an age-appropriate extracurricumeets all requirements. Parents should also inquire about program lar activity.

Less competitive activities that emphasize fun might be more appropriate for younger children while for second graders, activities not offered at school, like learning to play an instrument, can help cultivate a child’s interest in a noncompetitive environment. As children mature, more rules-based activities, including team sports, can be good and as they move on to middle school, look for activities that reinforce learning and help develop a young person’s character, including their ability to interact with others.

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B8 • Back to School




Parents’ Guide

How to take effective notes Whether it’s time to head off to high school, or post-secondary classes at Camosun College or the University of Victoria are calling, students’ success in projects and exams will in many ways be affected by how effectively they take notes. The difficulty can be knowing both how and how much to write down – enough to make sense and relay the information, but not so much as to be unwieldy. • Experiment with various kids of note-taking to see what works well for you, including graphic representations to map out interconnected concepts; outlines or charts to group terminology with related ideas; cue words to trigger recollection of facts and dates; and mnemonic devices to help recall information. • Adequate listening skills help students transfer what the teacher is saying into ideas that can be put down on paper. • Sit closer to the teacher or professor where eye-to-eye contact may help a student focus and better hear what the professor is saying. • Remove distractions. When students enter the classroom, they should be ready to learn – silence mobile devices. • Students prone to “zoning out” may want to ask permission to use a voice recorder, which can also help fill in gaps with notes. • Notes should be dated and numbered. If references are made to chapters that correlate to the textbook, jot those down to strengthen the notes. • Develop abbreviations and symbols to cut down on the amount of writing. Notes needn’t be in full sentences; phrases are also effective.

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• Rewriting or typing notes helps ingrain the information in the brain more than simply rereading it.

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August 19, 2011 Back to School  

Complete August 19, 2011 issue of Back to School