Back to School with a Smile

9 tips from a mother of 12.  by Varda Meyers Epstein


Not too many women can say they have more children than they can count on their fingers. I can say that. I have 12 children.

In addition to my mom duties, I work for the nonprofit Kars for Kids, where I write about education. With summer about to end and school about to start, the subject of “back to school confronts me both at work and at home. It’s what I write about for my job, and it’s tinting the air of my household.

There’s some sadness in coming to terms with the end of summer vacation. Time has become luxurious as grains of sand on a beach; those loose and endless hours a child can use as he likes. It’s hard to give that up.

But there is also the thrum of a household on the verge of a beginning. There is the fresh, comforting smell of new pencils, books to cover, and new school clothes. There is the wondering anticipation: who will be my new teacher?

And I, as a mother of many, more than anything, look forward to organization and quiet. I am already imagining the pace of the school year with longing. For me, the routine of school is a blessing. I like the synchronization between home and school, teacher and parent, student and child. When it goes well, it’s a partnership in the fullest sense and all but ensures a child’s academic success.

Here are some of my favorite tips for making the successful transition from home to school and back again:


Goodbye rituals. Don’t ever be too busy to say goodbye to your child in the morning. Give your child a kiss (unless they’re at that age when kisses are yucky) and say, “Have a good day!” You can find your own words and expressions of caring, but make sure you note your child’s departure for the day in a cheerful, loving way.

Be a full partner to your child’s teacher. If your child comes home with a complaint about the teacher, you can be empathetic, yet try to show the teacher’s side of things, too. If you speak of your child’s teacher with respect, your child will adopt a respectful attitude, too. Don’t automatically take your child’s side when there is a conflict between teacher and student. Investigate the best you can and remain respectful of the teacher and your child as you try to develop a balanced view of what happened. Children need to have authority figures they can respect. They need to look up to their teachers. Parents can help make it so.

Craft a warm and welcoming afterschool homecoming. When my kids were little, they were sure to find, no matter what, nice cool drinks set up for them in their own colorful cups, lined up on the counter according to age when they came home from school. Seeing the familiar cup that belongs just to him already speaks to a child of home, comfort, and security. You might choose a different homecoming ritual, but your child should feel that home is a kind and loving place; that coming home is a good thing.

Eat and talk together. Have a snack or a meal ready for your child and eat with him. Bonds are formed over food. This is your child’s chance to tell you about his day and for you to listen and mirror. By repeating your child’s words to him, you let him know you’re really listening: that what he experiences and feels is important to you.

Use homework and review as a bridge for learning. Your child has had a nice homecoming and some downtime with you. Now it’s time to support his learning. You do that by asking your child what homework he has and making sure he does it the minute he’s finished with his afterschool meal or snack. In other words, no playtime or media until homework is done. This should be a hard and fast rule. If there is no homework, you might ask your child if there’s a test coming up and ask him to spend fifteen minutes to review the material.

About homework: I’m a big believer in homework. And it should be done at home and not during a free hour at school. If your child does his homework right after class, there’s no challenge, no digging to find the answers, no stretching of the brain to remember and reinforce the lesson. The gap of time between class and homework serves a purpose. Spanning the bridge between schoolwork and homework helps a child retain what he learns.

Free time and play should be built into the day. Once a child has done his homework, he should absolutely have time to play, do crafts, enjoy sports, or take part in a regularly scheduled extracurricular activity. Your child works hard at his studies and deserves a chance to just have fun. By making it clear you see this as a priority, you show your child your respect for his efforts at school.


Prepare for the day ahead. Talk to your child about what he would like to take for his school lunch or snack the next day. Offer him some choices. Make sure your child sets up the materials and books he needs for the next day, right after he does his homework.

Ensure your child gets enough sleep. During the summer, bedtime may not have been a specific time, but during the school year, a parent should make sure to enforce a regular bedtime. Reading is a good way to transition into sleep. Younger children may prefer to have you read to them. Older children can read in bed for half an hour before lights out.

Make sure kids come to school with smiles on their faces. A teacher once told me that she doesn’t care about a child’s academic achievements or his perfect behavior. The only thing she cares about is that the child comes to school with a smile on his face. This should be your main goal: that your child walks into school with a smile on his face. If you keep this uppermost in your mind, you and your child will be on the right track.

If you feel good about your child’s school environment, this carries forward to your child. If you are organized in the morning and your child leaves for school confident he has everything he needs for the day, he will be happy to come to school. If he likes his school and his teacher, he will arrive on time and organized, with a smile on his face. And you’ll be smiling, too.

MH –New York Jewish Parenting