Off to school! Guest post by Dr. Joanne Foster

978-1-77089-477-8_lSeptember heralds the beginning of autumn, and the start of a new school year. Parents, teachers and children wonder what that year is going to be like. Exciting? Daunting? Fun-filled? Work-laden? Many kids navigate the change from summertime leisure to academic learning without any difficulty, whereas others find it hard to settle into “back-to-school” mode. Even very capable learners can experience challenges. Parents often ask, “How can we help our children through that transitional period when school begins, and then onward, through the months ahead?”

Here are four tips for success:

1 — Be attuned to what’s happening in your children’s lives. Parents who stay on top of things over the course of the year are better positioned to guide, advise and troubleshoot more effectively. Listen. Observe. Don’t be pushy or annoying. Do make an effort to be “in-the-know” about the highs, lows and rollercoaster moments.

2 — Respect children’s views. Children learn in different ways. Honour their interests, and try to accommodate their learning preferences. Kids learn best when they’re happy, motivated and appropriately challenged.

3 – Give children access to relevant, stimulating learning opportunities. Help them acquire what they need to enable learning to happen as seamlessly as possible. This includes materials, work space, ample sleep and nutritional food.

4 – Be available to offer reinforcement and encouragement. Acknowledge children’s efforts, and help them see the value of a strong work ethic. Remember that unstructured playtime is important, too.

The world is bursting with opportunities for children to acquire knowledge. There’s no end to experiences and venues that can provide starting points for meaningful learning —sparking children’s creativity and triggering inquiry. Encourage kids to ask questions about what they see and do, and to explore possible answers by investigating a range of options (including people, websites and books). Help them try new things (sports activities, arts, foods, etc.), and visit new places (campgrounds, parks, fairs, museums, etc.). The more experiences they have, the more they’ll learn. What occurs in children’s lives beyond their classrooms serves as a catalyst, linking the real world to their academic learning, and making that learning more relevant.

As the school year revs into full gear, parents should continue to be watchful, wise and responsive. There will be countless ways to transform everyday circumstances into opportunities for children to develop and activate their intelligence, and to apply their efforts successfully and productively. Parents who start off the school year by being well informed will be better equipped to help their children transition to new classrooms and friends, engage in learning opportunities, and enjoy that learning to the fullest in the weeks and months ahead.

For suggestions and strategies to help children thrive see Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014).

Foster_Joanne_portraitJoanne Foster, EdD is co-author (with Dona Matthews) of Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (2014, House of Anansi), and the award-winning Being Smart About Gifted Education (2009, Great Potential Press). She teaches at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, and she is also a parent, consultant, researcher, and education specialist with over 30 years of experience working in the field of gifted education. She writes extensively about high-level development, and presents on a wide range of topics at conferences and learning venues across North America. Her next book Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination is in press.

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Talk, Time and Trust — guest post by Robert Heidbreder


The Voyage is a sweet picture book about making a home in a new place, and about facing new experiences with an open mind. With September slowly creeping up on us, we asked one of our favorite authors, Robert Heidbreder, about his thoughts on starting a new school year.

Every year, as school rolled around, I got the nervous shivers—and I was the teacher. Gradually, I learned to turn to talk, time and trust, 3 helpful Ts.

Talk to your child, the teacher, administrator, other parents and especially yourself about your anxieties.

Give your child, yourself and the school situation Time. A lot of issues resolve themselves in time.

And Trust in your feelings, your child’s feelings, the system and the teacher.

With talk, time and trust you will likely find your nervous shivers changing to shivers of excitement as you see your child growing, learning and being happy.


Ted Hayes Photo 4 DSC_2374 (good)Robert Heidbreder is an award-winning children’s poet and author. His many books include I Wished for a Unicorn, Drumheller Dinosaur Dance and the forthcoming Song for a Summer Night (Groundwood, Spring 2015). Robert spent thirty years as a primary school teacher and, in 2002, won the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia and continues to do many school and festival presentations.

Marie-Louise Gay on her first day of school

Marie-Louise Gay as a girlI was gripping my mother’s hand when we arrived at the door to the kindergarten. My baby sister held on to my mother’s other hand, sobbing loudly and dragging her feet. She had been scared to death by the smiling crossing guard who said hello to her. You would have thought he had bitten her.

We had walked all the way from the motel where we had been living for a month. We had moved from Montreal to Oakville, Ontario for my father’s new job, but my parents couldn’t find an affordable apartment. So we were living temporarily in a tiny white decrepit cabin, part of the Miracle Motel complex on the outskirts of Oakville. The miracle was that the four of us could live, sleep and eat in one small, unheated room with a kitchenette.  My sister and I slept on the couch, my parents on the foldout bed. All our toys and books were in storage so we mostly played on the stoop with rocks and twigs. We were the sole guests of the motel. The days were long and boring. I missed my friends in Montreal.

So, as you can imagine, I had been waiting impatiently for this first day of school. My mother kept telling me how wonderful it would be: I would make friends, sing songs, draw pictures and read books. There would be new games and new toys. There was a playground where I would play tag, jump rope and play hopscotch with all my new friends. We went shopping for a new dress, new shoes, a pink schoolbag and a Babar lunchbox. I was so excited I could hardly sleep the night before.

We entered the kindergarten room. A big light-filled colorful room with children’s drawings taped all over the walls, shelves of books and mountains of toys. There were children playing, laughing, running. A tall smiling lady came over and talked with my mother, then bent down to talk to me. Meaningless sounds came out of her mouth. I strained to hear. More meaningless sounds. Puzzled, I looked at my mother, who laughed and said, “Voici ton professeur Madame Jennifer. Elle parle anglais.”

