School Supplies for the Soul


Feed Your Child’s Inner Life – Promote Play, Limit Screen Time  

by Joan Miller

Summer fun is drawing to a close, and it is that time again when parents turn their thoughts to crisp new school clothes, earlier bedtimes and the endless list of school supplies.
However, ensuring a good school year for your children extends beyond mere school supplies. Here is a different list of back-to-school consideration for parents.

1. Time for School/Time for Play
School is a child’s job – and it comes with long hours. After six or seven hours at school, children arrive home tired.
They need a snack and some downtime – and the best downtime is play, especially active, outdoor play.
Allowing kids to ride bikes, shoot baskets, swing, jump rope or explore is not only good for their bodies but good for their brains.

2. Homework
The dismissal bell is not the end of the work day for children. Homework looms. Children need a break before they start working again.
Set a timer or make a schedule to help your child know the amount of play she gets before she must return to working.
This break allows a child’s brain to rest and reset before starting an evening (or night) of homework.
Also, remember that homework isn’t about perfection. Teachers need honest feedback about whether students have mastered lessons.
Parents must be willing to let children make mistakes. That is how they learn the content and self-sufficiency.

3. Screen Time
Video games, no matter the content or device, can become an obsession for children and adults of all ages.
Limiting screen time is important. Dr. Shawn Taylor of A Caring Touch Pediatrics in Lexington (per the American Academy of Pediatrics) recommends no electronics for children under 2 and then a general guideline of no more than two hours a day.
In my practice as a clinical counselor and play therapist, many parents limit their children to 20-30 minutes a day for elementary age.
Several young people have told me that if they play video games too long, they become easily frustrated and suffer mood changes.
At the very least, match the amount of screen time with active play time.
And remember – compulsive use of screens limits social interaction and family time, which are key to developing healthy and happy kids.
Help them stay safe and monitor screen usage by taking their phones and electronics at bedtime and charging them in your bedroom.

4. Extracurricular Activities
Sports, clubs, dance and music lessons are all beneficial to the growth and development of children and teens, but too much of a good thing is still too much.
A number of families I know allow only one major activity (like a sports team or dance) during the school year because they know that too many commitments can drain the whole family.
This “rule” is really helpful in families with more than one child.
A good rule of thumb – if you aren’t having dinner at home at least three-four nights a week, you are too busy.

5. Families That “Do” Together, “Do” Better
At a time when family rituals and relationships seem outdated, a study from the University of Michigan shows that families that eat dinner together regularly have children who perform better academically and have less behavioral issues.
Studies also show that when parents read to their children, they increase their intellectual ability. The library is a fun place to take children.
As a family therapist, I recommend parents read to their children as a way to nurture them and have positive connection.
(As a special note, studies also show that single parents, as a whole, are doing a good job of positive parenting.
In fact, while they may have less income to provide extracurricular activities, they often are more available to have family dinners with their children.)

6. Teachers Love Your Child Too
We would not have “Back to School” without our teachers. Sadly, teachers aren’t held in the same esteem as they once were.
Plato said: “Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Teachers do a hard job. Not all of us can, day after day, face a classroom of 30 or more children while managing their behavior, teaching them and being constantly scrutinized through test scores.
This year, as part of your back to school plan, get to know your child’s teachers and start out thinking the best of them.

This list is probably a little different (and cheaper) than the one the school sent you, but more than scissors or glue, this advice can help you and your family have the best school year yet. Y
Joan Miller DVM, MA, is a licensed professional clinical counselor and registered play therapist who works as a Child and Family Therapist at The Provision School and Family Counseling Center, Inc. in Lexington.
In June, she started The Provision as a non-profit with Becky Host, MA, Licensed Professional Counselor, and Jennie McKindles, MA, Special Education P-12 master teacher.
The Provision comprises a counseling practice for children, adolescents and adults and, starting in August, a therapeutic school for children who are not successful in traditional school for a variety of reasons including: emotional, social, behavioral or academic. or