Back to school tips for parents

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For most parents and students, the back to school period in January is often a time of stress and is even dreaded. The period comes immediately after the festive seasons, often marked with merry-making and extravagant spending, hence leaving most pockets dented by January. ESTHER KIRAGU and WANGARI MWANGI address pertinent issues revolving around the back to school period and offer important tips to parents.

The holiday season is officially over and January is here with us. Schools will soon be open and for many that is a stressful time. If you are a student, you are probably feeling sad that the holidays are over or maybe you are excited at the thought of reconnecting with your friends and are even looking forward to making new ones this year.

For some children, this New Year will mark their very first time in a classroom setup. While for some this is an exciting and adventurous journey, for other it isn’t. It is normal for children to experience feelings of anxiety and be a little scared. Some may even grow cold feet, cling to their parents or guardian, and cry their hearts out at the thought of being abandoned on their first day at school. Joining school is a new experience that can be scary but it need not be that way. With a little preparation, you can help your child adjust to the school environment and experience with ease.

If you anticipate your child will have a hard time on his first day at school, have a conversation with him explaining what usually happens within a school environment. Keep it positive. Refrain from telling him scary stories of your nasty experiences at school as this will only scare him more. Anxiety on the first day of school often stems from the unknown, but with a conversation prior to the D-day, you can prepare him for what to expect. Ensure your conversation captures the excitement of making new friends, learning exciting things so that your child looks forward to a great time in school.

Try and role-play the activities that take place on the first day of school. You can take the role of a teacher and your child takes that of a student. Go through all activities from waking up time, getting dressed, taking breakfast, walking, or being dropped off to school, and finally being picked from school. This is a good preparation for him to know what to expect on the first day of school. Additionally, take your child with you to the supermarket to buy school supplies prior to the start of the year. If you have already bought the items, make a special trip to the supermarket and let him pick out some stationery. This is a good way to prepare him psychologically that school day is around the corner.

Despite all this preparation, your child can still have a bad first day at school and even hate school all together, but this doesn’t mean that you downplay the preparation. Although as a parent or guardian it is natural to worry that your child didn’t have a good start at school, it is important to know that things do get better and with time he will be okay. Give your child time to settle down but if you notice a school term has ended and he is still jittery about school, ensure you talk to him, his class teacher and possibly the school management so as to get to the bottom of the problem.

For most of the on-going students, reconnecting with friends you haven’t seen in a while and joining a new class can make the first day of school exciting. You could try and make the day extra special by wearing clean and well-ironed school uniform or a new pair of shoes, a watch or even rocking a new hairstyle while adhering to your school’s regulations.

It is wise to be prepared and have all the supplies you need by ensuring that the night before you pack your bags, iron your clothes, polish your shoes, and place them where you can easily access them to avoid the morning panic when you can’t find the items you need. Some schools distribute supply lists before the year begins so you can pack with this list in mind to ensure you have whatever you will need.

For most parents with school going children, the beginning of the year is a most dreaded season. The mere fact that schools re-open in January after spending lots of money on merry making with friends and family during the holidays makes this a difficult financial period. There is so much that needs to be done to ensure children are set for their first term in school and most of these require money.

Crowded school uniform and shoe outlets, supermarkets and bookshops often characterise the period before schools open, as parents rush to kit their children in readiness for school. School shopping can end up being very stressful if not well planned in advance. Most schools also don’t accept cash so parents have to visit banks to transfer fees to their children’s school accounts.  If not well planned, the back to school period can leave you monetarily crippled and you could as well be nursing financial and physical stress for the rest of the year.

Around this time everything appears to be expensive, especially when you take into account the heavy Christmas holiday spending. From a far, it appears as though everyone from the uniform distributor to the publishers of textbooks have conspired to increase their prices. Unfortunately, Kenyans are known to put things on hold until the last minute, such that despite being aware that the beginning of the year your children will be needing a new set of school uniform or will be joining school all together, most parents still wait until early January to run to  uniform outfitters, which are normally packed with shoppers.

You can easily glide through these few chaotic days with prior preparation and proper planning. Here are some money-saving shopping tips that could help you cope.

Save for back to school shopping. Setting aside some money for school shopping can save you the hustle of having to struggle with your budget or end up borrowing money. Save a small portion of your income every month throughout the year to use for school shopping at the beginning of the year. You could start with as little as Ksh 50 a month, or more if you can afford. The idea is to gradually accumulate as much money as possible for back to school shopping, so when the time comes you will not struggle too much.

Shop early. However unrealistic this may sound, it is important to make prior arrangements and shop early. Do not wait for the last minute when the supermarkets and uniform shops are crowded, as this could often leave you unsatisfied with the services due to the surging numbers of shoppers in January. When you shop early, chances are that you will have more time to pick what you need in a shorter time and even compare prices from one store to another in order to get the best deals.

Grab opportunities for offers. Most supermarkets and footwear stores give special offers on school supplies in the last week of December. The good thing is that they publish coupons on the selected items on sale in the dailies or other media, giving you a chance to do a price comparison before you embark on shopping. Do not let a good deal pass you, as this is also an opportunity to save some cash.

Look out for quality. While low prices may be attractive, be keen on checking whether the quality is up to standard. Its around this time that substandard goods find their way to store shelves. And because back to school shopping is done in a rush, quality may not be the number one priority and shopkeepers are aware of this. Remember just because something is cheap doesn’t guarantee that it is of good quality.

Prioritise your shopping. Your children probably handed you a scroll with their shopping list but your wallet cannot accommodate everything on the list. Teach your child how to prioritise. Have them pick out the most essential items that are a must-have and drop what can wait for a later date. At this point it is wise to write a shopping list before you step into the shops and stick to it. Since the focus is mainly on saving as much money as you can, having a shopping list will keep you grounded on buying what you need and not what you want.

Buy for the future. Focus on buying in bulk especially for supplies such as exercise books, pens and erasers that need replenishing every so often. It is important to buy in bulk to avoid numerous and costly trips to the retail market during the year.

Pay your school fees early. While many parents or guardians may choose to pay school fees from their income, this can be an uphill struggle especially because most companies pay their staff early in the month of December and you have probably spent all the cash come January. Also, should you lose your job unexpectedly and go without a salary then that means your child’s education could be jeopardised. To avoid this, you should set aside some little money every month towards the school fees account.

You could also use other methods that ease the burden of paying school fees. For example, you could buy an education insurance policy that enables you to save towards your child’s education for a period of time after which you can get the money as a lump sum. Also, look around for various easy school fee payment offers from banks. You could also talk to the school management early enough and come up with a fee payment structure that enables you to pay school fees in bits over a period of time, so that it is less strenuous on you while still ensuring you meet the school’s deadline for fee payment.

Your job as a parent doesn’t end at settling your child in school. Ensure you monitor his academic progress and behavior throughout the year to help bring up a well-rounded student. Attending events in school such as academic clinics, visiting day, parents’ day, and arranging personal meetings with his teachers to know of his progress, are vital. Don’t downplay these activities as the well being of a child depends on many things and your involvement is important.

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