School has already started for some families in Urbana and elsewhere, but for those of us who are still in prep mode here are some tips for a smooth start to the school year.
Some are obvious, some less so, but they're good reminders for how we can all transition back into that school routine -- and start the year off with healthy study habits.
It's important for kids to arrive at school ready to learn, Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery J. Chico said in a news release this week. Families can help by making sure their kids get enough sleep, have a good breakfast and a dedicated study time and space.
"School doesn't only teach kids how to read, write and do math, but school is a place that prepares students for life. The most important thing to remember is that learning is fun, but learning is a team effort; involved parents help teachers build better students," said Alton High School teacher Annice Brave, the Illinois 2010 Teacher of the Year and finalist for the National Teacher of the Year competition.
Here's some of their advice:
-- Start earlier bedtime hours a few days before school starts, so that first-day wake-up call isn't such a shock.
-- Set up their own study space, with good light and supplies. It can help kids focus as they do homework.
-- Review academic skills with them, in fun ways:
- Dictate the grocery list so your children can practice writing skills.
- Ask them to write about your summer vacation for a family scrapbook.
- Review multiplication and division skills. Using money for math practice always helps: "How many nickels does it take to make one quarter?"
- Talk about current events, the causes and possible connections to the school and local community. In our neighborhood, a major construction project to stop flooding is affecting our walk routes to school. But it's also given our kids an up-close-and-personal glimpse of how drainage works, where all the water goes, and why things like rain gardens are a good idea.
- Ask students to write three goals for the school year and then discuss how they can achieve them. Examples: I will make a new friend, I will get an A in math, I will read x number of books.
- Once school starts, check homework nightly and find ways to expand on topics through trips to local museums, libraries, parks and zoos.
Generally, talk to your children about any fears or concerns they might have. If they are going to a new school or a new district, arrange a visit to the building so they can get familiar with their surroundings and meet the teachers or other classmates in advance. Most middle schools, for example, hold a transition day to help kids get acclimated.
Here are a few websites with information with other fun learning ideas, recommended by the State Board of Education:
- Discovery Kids, http://kids.discovery.com 
- National Gallery of Arts Kids, http://www.nga.gov/kids/kids.htm 
- National Geographic Kids, http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids 
- PBS Kids, http://pbskids.org/ 
- The White House, http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/white-house-101 
- Scholastic, http://www.scholastic.com/kids/stacks/ 
- Science Buddies, http://www.sciencebuddies.org 
- The Center for Gifted, http://www.centerforgifted.org 
Julie Wurth writes and blogs about family issues, social services and the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Her column appears in the paper every other Tuesday. Leave a comment below, contact Julie at 351-5226 or firstname.lastname@example.org  or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jawurth.
Driver Larry Walker watches as students get off the bus at Garden Hills elementary school in August 2007. Darrell Hoemann/The News-Gazette