It happens each year precisely on July 5. Sparklers and smoke bombs on aisle four are replaced with boxes of crayons and bargain notebooks and the back to school season officially begins. I'm never quite ready for it. I usually put off the purchase of glue sticks and number 2 pencils for as long as I can because school supplies signify the end of summer.
For students, it's an exciting and sometimes anxious time filled with new tennis shoes, a new grade level and new adventures. As they strap on their backpacks and head to the bus stop this year, I'll indulge in some advice.
If you have a teacher who can plink it out on the piano, you are lucky. Learn to sit in the circle and sing loud and proud. Make new friends whenever you can. Walk straight home from the bus stop. Hug your mom and dad when you get there and tell them about your day.
Reading might seem hard right now, but do it anyway. It will get easier. I promise. If (when) you call your teacher "Mom" don't be too embarrassed, almost everyone makes that mistake once or twice. Make friends whenever you can.
Grades two and three
Write stories using that great and powerful thing called your imagination. Remember, chapter books are really a bunch of smaller stories all put together. You can do it! Cursive handwriting is challenging at first, but it gets easier. Memorize the multiplication tables now and you'll never have to do it again. Make friends whenever you can.
Grades four and five
You're no longer a little kid but are one of the oldest in your school. That probably feels pretty good. Your teacher might give you homework. Do it. If you get into a good habit of doing your homework now, it will be easier when you get older. Trust me. By fifth grade, you'll reach the age category of double digits. Getting older means things might seem more complicated than they used to be, and I'm not referring to schoolwork. Stay away from the social drama. Pick friends based on their personalities and sense of humor, not by the labels on their clothes or the logo on their backpack.
This year might bring you to a new school and that can be intimidating. Remember, everyone is in the same boat as you. Besides, a new school is an opportunity to make new friends. Sometimes boys tease girls and vice versa when they like each other. This is the secret code of middle school. Don't get too caught up in it and remember, a little cologne goes a long way.
Grades seven and eight
You find yourself on the cusp of the teen years and in some ways you're on the fence between two worlds. What your friends think becomes more important than what your parents think. You are likely to hit a growth spurt soon (if you haven't already). This can make your body feel awkward, as though your legs are too long for the rest of you. This is perfectly normal and is a part of that word you learned about in health class: puberty.
At a time when social relationships dominate your every waking moment, it's never been more important to pay attention to your schoolwork. Take the hard classes if you can. See homework advice from fourth grade. High school can be dominated by groups. Join as many as you can. Don't let yourself get pigeonholed. Your parents might seem like the most embarrassing people on the planet. Try to be patient with them. They are learning.
Grades 10 and 11
You are getting closer to becoming an adult with adult responsibilities like driving a car. This probably scares the pants off your mom, so go easy on her when she is in the passenger seat. You might find a part-time job. Lessons learned from getting to work on time and earning a paycheck can give you a sense of accomplishment and independence. Go for it. Keep doing your homework and making new friends.
This year could feel like the pinnacle, or you might find yourself more than ready to be done with this so you can move on to the next stage of your life. I know. I also know that one day you will look back on your high school years and think they weren't all that bad. So enjoy, or at least go to class. Sing the school song loud and proud. Make friends whenever you can. Hug your mom and dad when you get home and tell them about your day.
Kids around the country are heading out to the first day of a new school year, where they will sit at a desk and learn math and reading and science and a whole lot of other things about life you can't get from a book. Each year is a milestone. Enjoy. (And study hard.)
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright and author. This week she hits a milestone with column number 400. (Yes, she counted.) Read more on the Slices of Life page on Facebook.