My mother had forgotten to mention one small thing: I would be starting school in English. I had never heard a word of English in my life. “Ne t’en fais pas, tu apprendras vite”— Don’t worry, you will learn English very quickly — said my mother as she kissed and hugged me tight. “Je reviens bientôt.” She left, pulling my sobbing sister after her.

I stood by the door. The colors drained out of the room. I felt cold. All the children seemed to stare at me. They knew that I couldn’t speak their language. This wasn’t going to be wonderful at all. I carefully put my new Babar lunchbox on the floor and stiffly turned my back to the class. Through the window I could see my mother walking quickly down the street with my sister in her arms. They got smaller and smaller, then disappeared into the distance.

“How long does it take to learn a new language?” I asked myself. I knew that if I didn’t move I would be invisible. But someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned slowly. A fat girl in a pink dress wearing sparkly blue glasses smiled at me and took my hand. She gently pulled me to the carpet where all the children sat in a circle. I sat down next to her. The children started singing a song in the language I did not understand. After a while I hummed along. The fat girl with the sparkly blue glasses smiled at me.

I hummed louder.

978-1-55498-216-5Marie-Louise Gay is a world-renowned author and illustrator of children’s books. She has won many prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award and the Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award. Her books have been translated into more than fifteen languages. Visit Marie-Louise Gay’s website.

Browse our blog for back-to-school blog posts from Groundwood authors running from August 15th. Everyone at Groundwood hopes that this school year will bring someone to take your hand.

On safari suits and true friends – the first day of sixth grade by Fanny Britt

Fanny Britt as a girlOf all my first days of school, the one in sixth grade is probably the one I remember most vividly. I had been busy that summer, swimming and eating corn on the cob, slathering clay on my face that we had dug from the lake up at our cabin north of Ottawa, walking to the village in the blistering sun to buy a tiny pack of gum — and all of this in the greatest of company: my newfound friends. You see, I had spent a good part of the fifth grade by myself, with none of my old friends interested in looking at me, let alone sharing their secrets with me. I had been shunned as fat and ugly, and I was bummed. But I was also about to get extremely lucky. During a school trip, I met a girl who would become my best friend in the whole world, even to this day. She was sweet and loyal and had the kindest of all the hearts ever molded into a human body. Soon after we met, another lonely girl found her way to us. This one was feisty and funny and always up for an adventure. Together, we became invincible. No more loneliness, no more rejection, no more bullies — because you can’t be bullied when you’re not afraid. And these two made me less afraid of the world with each passing day. In the middle of summer, we all piled up in my dad’s old Volvo, and headed for the cabin at Blue Sea Lake. It was arguably the best summer of my life. There was no room for body issues in the canoe; no time for self-hatred on the diving board. There was only unabashed fun, and a new sense of trust that everything painful could be healed again.

My mother has always been a wonderful seamstress. Over the years, she has made countless outfits for me to wear on special occasions (this summer, she even made my wedding dress!). For my first day of school in sixth grade, it was a lovely skirt-suit, made of tweedy houndstooth fabric (it was the eighties, after all), but with a retro safari feel to the pattern, like something Katharine Hepburn would have worn in a movie. It was belted and I felt quite grown-up in it. It was also very different from the jeans and converse sneakers that everybody else wore. Before, I would have been self-conscious about this, and would have wanted to blend in with the crowd, but that year, flanked by my two new friends, I felt like a million dollars. We were laughing and talking, remembering our summer at the lake, and giddily anticipating the future. And when I crossed paths with my old tormentors from the fifth grade, instead of melting in a pool of shame and fear in front of them, I flashed a smile and strutted away. I was neither sad nor vengeful. I was free.

I will never forget the summer of ’88 at Blue Sea Lake with Alexia and Nadia.

978-1-55498-360-5Fanny Britt is a Quebec playwright, author and translator. In Jane, the Fox and Me, her first graphic novel, Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

Watch for back-to-school blog posts from Groundwood authors running from August 15th – September 15th. Everyone at Groundwood hopes that this school year will bring you confidence.

Deborah Ellis on her first day of school

To get to kindergarten, I had to walk across a bridge that spanned the Grand River in Paris, Ontario. The footbridge was a rusty old train trestle with a long stretch of corrugated iron for foot traffic. The sides were barred but open — a glance down in any direction led to the sight of the river below. Read more

The End and the Beginning — Jean E. Pendziwol

The first day of school — the thrill of seeing friends again; dressing in a carefully chosen outfit, debated and assessed endlessly in consultation with sisters and friends; a book bag filled with binders, pages empty in anticipation, pencils sharpened, erasers intact; a nervous, fluttering heart. It is the beginning. Read more

First days of School. Ugh. — Ian Wallace

Ian Wallace as a boyI never looked forward to the first day of school, it always made me anxious.

A new school year meant a new teacher to contemplate. Given that I attended the same school from kindergarten to grade seven, and there was only one class of each grade, and several teachers had taught the parents of my classmates, I knew who that teacher would be. I had a long time to ruminate on the stories I’d heard long before I crossed the threshold of their classroom. Each teacher came with a foreboding shadow. Mostly, the tales weren’t good, and some were eye popping. Read more

Elise Moser on her first day of school

Elise Moser as a girl

Elise Moser, age 9

The only memories I have of my first day of kindergarten are a couple of fuzzy images. Outside, I stood on the sidewalk, my left arm extended upward because my mother was holding my hand. I was scared — I had no idea what was going to happen. Read more

Jessica Scott Kerrin on the first day of cemetery school

I don’t recall much about my first day of elementary school back in Edmonton, Alberta — only what my mom tells me I did. But starting anything new always feels the same to me, so I thought I’d describe my first day at cemetery school, which I can clearly remember. That’s right. I recently enrolled in cemetery school. Read more

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