Education & play
The end of the school summer holidays is in sight, and the school routine will soon be in full swing.
And while some parents may be about to breathe a sigh of relief that they'll soon get a break from having to provide childcare and/or constant entertainment for their kids, they should bear in mind that the start of a new school year needs a bit of preparation.
There's all the obvious stuff of course, such as buying a bigger school uniform and perhaps succumbing to demands for new pencil cases and character lunchboxes.
But as well as buying the right kit, parents need to prepare their kids, and particularly the younger ones, for the new school year.
Primary school teacher Hazel Danson says that perhaps the most important preparation of all is getting the kids to bed earlier in the week before school starts, and getting them up earlier.
"Parents need to get kids back into a routine - make sure that they get plenty of sleep and go to bed on school time, not holiday time.
"It's particularly important for younger children who might find a longer day and concentrating academically a bit more tricky."
She stresses that if children are tired when they go back to school, it can impact more than anything on their ability to sit and concentrate.
Justine Roberts, co-founder of the parents' social networking site Mumsnet, agrees that getting back into a school routine before term starts is important.
"For most parents, back-to-school time can't come soon enough - after six weeks of trying to keep boredom at bay, school becomes a welcome relief," she says.
"The problem is that during the summer, kids (and parents) can get into some bad habits, like staying up and sleeping in late, a routine incompatible with going to school.
"Most Mumsnetters agree that getting kids back into their school routine is essential to avoiding an aneurism come term time."
It's also important for parents not to get stressed-out about the new school year, particularly if children are starting school for the first time, says Danson.
She points out that the important thing about the school summer holidays is that children have had a good break and come back to school refreshed and ready to learn.
Whether children should have done any reading or academic work before the new term starts depends on the school and the age of the child, says Danson.
"For primary-age children, the experience of doing things with your family in the holidays is really invaluable - just things like going out for walks together. They learn from things they do, but not in any formal way.
"The important thing is that they come back ready to learn, and when they're ready, that's when teachers take over and do the academic stuff with them."
Parents reading with primary-age children in the holidays is important, as are fun word and rhyming games, says Danson.
"Just enjoying being read to is probably more important than worrying about buying the same reading scheme as the school, for example, and trying to blast your way through it with them before school starts. That's not necessary."
But what is quite important is that parents check the date of the first day of term on the school website or with another parent, and bear in mind that if they have another child at a different school, they may be starting on different days.
It's also worth thinking about the food children will eat at school, and making sure the cupboards are stocked with healthy food that they'll actually eat if they have packed lunches.
"In terms of getting kids ready," says Danson, "the main thing is that children aren't tired when they come back to school and are in the right routine.
"The teachers will pick it up from there."
- Essential Kids