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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 31, 2014

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In Kids & Family

Sharpen the pencils and shine the apples, it's back-to-school time, kids.

Local teachers and parents share back-to-school tips for a smooth start


It doesn't matter if your child is starting kindergarten or high school, preparing ahead of time for the first day is essential for a smooth back-to-school transition. Some schools have already begun, but many more will start tomorrow.

With that in mind, OnMilwaukee.com contacted a variety of teachers and parents to hear their suggestions on how to start off the year on the right foot.

Amy Mizialko is the MTEA Teaching & Learning Coordinator for the Milwaukee Public Schools and she suggests making special efforts to help the child, particularly a younger child, feel like he or she is loved and connected to his or her parents even if they are separated for many hours of the day.

"Starting a new school can be scary," says Mizialko. "Including special love notes in backpacks and lunch boxes can be comforting."

Setting a firm schedule at home is key to a kid's school success, too. Some parents start the "school routine" a few days or even weeks before school starts, but even if it's the day before school, go through the weekday schedule mentally in preparation. Figure out exactly what time the alarm needs to go off, when you and your kids need to be in the car and how the evenings will flow with dinner and homework.

"A good night's rest and waking up extra early are integral," says Alissa Gonyea, a special education teacher at Maryland Avenue Montessori School.

Having enough time to eat breakfast is important, as well as having healthy, not-too-filling after school snacks so the kids are still hungry at dinnertime. Cooking ahead of time and freezing meals will reduce the number of times a family needs to eat out and will most likely offer healthier entrees than if last-minute meals are whipped up.

Melissa Johnson's daughter will start first grade this year, and she says she started talking to her about the change from kindergarten to grade school a few months ago.

"I started to point out how things would be different, but also the same, when she goes to first grade," says Johnson.

Most important, Johnson says she directly asked her daughter if she was excited or afraid of the thought of going to school all day. Allowing kids to express their thoughts on the new year is crucial, even if they are not particularly looking forward to it.

"My daughter, so far, loves school and cannot wait to go back and see her friends. My son, on the other hand, despises school," says Johnson. "He finds it very boring and just wants to play. I try to listen to his complaints and not force my thoughts on him."

Kids who are not happy about summer's end could be reminded of fun aspects of going back to school, like seeing friends or the chance to resume favorable activities, whether its art or sports or English.

Mary Thompson is a special education high school teacher at Whitefish Bay High School and she suggests students take a tour of the school prior to the first day and / or attend an open house at the school to get acquainted with their room and their teachers.

"With freshman, have them practice their locker combo," says Thompson.

If financially possible, purchasing kids a new outfit (unless they wear a uniform) and / or new shoes can really pep up the first day for some school agers. A new backpack or lunchbox can boost back-to-school excitement as well.

"When I was a kid, getting new shoes was such a big part of going back to school," says Johnson. "I love reliving that with my kids, even if I can't afford going to a shoe store every year and just get them new shoes and supplies at one of the box stores. It's fun."

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