Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

A few questions and answers about matters small and large before the kids go back to school tomorrow

Every day during the first week of first grade, a mother asked her daughter with whom she played during recess. "I didn't play," said the child on the first day, "I sat next to the teacher on the bench."

Well, the mother consoled herself, she came to school by herself, without friends from kindergarten or the neighborhood. She doesn't know anyone, but she will soon.

The next day the mother once asked the child with whom she spent her recess. "With Delilah," said the child mischievously. Well, the mother consoled herself, at least the child has imaginary friends.

A few days later the child replied that she played with Hemed. This time the mother sensed that this wasn't an imaginary friend.

"Is that someone from your class? she asked. "No," laughed the child. "It's a man who lives at the entrance to the school, in a little house with a radio and a big picture of soccer players."

Is the school security guard preferable to an imaginary girlfriend? Some questions and answers about issues - both important and minor - before the kids go back to school tomorrow.

Waking up

Starting September 1, it'll be time to wake up early. Toward the end of vacation the children should get used to sleeping at night and getting up in the morning. Even when you manage to set the clock back, 7 A.M. is a hard hour to get up (even for parents), and leaves half an hour to get out the door. During this time the children have to get up, dress, brush their teeth, wash their faces, comb their hair, pack their backpack, eat, drink, and at the last minute remember permission slips that have to be signed, projects that have to be stapled, New Year cards that have to be placed in envelopes, apples and honey to prepare and pack, a lulav and etrog for Sukkot, et cetera.

All this goes on amid the yelling from the kitchen: "It's already 7:15!" "It's 7:25, who went back to sleep?" You're better off waking up the children 15 minutes early. Parents tend to think that these minutes will give these children needed minutes of sleep, but the pressure and the tension involved in frantic preparations cancel the advantage. And the most important thing - which unfortunately is not trivial - is not to part with a quarrel.


"I read 20 years ago in Odetta Danin's column that her children go to sleep in the sweats they'll wear to school the next day," says writer Shoham Smith. In her daughter's kindergarten, several parents have adopted this method, she says.

Parents who still prefer that their children sleep in pajamas can simply prepare the clothes in advance, and even several clothing options for the entire week.

The backpack

It's a good idea to pack the backpack in advance too, but until what age? "My eldest daughter is 12, and her friends parents still pack their backpacks," says Smith. "Of course a child in first or even second grade needs help, but from that point on, unless there's a medical reason, children have to know it's their responsibility. You have to remind them in the evening. Parents feel guilty, as if it's their failure if their child wasn't prepared. But it's part of being a student."

The notebook

The backpack should weigh less than the books inside it. Smith suggests not buying "the monstrous backpacks that weigh a ton with the Walt Disney branding. The children get tired of them very soon. Nor is it worthwhile to buy brand-name notebooks, which are more expensive; just buy plain notebooks that can be covered and decorated with stickers."

In particular, don't buy schedulers with ads for cell-phone companies and fast-food chains on every page.

The sandwich

The time is 9:40 and an SMS arrives from my middle daughter: "Why did you use mayonnaise?!" That daughter says she has a friend whose mother gives her half a chocolate-filled pita, alongside a healthful sandwich. The book "The Healthy Kitchen" (in Hebrew) contains a suggestion for a more healthful option for those with a sweet tooth: nuts and maple syrup. Another option, in honor of the new year, is pita with honey and apple slices.

Go through the child's bag to make sure the sandwich was eaten. Because when you find six at the end of the week, they stink.

A good reason for concern

The real fear of every parent is that the child will fall victim to bullying - whether physical or psychological, as described in Miki Haimovich's film "Alone against everyone." The film presents serious abuse cases, and questions why they occur and what role parents and the school play. "The parents have to condemn it the moment it happens, even if it does not involve their own children," says Haimovich. "They have to explain that this is unacceptable, and not 'part of childhood.'" If you're afraid that your child is a victim, inform the school immediately. In any case it's important to volunteer at the school. This brings parents closer to the teachers and indirectly to their children.

An important lesson

You have to create a distraction-free zone for doing homework, far from the computer and the television. The J-Organize Web site suggests that children in the lower grades do homework in the kitchen while their parents prepare dinner. This way, they can get help from their parents without depending on them, and the parent can see if the children are having trouble with their studies. And one more thing about homework: Remember that when you were a student, you also hated it.

And the best idea

Remember that in two and a half weeks, there's Rosh Hashana vacation.