Cover Story

Ready, Set, Go for new School year

It’s the time of the year when the world’s largest school-going population — 250 million children — is getting ready to start or resume school. Therefore, parents across the country are gearing up to buy school books, uniforms, arrange tuition/co-curricular activities, and set routines. PW presents a detailed guide for parents to help start well and control the whirl of academics, co-curricular activities and other pressures of the new school year  -  Mini P, Sanchea Sandeep Daniel & Cynthia John

As the new academic year begins, to-do lists of parents across the country are growing longer — from buying school books, packing lunch/snack boxes, arranging for children’s commuting, co-curricular and sports activities, to preparing study timetables and drawing up meal menus. For parents, this could become high stress duties. But planning for the new academic year can make things easier.

In this start-of-the-academic year cover story, after consulting with experts and counselors we offer useful advice on prepping preschoolers for the first day of school, buying eco-friendly school supplies, a children’s health guide, and suggestions for setting academic goals and planning co-curricular/life skills activities.

Prepping for first day of preschool

While for some households, June marks the beginning of a new school year or term, for others it’s the first day of preschool for their children. Here are five suggestions to ease your child’s first day in her pre-primary.

1. Visit the school with your child and meet her teacher prior to beginning school, if possible. This will reduce her first-day nervousness.

2. Inform her of the day’s schedule such as what time school begins and ends, and what time you will pick her up after school.

 3. Tell your child that all preschoolers are nervous on the first day.

4. Reassure her that if she faces any problems in school, you are on call to help.

5. If possible, get your child to meet with a classmate before the first day of school. It helps to have a friend in class on the first day.

Eco-friendly school supplies

From seed paper that can sprout after use, to bamboo books, the market offers a range of school products that are eco-friendly! 


Marigold seed paper. Imagine planting your biodegradable paper into the earth and watching little flowers spring up in your balcony garden! The Bangalore-based Seed Paper India has crafted seed-embedded white paper from consumer waste materials. The paper transforms into compost when it comes into contact with soil and the seeds begin to germinate. (seedpaperindia.com)

Bio backpack. Jute is an organic fibre known for its sturdiness, biodegradability and recyclability. Sirasala Designers have a patented line of sustainable jute backpacks for school children. Based in Hyderabad, the firm accepts bulk orders above 100 units (approx. Rs.350 each). (sirasala.in) 

Plantcil book. This eco-friendly pocket size notebook (32 pages) is made from 100 percent recycled paper. Users can plant the book cover which will sprout differing wildflowers. (www.amazon.in)

Pencil boxes. To get rid of saw dust and wooden shavings, the Mumbai-based Ecofriendly Jalebi Pvt. Ltd has designed a box of ten eco-friendly pencils made from discarded newspaper with a seed attached which you can plant. Each of the ten pencils offers a different herb and vegetable seed attached to it — chilly, tomato, brinjal, lettuce, celery, sage, tulsi, dill, chives, and coriander. (www.ecofriendlyjalebi.com) 

Leave no trail. School excursions and field trips are exciting, but can also leave a long trail of plastic bags and non-biodegradable materials despoiling pristine environments. The Bangalore-based proprietorial firm Ecosave has designed a line of affordable tableware/parcel materials from sugarcane fibre. (www.ecosave.in)

Bamboo pens. These pens are handcrafted from bamboo wood by women from socio-economically disadvantaged communities. You can also order bamboo toothbrushes. (www.bambooindia.com)

Drink safe. Widely used plastic bottles are non-biodegradable and also bad for health. Children ingest toxic BPA (bisphenol A) found in polycarbonate plastics such as food containers and water bottles. Stainless steel bottles are a better option. For older children, you could try the Apah clay bottle. Handmade, reusable and biodegradable clay bottles also keep water cool. (www.livegreenindia.com)

Steel bottles available in most supermarkets are also a safe option. Copper bottles are even better as copper has antioxidant properties and speeds iron absorption. It also melts fat, promotes anti-aging and kills bacteria by discharging its medicinal benefits into your water. Most copper bottles are priced between Rs.500-1,000. 
Spoon it up. Narayana Peesapaty, a former researcher with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, has promoted Bakey’s which manufactures spoons made from rice, millet and wheat. The spoons are made with flour and are safe to eat in flavours that range from salt, pepper, vanilla to strawberry. (www.bakeys.com)

Choose school bags wisely

A study conducted in 2016 by the Delhi-based Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry reported that 68 percent of pre-teen school children in India suffer back pain that can develop into chronic pain, because of excessively heavy school bags. The survey highlighted that over 88 percent of children in the age group of 7-13 years, are obliged to carry more than 45 percent of their weight on their backs every day because school bags are too heavy. It recommended that children in the 8-15 years age group should not carry school bags weighing more than 3 kg cf. the average weight of 8 kg currently. 

