Marlborough, MA - Although it feels like the summer only just started, the back-to-school season is creeping up sooner than you would expect. Back-to-school commercials are starting to appear, store shelves are suddenly lined with spiral notebooks, No. 2 pencils and backpacks, and parents are beginning to gear up for the new school year.
“Most of us have barely settled into a summer routine of camp and swimming lessons and yet, it’s already time to think about the next school year,” said Paula Fleming, spokesperson for the local BBB. “To ensure your family starts off the school year on the right foot, BBB has compiled a list of tips to help parents be prepared.”
Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern MA, ME, RI & VT (BBB) has created a guide for parents getting ready for the back to school season with everything from shopping to online safety and childcare.
Back to School Shopping
Families are expected to spend more this summer than last year on school supplies. According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the average family with children in elementary school through high school will spend $687.72 on back-to-school shopping. A large portion of that spending includes electronics such as computers or calculators.
Of course, not everyone will need to purchase new laptops and supplies, but before you start shopping, check out these back-to-school budget tips:
Make a List. Start by making a list, you may already own many of the items needed. Even if you don’t know the exact supply list, you should get an idea of school clothing and other basic needs. Try to avoid impulse buying.
Create a budget. Sign up for sale alerts online from your favorite stores. Consider buying basic supplies (like notebooks, folders and pencils) at discount stores. Watch ads for coupons and don’t forget to check price matching policies.
Review advertisements. Review ads for quantity restrictions, sale dates, and return policies. When shopping online, read the fine print for return and exchange policies and take advantage of free shipping specials.
Network with other parents. Seek out or host a clothing swap online or in your neighborhood; this can be a great way to recycle your gently used items and save money on the things you need this year. Also, research the potential savings of buying school supplies in bulk and splitting the cost with other parents in your area.
Take advantage of discounts. Many stores offer student and teacher discounts on hot items like laptops and uniforms. Retailers will be trying to make room for fall fashion and the newest models, so there are incredible savings to be had on older items.
Protecting your Child Online
With the school year approaching, parents are becoming more and more concerned with what their children are both seeing and sharing online. While the kids are in school, it can be difficult for parents to closely supervise them as they roam across websites where danger may lurk.
BBB has compiled a list of the most prevalent risks that children may encounter online:
Bullying and harassment. This is most likely to occur through social networking sites, emails or text messages. It’s important to listen to your children and encourage them to discuss such incidents. The online safety website SafeKids.com has a page of resources to help you deal with cyberbullying.
Reputation-harming online posts. Children may not understand that “online is forever.” Posts can haunt them at some point in the future and may be saved by someone, even after it has been deleted. Be sure your kids understand this, especially as it applies to photographs. Take the time to use a search engine to check up on what has been posted by or about your children.
Phishing attempts and identity theft. Help your children understand that emails requesting passwords and usernames may be fake, even though they look legitimate. They should never click on links in such emails. Explain to them that passwords should be shared with no one except you, and make sure your devices’ operating systems and security software are kept up-to-date.
Inappropriate content. Children can easily stumble upon material that is sexual, violent or illustrates illegal activity. SafeKids.com also has resources for parents who discover that their children have been viewing inappropriate content online.
Online predators. Though such incidents make newspaper headlines, the risk of a child or teen being harmed by someone they met online is considered to be low. Nevertheless, common-sense rules always apply. Any communication your child has with an unknown person online that veers into inappropriate subjects should be ended at once and reported to you. Call your local police department if you suspect your child is being contacted for sexual reasons.
Privacy protection rules. Review privacy protection rules with your children. Teach your children that they should never give out personal information, such as their name, home address, telephone number, age, school name or location, or friends' names, or use a credit card online without your permission. Look into software or online services that filter out offensive materials and sites. Many Internet Service Providers and commercial online services offer site blocking, restrictions on incoming e-mail, and children's accounts that access specific services.
Finding the Right Childcare Service
For the little ones who aren’t quite ready for school, back to school season affects them too. In 2016, BBB received nearly 9,000 inquiries from consumers researching child care centers.
Child care providers can be friends, relatives, or licensed professionals who watch a few or many young ones, at a home, school, or in a family or group daycare center. With so many choices, how do you begin to choose what’s right for the little ones in your life?
For working parents who have to make the difficult decision of who to trust with the care of their children, BBB offers a few options that may help you find the right childcare service for you and your child:
Determine what type of childcare is right for you. It’s crucial to understand the different types, such as daycare centers or in-home care, full or part-time, before or after school.
Determine what is important to you and your child. For instance, how would you want discipline, meals, electronic use, naptime and outside play handled? Check to see if your potential childcare provider is first aid and CPR certified with insurance, and how they would handle emergency situations.
Visit and ask questions. Stop by and check out the facilities you’re considering. Observe how the staff interact with the children and ask about their education, training and how long they have been working there. Are they attentive to all the children and readily available for emergency situations? Be sure the caregiver is properly licensed and insured, and meets your needs for location, hours and cost. Child care centers should be clean, organized, childproofed and contain books and toys that are age appropriate. If you’re considering in-home care, make sure your candidate is readily available and can make at least a one-year commitment to the job. Also, ask about meals and snacks, sick-child policy and security.
Test it out. Have your child spend part of the day in the center or home and discuss his or her experience with the caregiver or center personnel. Be alert to your child’s reaction and behavior, allowing time for adjustment.
Keep talking and trust your judgment. Unless your child is older, the only information you will be getting about the care will come from the caregiver. Make sure you communicate often and comfortably with each other. Don’t be afraid to address any problems you are having as quickly as possible. Your child deserves a good, nurturing caregiver and to enjoy the time they must be away from you. Pop in unannounced periodically to see how things are going.
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses and brands they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 172 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 5.3 million businesses, all available for free at bbb.org.