Oct. 1, 2013 06:00

From pre-K to senior year, we've got you covered.

Choosing a school, whether that's pre-K or college, is one of the most important decisions a parent can make. Preparing for your child to enter that school with the right tools even more so. Enter IND Family's Guide to Schools. We break down the school choices across the parish, school you in test prep and check in with experts on how to help (not hinder) your kids when it's time they fly the coop. Read on to learn about what Lafayette Parish has to offer in the way of education and head to IND Family online for even more content from preparing for kindergarten to the must-ask questions when considering a private school.

BEFORE THE FIRST BELL
Education starts at home.

Education begins long before that first school bell rings. Before your child heads to school, there are milestones across every developmental area they should master. Read on to learn what's expected of your little student come kindergarten time and what you can do to help them get there.

Children should have some knowledge and skills in early literacy. While no one is expecting them to wax poetic, they should have basic print concepts, alphabetic understanding, vocabulary, listening comprehension and emergent writing. When it comes to numbers, they should know simple verbally counting, by memory (forward and backward without objects), number awareness, sorting, patterning and spatial relationships.

According to the Louisiana Department of Education, being kindergarten-ready means mastering the following:

? ALL IN THE LANGUAGE
Listens attentively and responds to stories and books
Holds a book correctly
Speaks in complete sentences
Has a vocabulary that includes opposites and positional words
Can recite rhymes and sing children's songs
Writes using drawings and some letters and numbers
Identifies at least 26 letters of the alphabet (combination of upper and lower case), especially the letters in their own name

? BY THE NUMBERS
Counts to 20
Identifies and names at least four basic shapes
Can identify numerals 0 to 10
Can match a set of objects to the correct numeral
Can sort objects by at least two attributes (color, shape or size)

? SOCIAL TIME
Expresses wants and needs
Tries new things
Follows directions, simple rules and routines
Takes turns and shares with others
Can dress self and manage own bathroom needs
Can control impulses

? MOVE IT, MOVE IT
Can hold and use a pencil, marker, crayon, etc. appropriately
Holds scissors correctly and cuts straight or curved lines
Can write their own name
Puts together 10- to 12-piece puzzles
Runs, jumps and hops
Bounces, catches, kicks and throws a ball
Walks in a straight line forward and backward

TESTING, TESTING
How kids can relax pre-test and parents can help.
By Amy Cavanaugh

As the school year gets under way and progress reports and report cards start coming home, often parents and children become increasingly stressed about grades. With increased emphasis on standardized testing like the LEAP, parents and teachers are more worried about kids' performance on tests and the kids feel the pressure, often resulting in test anxiety. Test anxiety is not limited to just standardized tests or major exams; some children and teens experience it every week when faced with a test. Symptoms of test anxiety include: "butterflies," a stomachache or tension headache, shakiness, sweatiness, and rapid heartbeat or fast, shallow breathing. Some kids even feel like passing out or throwing up.  

Test anxiety is really a kind of performance anxiety - a feeling someone has in a situation where she wants to do well. While a little anxiety is normal and can help peak performance, anxiety that is too intense negatively affects attention and concentration. Test anxiety occurs when a child has participated in class, has done all the homework, has studied hard, and thinks he or she has a handle on the material. However, when the test is on his desk, suddenly the child blanks out, freezes up, zones out, or feels so nervous and upset that he can't get it together to answer the questions he knew just last night. It's very frustrating.

Here are some tips for parents and kids to break the test anxiety cycle:

PARENTS:

Don't expect perfection. Perfectionistic parents tend to have perfectionistic children who have a hard time accepting any mistakes they make or getting anything less than 100 percent. This mindset creates a lot of unnecessary and unhelpful pressure.

Praise effort, not always outcomes. A hard-earned "B" can be more praiseworthy than an easy "A." Acknowledge the studying, doing the homework, and the trying one's hardest, rather than the final grade. Saying something like "you are a hard worker" rewards a child's effort and willingness to try. "You're smart" sounds like it's an inherent trait that the child either has or doesn't have. Be enthusiastic and even at times give small rewards for giving their best effort in spite of feeling nervous.

Be reassuring, but not too reassuring. Repeatedly saying "you'll do great!" causes anxious children to feel more pressure and maybe to seek to disprove you. It may also not be realistic. "You've studied hard and I know you'll try your best" is encouraging but not over the top. At the same time, don't be impatient, e.g., "Take the test and get over it!"

Challenge negative thinking. If your child makes statements like "I'm going to fail this test" or "I do badly on every test," teach your child to challenge those ideas by looking at the evidence. Ask questions: "Do you really fail every test? What do you think will happen if you study?" That way, your child can respond with: "When I study, I pass tests. I have made good grades in the past, and I can do it again."

Help keep up with schoolwork daily. Doing well on a test is easier if a student consistently completes assignments, including studying and reading. Encouraging homework completion is important. If a big project or exam is looming, help your child break it into smaller daily or weekly steps by using a dry erase calendar. Make sure your child has the needed school supplies.

Guide study plans, but don't control them. Avoid telling your child exactly what to do. It's more helpful to ask your child to come up with a realistic plan for studying and taking a test. Successful execution of the plan boosts the child's confidence; if the plan doesn't work out so well, it's a learning opportunity.

Practice good family health habits. Make sure parents and children get enough sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, and get to school and work on time. Teach your child simple relaxation techniques and practice them as a family. Model relaxation too, e.g., practice deep breathing when you're frustrated in traffic. Managing overall family stress level is important.  