What parents can do to help ease the burden of heavy school bags

- Sort out inessential textbooks to ensure that the daily backpack doesn’t weigh more than 10-20 percent of your child’s body weight. 

- Choose a backpack with padded shoulder straps and back padding and advise your child to always use both shoulder straps to distribute its weight. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain back and shoulder muscles.

- Adjust shoulder straps so the backpack fits closely to the upper part of your child’s body. The backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline.

- Organise the backpack well — pack heavier items closest to the centre of the back. Distribute the weight of the bag evenly across the back. The more spread out the load is, less the strain.

- Press the management to provide in-school lockers.


Limit electronic screen time

During summer holidays, most parents tend to lose control over the time children spend in front of television screens, computers and cell phones.  

But after the school year begins, it’s time to restrict children’s daily screen time. 

Here are some suggestions on how to limit screen time of children

1. Start by making meals a no-gadgets period. 

2. Replace smartphones with no-frills phones limited to receiving and making calls and sending text messages. 

3. Keep smartphones and other electronic devices out of the children’s bedrooms, to prevent sleep problems.

4. Set clear guidelines by mutual agreement for use of smartphones.

5. Negotiate dedicated ‘tech-free’ time slots.

6. Encourage outdoor play and physical activities such as picnics on weekends, art and crafts activities, etc.

Six suggestions for boosting children’s concentration 

During their first term in school, children are anxious and often unable to concentrate on tasks or assignments. Given below are six suggestions to boost their powers of concentration, attention spans and ways and means to beat academic stress. 

1. A shot of nature is always a great way to improve the attention span of children. Several studies suggest that visits to green spaces boost concentration, creativity and productivity.

2. Problem-solving exercises, crosswords, puzzles etc, help improve concentration. Playing video games — within time limits — boosts the visual and spatial skills of children, and traditional indoor games such as memory, scrabble and chess strengthen attention spans.

3. Balanced diets supplemented with physical activity greatly contribute to developing children’s concentration. For instance, if a child skips breakfast, she is unlikely to perform optimally in school. Nuts, avocados and eggs boost brain power. Walnuts, for instance, boost cognitive functions, including memory and concentration.

4. Yoga enhances energy levels and brain function. Researchers have found that daily yoga and meditation practice for 25 minutes dramatically boosts practitioners’ attention spans. 

5. A power nap for 20 minutes or half an hour after school helps children focus on homework.

6. During study/homework hour, encourage short breaks of 5-10 minutes. They improve concentration and absorption. 

DIY Study table organiser

A tabletop organiser helps to create a sense of calm rather than disorder within children preparing for study or homework sessions. Here’s how you can design a study organiser:

Things needed

Empty boxes made of strong cardboard of different shapes and sizes

Attractive printed gift paper and plain coloured paper

Craft glue 

 

Methodology 

Assess your needs. Do you need a pen stand, book/file holder, space for paper clips or space for notebooks?

Decide on the number of boxes to use.

To make a book/file holder, find a strong box similar to a cereal box, big and sturdy enough to hold a file, folder and a few books.

Cut off the top. Mark a triangle, and cut it off on one or both sides, to make a holder as shown in the picture.
 In the other boxes, cut off the tops if needed. 

Use the gift-wrapping paper and wrap it around the sides. Stick on one side, then pull it firmly so that it is stretched taut before pasting the other side. Then paste the sides. You will have sides where the ends of the paper are pasted. Cover those sides by cutting a piece of paper almost the size of the surface and pasting it on top so that the pasted ends get covered to give a neat look. Stick plain coloured strips of paper on some sides if desired.

Let it dry, and it’s ready to use!