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HINTS FOR THE FIRST DAY

Excitement abounds, and the kids might have become night owls during the summer months. But getting a good night's sleep should be a top priority. Start enforcing the school sleep schedule a week early so the kids are used to their new bedtime schedule by the time school starts.

Eat a good breakfast _ or at least something. A piece of fruit is better than nothing. Yeah, yeah, you've heard it before: Breakfast is the most important meal. But teachers will assert that if students are hungry they won't be able to concentrate on anything else.

You're way ahead of the game and have already purchased that long list of school supplies. Send them in small increments rather than overloading your kid's backpack that first day. With increasing evidence of childhood back pain due to those heavy backpacks, parents should make sure their children are carrying no more than 10 percent to 15 percent of their body weight.

Don't forget to pack lunch and send lunch money. Seems obvious, but with the hustle and bustle it's easy to forget. Young elementary students should bring their money in an envelope so it doesn't get lost en route. Consider paying by check on a weekly or monthly basis to avoid the hassle.

Tell your kids to mind their manners. Their teachers, bus drivers and fellow students will appreciate it, and besides, they'll make a good impression.

Get to the bus stop a few minutes early. Instruct your little ones on bus safety: how to stay back from the road, line up, be sure the bus comes to a complete stop before trying to board and embark, and wait for the driver to signal before crossing in front of the bus. Unfortunately there still are those out there who pose a danger by passing buses even when the red lights are flashing and the stop sign is extended. An adult presence is of special importance at elementary school bus stops. If there's no parent present at the bus stop, consider making it a habit to meet your child, or talk with neighborhood parents to see if they're willing to take turns.

If you're driving your child to school, don't stay at the school too long. Lengthy goodbyes can bring tears to youngsters and make it harder for your child to adjust to being away from you. If you want to walk your child to his or her classroom, that's usually okay. Just tell kids to have a great day, give them a hug and a kiss and be on your way.

Check your children's backpack at the end of the day. There's a wealth of information coming home _ especially the first week.

Set aside a homework time and check your child's homework. Parents can foster an appreciation and a love for education by showing their children that they are interested and involved in what their children are learning.

Assign a reading time each night. You know the drill: At least 15 minutes of hitting the books can help your child become a better student. If your child can't read yet, read to him or her _ and enjoy this time together. It goes fast.

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