Back-to-School Tips for Military Families

(U.S. Army/Patrick Albright)
(U.S. Army/Patrick Albright)

Back to school is crazy for most families. When a military family throws in a deployment or a PCS, we face even bigger craziness. As a former teacher of military children and a parent of my own mil kids, I've picked up a few tricks of the trade. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your mil kid to head back to school.

7 Back-to-School Tips for Military Families

1. Gather all necessary documents 

If your child is attending a new school, call or check the school's website to find out what paperwork is required for registration. This might include the child's birth certificate, social security number, current immunizations, physical exam report, proof of residence and report cards from previous schools. Create separate folders of documents for each child. And make sure the movers don't pack these folders if you're PCSing!

2. Have at least 2 emergency contacts

If they're the same as the previous year, make sure all contact information is current. If one of them is moving, find a fill-in. If you just moved and you don't know anyone in your new location, this is the time to knock on your neighbors' doors and introduce yourself, especially to those who also have children. Ask if they would be willing to stand in as one of your emergency contacts, and offer to be theirs in return. You can always replace these contacts down the road as you make other friends.

3. Start new routines at home early

Don't wait until the first day of school to set the alarm and expect your children to jump out of bed with cheerful first-day-of-school attitudes. As the summer winds down, start inching bedtimes a little closer to what they should be during the school year and start practicing those morning routines so you don't figure out on the first day that it takes you longer to get out the door than you expected.

4. Start new routines at school early

Visit your child's school and take a tour during the summer so the first day isn't so intimidating. Attend the open house before school starts. If your child is riding the school bus, fight the temptation to drive him yourself and have him at the bus stop the first day. If you walk a younger child to her classroom, don't linger. Trust me, teachers expect crying children on the first day.

5. Inform teachers about special circumstances and encourage communication

Teachers need to know about any family situations that may affect students academically, emotionally, or behaviorally. Let the teacher know (in advance, if possible) about things like deployments, homecomings, divorces and PCS moves, as well as behavioral patterns you may have noticed in the past that he or she should look for. Just as you intend to communicate changes at home, encourage teachers to communicate any changes they notice in your child in the classroom.

6. Educate the educators about military life

One year I student who had leukemia. I knew nothing about the disease until the parents requested a meeting with me and gave me a packet of information detailing everything from her treatment to her prognosis. They even wrote a book that I read to the other students to help them understand as well. The parents' efforts helped me to better understand their child, and I was able to be a better teacher to her.

Just as I knew nothing about leukemia, most teachers know nothing about military families, especially if you don't live in a military town. If military life is affecting your child in a way you think might carry over into the classroom, offer teachers insight into our lifestyle. Print out articles or blog posts you've read that describe military life (or write your own!) and refer them to resources like Sesame Street for Military Families and Military Kids Connect.

7. Smile!

Back to school may be a stressful time, but it's also a special time. Every new school year is a milestone. There's a reason we all take those first day of school photos of our children on the front porch with their backpacks and fresh haircuts. And if you're smiling, maybe you'll get your kids to smile for those pictures too.

What other back to school tips work for you?

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