Before school starts

Before school starts (Image Source, Getty Images)

Parent advice

From our panel of staff contributors

A guy I know takes his grade-school-age son and daughter out, and they walk the perimeter of local baseball diamonds, collecting lost baseballs. They walk beyond the outfield, through the high grasses in foul territory and look for balls early in the day or after games have been played. While they search, they talk about baseball and life. He says it's a tremendous bonding experience, one that creates memories. And, he says, they've found more than 450 baseballs and softballs over the last two seasons.

Bill Hageman

Read a book, any book, just for fun. Give him or her $30 and go to a bookstore and let them loose. Remember, once school starts it's required reading until June. So this is a good reminder that reading is enjoyable for its own sake. Bonus parent tool: You'll get an idea of what interests your kid at this moment, which can serve as the basis of future dialogue or activities.

— Bill Daley

Expert advice

Pack your child's favorite foods in a picnic basket and have a picnic lunch at school — just the two of you! If the school campus is locked, walk around the gated campus and point out familiar spots, i.e.: playground, classrooms, gymnasium, bathrooms and cafeteria. Then enjoy your picnic on the grass in front of school. This is a way of getting your child comfortable with letting go of summer and approaching a transition as smoothly as possible. Familiarity breeds comfort.

— Fran Walfish, family therapist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent" (Palgrave Macmillan)

Take an afternoon off and with a spinner from a board game designate north, south, east and west. Spin and drive in that direction. Set a mile and dollar amount and see what happens. Kids love the spontaneity of setting out on a real adventure.

— Patti Criswell, family therapist and contributing writer to American Girl Magazine's advice column

Choose a different and unusual place to have dinner for the five nights leading up to the first day of school. For example, one night eat dinner under the dining room table and set the floor. On another, make a tent by draping a sheet over the backs of chairs set up across from each other and eat in the tent. Eat on your front porch. Have guest dinners in each child's bedroom. The possibilities are endless, and your mealtime conversations are sure to be

unusual.

— Betsy Brown Braun, founder of Parenting Pathways Inc., a family coaching organization

My advice to parents is to help their kids create a day that in some way stands out in their memories of childhood. If they're not sure just what that is, parents should consult their kids. For some kids, it might be an amusement park or zoo or animal kingdom or trip to the beach. ... For other kids, it might be staying home all day in their pajamas with their parents, eating pancakes and cereal for every meal and watching "Flipper" reruns. But in some way, parents are attentive to and grant their children's wishes in an indelible way.

— Roni Cohen-Sandler, family therapist and author of "Trust Me, Mom — Everyone Else Is Going!: The New Rules for Mothering Adolescent Girls" (Penguin)

Have a solution?

Your ex buys the kids a ton of toys. How do you answer their incessant pleas that you do the same? Find "The Parent 'Hood" page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions for others to try.