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Preparation sets stage for success in school

There are preparatory steps even more central to school success than finding the latest pens or tablet computers.

Almost every August since I started writing these columns in 2001, I have devoted one to suggestions about being ready and having your child be ready for school. School is crucial to children’s identity and future.

In 2001, I wrote about problems in moving to a new school, which I did after second grade. I suggested working closely alongside personnel of the new school, and, if possible, volunteering there.

For all kids, their parents’ involvement as much as possible in the school is vital: it shows that you care about their education, and allows you to advocate for your child from the best possible position.

On Aug. 19, 2002, the Journal published my column regarding vaccines required for school. Since then, a new combination vaccine has become required for seventh-graders, protecting them and those around them from whooping cough (pertussis) as well as tetanus and diphtheria, previously required. Diphtheria used to kill more children than any other infection, and now no one ever sees it.

I wrote about influenza vaccine, too – influenza doesn’t kill many children in the U.S., “only” 100-200 per year, but it causes many missed school days and some 25,000 deaths per year in older people, who are often infected by children with the disease.

In 2003, I wrote again of the importance of parents’ involvement in their children’s school experience: “Do you know where your child is? Of course I do, you answer – in school! I certainly hope so. But where is she in school – is she doing well? Is she reading at grade level? Is he understanding his math assignments? Does she pay attention when the teacher speaks, disregarding the hubbub in a corner of the room? Is he standing up to the playground bullies? Does she have friends?”

I skipped 2004 and ’06, ’07 and ’08, but in August 2005 wrote again about parents’ readiness for school, emphasizing what uninvolved parents might miss: their children forming friendships, becoming enamored with a new subject, being helpful to another child.

Parents disengaged from the educational process also fail to catch the mishaps that occur from time to time: bullying or being bullied, having an unsympathetic teacher, making unsavory friends on the playground. They also miss the opportunity to see the positive effects of the many really fine teachers.

In 2009 I wrote about school avoidance. The majority of children either head off eagerly to school or realize that they have to go so they make the best of it. A few children, sometimes after an illness has kept them out for a week or two, begin to make excuses for not going back.

They may consciously or unconsciously devise symptoms that keep them away, or they may be responding to being bullied by another child. It’s important to be watching for this problem, as the longer it goes on, the harder it is to treat.

Four summers ago, I wrote about “edutainment,” the act of actually educating under the guise of entertainment. Many parents are very good at this, finding something to teach about in the process of having fun, making up a treasure hunt in a museum or making the book you’re reading to your young children personal with family anecdotes. It can start with the first picture book you read with your infant, and it continues through all the activities of childhood.

On Aug. 15, 2011, I wrote again about readiness for school: “There are many ways in which you can assure that your child is ready.

First, be sure that your child is ready to learn each day – up on time having had enough sleep, dressed appropriately, breakfasted, and in her seat on time with all the books and supplies and papers ready.”

Lots of kids have gotten in the summertime habit of going to bed at 1 a.m. and getting up at noon; if your child is there right now, work the clock back quickly now so that bedtime is moved to midnight and then to 11 p.m. and then 10 p.m. and then 9 p.m. so your child will be awake and alert throughout the school day.

In 2012, I wrote about the perils of sixth grade. I think it’s the hardest year in all of education, with the change to a new and bigger school, six or seven teachers instead of one, so no one is completely focused on your child’s well-being. It takes more organization on the part of the child, and more perseverance on the part of the parent to make sixth grade a success.

In August 2013 I wrote about the importance of avoiding absences. Kids may occasionally learn important lessons when they’re home, but generally, they’ll do better preserving the continuity of their school days. That means minimizing appointments during school hours, avoiding using school hours for baby-sitting assignments for younger siblings, and being sure your child is there on time each day.

In 2014, I ran out of space before I wrote anything new.

Lance Chilton, M.D., is a pediatrician at the Young Children’s Health Center in Albuquerque, associated with the University of New Mexico. Send questions to