Make them go take the test. No matter what, do not let your child avoid or postpone taking a test because of anxiety. Avoidance only reinforces the anxiety, and can even lead to a child refusing to go to school.

KIDS:

Be prepared. If you know you didn't prepare for a test, you're going to feel nervous. Make sure to study over time, in manageable chunks each day - no cramming. Good study habits and skills are important. Many students find that their test anxiety is reduced when they start to study more effectively and more regularly. The more you know the material, the more confident you'll feel. When you expect to do well, you'll be able to relax into a test more easily.

Ask for help. If the material is difficult, ask your teacher for help, extra practice, and even extra credit assignments. Not only will this help you master the information, but it also lets your teacher know that you care about doing well. If taking a test is so stressful that your mind goes blank and causes you to miss answers that you know, your test anxiety probably needs some attention from your teacher, your school guidance counselor, or a tutor.

A little stress can be good. A little stress helps you prepare for something important in the near future. Instead of reacting to the stress by worrying or complaining, let the stress remind you to study well ahead of the test. That way your stress doesn't get out of control.

Watch what you're thinking. Watch out for negative messages you're telling yourself, like "I'm never any good at taking tests," "What if I forget everything I know?" or "What if the test is too hard?" This kind of negative self-talk overrides thinking about the test questions. People with test anxiety can also feel stressed out by their physical reaction and think things like, "What if I throw up?" or "Oh no, I'm going to pass out and be embarrassed." Replace negative thoughts with positive, realistic thoughts that are true: "I've studied hard and I know the information, so I'm ready to do the best I can."

Accept mistakes. Try not to be so hard on yourself. Mistakes are learning opportunities; learning to tolerate small failures and mistakes is a valuable life skill.

Take care of yourself. Getting enough sleep (no TV left on overnight, a reasonable bedtime, no cell phone or other gadgets next to the bed) is very important. Poor sleep can lead to anxiety, depressed mood and even inattention. Exercise and eating well are also important.

Breathe. Learn ways to calm yourself down when you're tense or nervous, like simple breathing exercises. The key is to practice breathing exercises regularly even when you're not stressed, so you're really good at them when you need them. Stress management is a great skill in many situations besides taking tests.

Amy Cavanaugh is a clinical and medical psychologist in private practice where she specializes in children and families. She's a full-time mom to Avery, 6, an avid exerciser and serious Target shopper.


PARENTS, DON'T PANIC
Advice on letting go senior year.
By Melinda Mangham

For those families who have seniors in high school, "letting go" is a difficult experience. As the school year begins, thousands of high school families begin the college exploration process full of excitement about all of the opportunities this time offers.

After years of hard work and academic preparations, the time for realizing dreams and goals has finally arrived. If conflict and stress exist between members of the family, the college process can be a horrid experience. Parents must understand their role if everyone is to get through this time with a minimum of family tension. Sometime during the winter of their junior year, as PSAT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Qualifying Test) scores reach college admissions offices, students find themselves "swamped" with literature from colleges all over the country. This can be encouraging or terrifying.

Students realize they must make decisions that can have a tremendous impact on their lives. Parents really panic. Emotional swings of both parents and students are varied and wide. At this point, it is natural for a concerned parent to want to take over - to be sure that applications are done, essays are written, deadlines aren't missed. Conversations can turn into interrogations or nagging sessions - unpleasant to everyone involved.    

Please, parents, try to demonstrate an understanding of what your child is going through. Be a sympathetic and trusted source of support. Be a wise, systematic aid in the information-gathering and decision-making process. Be open-minded and nonjudgmental.Overcome your urge to take charge. Encourage your child to pursue his or her dreams.  

This will help your child develop self-reliance.    

Parents can be and need to be a great source of support and advice. Help students find someone who has proper information to guide everyone through the process. The student, ultimately, must be the one who takes charge of this process: filling out applications, writing essays, acquiring recommendations and deciding which college to attend.  Parents, be a sounding board. Be realistic. Continue to encourage your student to appraise objectively his or her abilities and limitations. This is a perfect time to explore lots of available options.    

Parents sometimes are tempted to try to live their own lives through their children. Many parents want their children to have the "same experience" they did. Remember that it is not really fair to impose your dreams and goals on your son or daughter. Be very careful. Avoid saying, "When we go to college." Please do not use the plural pronoun "we."

Remember that your child wants your respect more than anything. They do not want to let you down. For most 17 and 18 year old students, choosing a college is the biggest decision and risk ever undertaken. This is probably the last time parents feel in full control of their children - a scary feeling.

As a parent, you may have some unresolved issues about separating - about your child's future independence. Understanding that these feelings are normal and part of the college process, and honoring them but not letting them dominate, will enhance your relationship with your child. Lots of time for mutual respect and appreciation exist.   

College is a wonderful opportunity - a time to explore, to change, to experience, to become. It's a great adventure. The greatest satisfaction and joy parents can have is watching their children become responsible, caring adults with a sense of purpose in life. And remember this college process will pass. Many of us have survived this experience and do have children who are responsible, caring adults.

This is not a time for parents to panic but an opportunity to establish trusting relationships with their children. Letting Go by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence is a perfect gift for children to give to their parents. Actually, a number of books give parents excellent guidance in moving children from home to college. A few good ones include the following: When Kids Go to College Barbara M. Newman and Philip Newman; Empty NestFull Heart Andrea Van Steenhouse; The Launching Years Jennifer Wyatt and Laura Kastner; You're On Your Own (But I'm Here If You Need Me) Marjorie Savage.    

Melinda Mangham is a retired teacher, a college adviser and expert in all things college prep.