Whether the last academic year was one you’d rather forget or this is your little angel’s first venture into school life, we’re here to help you make this a term to remember for all the right reasons. Read on for our guide to all things ‘schooly’, from helping with homework to how to prepare the perfect packed lunch.
The dog is eating your son’s cereal while junior runs around the house looking in the most ridiculous places for his gym kit (‘Seriously Timmy, it will not be in the violin case’). You frantically throw bags of crisps into his bag in lieu of anything vaguely nutritious because you didn’t get time to go to Choithram. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, but getting the day off to this kind of start is likely to result in your child arriving at school flustered or, worse, grumpy. Fear not, though: together, you can turn over a new leaf.
It might sound a bit OCD, but organisation really is key. We sought wisdom from organiser extraordinaire Anna Williams, a part-time copy writer from Jumeirah, on how she keeps her own unruly rabble in check. She strongly advises that you print out your kids’ weekly schedules and stick them somewhere prominent, like on the fridge. ‘Pack their bags with homework, library books, signed forms and sports or music gear together the night before, then set them out beside the door,’ she says. ‘That way, all you have to do is grab and go.’ Sounds good to us.
Anna’s ‘night before’ approach also extends way beyond school bags: setting out clean, ironed clothes (right down to underwear) for the following day can help you avoid the last-minute dash. As Anna says, ‘Finding out that all the socks are dirty is a real situation at 7.30am – but not so much at 7.30pm.’
One of the most headache-inducing things to try and sort out in the morning is their packed lunch – especially when you’ve already got breakfast on your, er, plate. Unsurprisingly, Anna recommends preparing their lunch the night before, but she also advises that you check on your brekkie supplies – bread, cereal, juice and so on. ‘There’s nothing worse than waking up and discovering there’s no milk,’ she says. If you don’t have enough fridge space for endless packed lunches and pints of milk, it’s worth considering investing in a small additional refrigerator.
Master the lunchbox
It can be blood-boilingly nightmarish finding foods that are both healthy and popular with the kids. Just when you’ve found a nutritious little snack they can’t get enough of, their best friend tells them it’s gross and they refuse to eat it for the next three years. But, with a little perseverance and some childlike logic, you could have the last (vitamin-fuelled) laugh, says Dubai-based dietician Peta Picton.
Again, a successful school lunch is as much to do with the planning as what you put in it. Peta advises that you plan what you want to give them for lunch each day before you do your weekly shop at the supermarket, and make sure that the items on your list will be enough to last the week. When thinking about what to feed them, Peta suggests you try to strike a balance between the different food groups: ‘Be sure to include breads and cereals, fruit, vegetables and moderate amounts of milk and meat or veggie alternatives,’ she says. Try to pack things that are easy to handle and quick to eat, so they don’t abandon lunch in favour of the playground. Examples include a cream cheese or tuna wrap with salad, carrot and cucumber sticks with houmous, fresh fruit cut into bite-sized pieces (or canned fruit so long as it’s in juice not syrup) and frozen yoghurt or milk (this will help keep the other foods cool, too). Great snacks include plain popcorn, dried fruit or crackers with cheese spread.
If they’re a little iffy about the taste-based merits of your nice healthy choices, get them involved in the preparation process, explaining to them why they’re having each item: milk gives you strong teeth and bones, carrot sticks help you see in the dark and so on. Ask them what their friends had for lunch and if they seem enthusiastic about any of the items, provided they’re not fat- or sugar-laden, try buying them. In our experience, if their ‘BFF’ claims to be addicted to kiwi fruits, junior’s far more likely to decide he likes them, too.
Get involved with their homework
Homework, while being the bane of most children’s lives, is a necessary evil. We spoke to Geoff Turner, executive principal and CEO of Wellington International School, about the best ways to make the process as pain-free as possible.
The first thing to do, he advises, is establish a routine: ‘Kids need to know that they always do their homework at a certain time, whether it’s before they eat or after they go swimming.’ Where they study is important, too. ‘A “good environment” is difficult to define, because it can vary depending on what sort of homework they’re doing,’ Geoff says. ‘They need somewhere that allows them to focus on the job in hand, be it at the dining table, at the computer, even watching TV – whatever suits the task.’
But all the routines and beautiful desks in the world surely can’t change the fact that homework is dull, dull, dull – and can sometimes, dare we say it, seem a little pointless. ‘Homework has all sorts of functions,’ Geoff assures us. ‘It reinforces classroom learning, allows children to practise research, and it’s a mechanism for engaging children and parents. This is important because parents are a key part of the educational process: they’re the prime educators.’
That’s all well and good, but how much can you really help when your kid’s facing the kind of science problem they hadn’t even invented 20 years ago? Geoff says, ‘There’s no point in bluffing if you don’t understand what they’re doing. It’s about saying, “Talk me through what you’re doing, and if we get it wrong, we get it wrong together.” Talking with children about what they’ve been asked to do is fundamental. Parents need to say, “What’s it for? Show me how it’s done” – explaining things to parents is one of the best ways for kids to learn. It’s the process, rather than the outcome, that teachers see as the most important thing.’ Conversely, if you know the answer, telling them outright won’t be particularly helpful. Ask a series of questions that lead them to discover the answer for themselves as, although this will take more time, it will also be far more of a positive learning experience for them.
Even if you were far from academically inclined as a child and most of the time what they’re looking at is as clear as mud to you, Geoff still reckons you can play a vital role in your children’s homework time. ‘Parents have a huge expertise based on their experience of the world. A great contribution to their kids’ work would be supplementing what they’re doing with real-life examples.’ You never know, you might even learn something, too.