SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – As the experienced of parent of three boys, the oldest out of college, and the youngest a junior at SHS, I have learned just so many tips and tricks that I can’t even begin to list them all. Seeing some of our friends at the high school orientation last year it was such an incredible pleasure to reminisce with the many parents there who, like us, were there with our youngest, but who’ve been with us for the better part of a decade as our older ones move through the system. You can easily tell who they are just glancing around the audience, in that they tend to look a tad more relaxed as the administration goes through everything from powerschool access to drop off procedures. I’ve long wondered if there was a simple way for the parents who’ve been there before to somehow pass along that institutional knowledge. Hmmm, do I hear a potential book in the making?
Here are at least a few things I can share, some from learning the hard way, and others just because we got it right from day one.
1. This has been one of our best tips ever. Hide a $20 bill in each kids backpack. Show them where it is, but tell them that it’s only there for the day (which I can assure you will come), when they forget their lunch money. It’ll save you from running to school with money at 9:30AM.
2. Cell Phones are a life saver, although they are not allowed to be used during school hours. If your high schooler or middle schooler has a cell phone, tell them to check it for text messages as soon as the bus pulls into school, when they turn it on silent for the school day, and then check it when the last school bell rings and they turn it on. This is a huge key because they WILL forget something important, which you will find on the kitchen counter after they’ve run off for the bus. You will then text them that they forgot it, that you’re bringing it over, and leaving it in the main office for them. The end of the day text will be that you can’t pick them up and to take the bus, or that you’re running behind, or had an emergency.
3. Get to know your child’s teachers right off the bat. At the beginning of the school year, I email all my kids teachers just to say hi, let them know my contact info, tell them a bit about my child and wish them all the best for the coming year. I offer my help with anything they might need from a parent volunteer. Teachers have to work with all kinds of students, and all kinds of parents. I’m sure that a friendly and appreciative voice to start the year off can only be a pleasure.
4. Make sure your students get to know their teachers on a one to one basis. I love to hear that my kids come in on the first day, sit in the front row, and after class take a moment to shake their teachers hand, introduce themselves, and let them know that they are looking forward to the class. After all, how much effort does it take to just be a mensch?
5. At the elementary school level, reach out on day one to your child’s teacher, and volunteer to be a room parent. It’s such an incredibly fun experience. You’ll get to meet the other parents and students in the class, and play a part in creating a fabulous, fun, and productive experience with your student. Even better, volunteer in the classroom, where you come in every week on a specific day to help with anything from reading to small groups of students, to photocopying for the teacher.
6. Get involved in the PTO. Each of our schools is fortunate enough to have a thriving PTO that helps with a host of different activities. It’s a great place to get to know other parents – something which you’ll come to treasure down the road as your child gets to high school.
7. If your child is involved in high school sports, take some time to meet the coach(es) and introduce yourself after your child makes the team. Find out who the team mom or dad is and offer to pitch in. Speak to some of the experienced parents on the team, and find out if they’re placing an order for SHS sweats or jackets. Offer to help get an order together, so you’re child isn’t getting his SHS Crew jacket the day of the last meet. Oh, while we’re at it, here’s an important one that we’ve learned first hand the hard way. The first week in September, when you find out your child made the team, I want you to put together two large duffel bags – one for your car, and one for your spouses car. In the bag, I want you to put the following items. You’ll probably need to buy many of them from scratch, so start at Dicks, where you can find most of them. Trust me, you will probably need them all at one point or another, and if you don’t have them you’ll be sorry!
- A warm sweater, and a separate wind-breaker, rolled up. Bring an extra one for your son or daughter. (When it’s 30 degrees, dusk, and they’ve sprained their ankle and are on the bench, you’ll be thankful you have it.)
- A few packages of insect repellent wipes. Make sure your student has those too and is wearing repellent for every game in Shrewsbury to protect against West Nile.
- Individual packages of Advil or Tylenol as well as Benadryl tablets, Benadryl spray and a first aid kit.
- Two large Ace bandages
- A small collapsible umbrella
- Three large black garbage bags. You’ll use those to put the muddy cleats in for the ride home or put down on the floor of the car to protect your carpets
- A flat sheet that you don’t care about. If the kids get wet beyond repair during the game, you can throw that over your car seat.
- Three or four sealed gatorades and a few waters, for those days when you forget to give them one to take.
- Ten $5 bills, and two $20′s, packed in an envelope. You’ll use those when you trek out to Fitchburg for your students game, only to arrive there and find out that there is a $5 admission charge. The rest is for the concession stand when you realize you had nothing in your wallet.
- Two instant ice packs and two instant heat packs, both available from Dicks, along with a box of hand warmers.
- Two pairs of 180′s earmuffs, and a wool hat
- An assortment of candy and gum that’s not chocolate and won’t melt.
8. One last thing for parents of students involved in sports. Register on the website for the automatic email alerts, and subscribe to the synchronized game schedule. Also, and this is one of the most important things ever – go through the list of away games as soon as it comes out, print it, and talk to the team parent about where the games actually are!! Just because it says they are at “Marlborough High School” and gives you a map and directions to the school, doesn’t mean that the game is actually at Marlborough High School! I know that seems like the most bizarre thing you ever heard, but it’s true. Many schools like Milford, Marlboro, Leominster, etc., hold their games at fields that are NOT at the school. If you drive to the school, as you’re told to do on the website, you will be alone! Actually you won’t be totally alone, you’ll be with all of the parents for whom this is their first year on the team. Somehow, all the other parents seemed to know that the “Marlboro High School Soccer Field” is two miles away from the school, in a residential neighborhood that you’ll never find.
9. Back to academics. When your child comes home and says they have “no homework” they’re not telling you the truth. There is ALWAYS something that needs to be done. Monitor each class, each homework assignment, and make sure that whatever they do, and however they do it, that they are giving it all they have. That doesn’t mean doing it for them, with them, or instead of them…just check it over with them, and see if it reflects their best work.
10. Last tip from me for now. Tomorrow, go out to Staples and buy the following items. Four pieces of poster board, two black and two white, a pack of colored markers, colored pencils, push pins, index cards in 3 x 5 and 4 x 6, colored construction paper, cut out stencil letters, Elmers glue, a hot melt glue gun and glue sticks, sparkle glue, three small cans of different color spray paint, and a paper cutter. When you get home, put the paper cutter in your child’s room, and take the rest of the things and put them in the basement. One night, probably in October, your student will tell you at 8:50 that they have a huge project (assigned a week earlier) that they’d forgotten about, due tomorrow, and need to go to Staples right away. You will walk them down to the basement, pull out your stash, and be the hero.
I’m sure that must seem like a lot, but really there’s so much more! Let’s just call this the “first installment” of tips for you. In the next, we’ll talk about how to get your child the extra help they need, identifying enrichment opportunities, evaluating clubs to join, and a host of other fun topics to explore.