What a stressful time of year for everyone in the family! The weather is changing, our body clocks have struggled with the daylight savings time, we’ve just managed to finish up our tax returns, we’re worried about what we can afford this year for family activities and vacations, and the end of the school year is fast approaching. The end of the school year brings lots of events, decisions, and responsibilities that require some preparation and action on our part.
First, those high-stakes, statewide tests are coming up fast! How can we help get our children ready for the statewide tests without adding to their stress? This isn’t about more academic review or learning test-taking strategies. They already do that at school – a lot!! This is about what we can do at home to send our kids to school ready to do their best on the tests, and to relieve the stress and anxiety that many children (and teachers!) feel about the tests.
The number one thing for test days is to make sure that your child gets adequate rest, a good breakfast, and a stress-free morning at home. This is not the time to rush around in a panic and race to the school with two minutes to spare. This is not the day to get anyone upset about anything. This is not an opportunity to lecture your child about doing his best. Your child needs a good night’s sleep, a calm morning that follows the usual routine, a healthy breakfast, comfortable clothes, and ample time to get to school and settle in. This sounds really elementary, but we parents get stressed and upset about the testing too, and that transfers directly to our children. At this point, it’s too late to do anything but chill out! Just let your children know that you value the work they have completed, the skills they have learned, and the knowledge they have gained during the entire school year.
Something we can do right now to prepare is to help our children learn some simple relaxation techniques that can be done while sitting in a chair. This is actually a life skill, not just a strategy for test days. Children who know how to calm down and refocus can be confident and relaxed in most situations. Simple breathing exercises work very well for relaxation almost anywhere: Close the eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth. Hold the breath as long as possible before exhaling. Relax the body, and feel the tension leave on each exhalation. Practice this at home every night before bedtime. This technique is great for everyone in the family – you too!
What else happens at the end of the school year? Report cards, promotion and retention decisions, teacher selection for the next school year, transitions to the next level (for entering kindergartners, 5th graders, 8th graders, and seniors), and course selection and placement at the middle/high level. Lots to think about, and now is the time to start!
If you have a child entering kindergarten, there will be kindergarten registration at the school. Put it on the calendar now! Gather the necessary information (proof of residence, birth certificate, immunizations) and make an appointment for the kindergarten physical. This is also an excellent time to get a vision exam. Fifth graders and eighth graders are moving to another level with different procedures and expectations. In most school systems there will be registration for courses, and orientation for students and parents. Sports practices and band practice begin in the summer, and sports participation usually requires a physical exam. Put all these things on the calendar too!
Promotion and retention decisions can be very difficult. In some school systems, parents are given an opportunity to be involved in the decision. In others, the decision is made solely on the basis of grades and test scores. Here are the important things to know: There is absolutely no evidence that grade retention has a long-term positive effect on student achievement, retention is emotionally harmful to children, and even one retention in elementary school significantly increases the chances that a student will drop out of high school. If the school system is considering retention for your child, make an appointment for a conference with the teacher and discuss the research on retention.
The third quarter grades and report card are probably out, giving parents an opportunity to have a sneak preview of what’s going to happen at the end of the year. Now is the time to address any problems your child is having with grades, because the final report card is just that – final. Are there missing assignments? Are there big projects due? Are attendance or behavior issues affecting grades? If you need to have a parent/teacher conference, get it scheduled. If you need to tighten up the homework routine, work on it. If there need to be consequences at home for work completion and behavior at school, put them in place.
- Make sure the family calendar is complete and up-to-date: dates for the statewide tests, last pupil day for the school year, dates for orientation/registration for students who are transitioning, dates for summer sports and band practice.
- Work on stress relief for the entire family. Get plenty of rest, eat good food, get some exercise and fresh air every day, enjoy family activities. Practice the breathing technique every day.
- Follow up on the third quarter report card. If there are problems, find out what’s going on. Check the website for missing assignments. Email or conference with the teacher to address academic, behavioral, or attendance issues.
- Tighten up all your routines – morning, evening, homework – as we make the final dash to the end of the year. Be consistent!
- Enjoy the promise of Spring with your beautiful family!