5 ways to help your child succeed in school
Now that it’s September, students around the country are back in their school desks. Parents, too, are busy trying to get everyone back in the routine of getting up early and keeping track of homework assignments.
School can be hard, but it’s a learned skill, just like anything else. When parents are deliberate about teaching their children the strategies that make for success in school, kids are more likely to develop self-confidence and thrive in a sometimes challenging school environment.
Here are five skills you can teach your kids to make this school year the best one yet.
Have a routine
Our minds and bodies respond to patterns. Every parenting books I’ve ever read talks over and over again about the importance of creating routines for our babies: feeding routines, bedtime routines, daytime routines…routines for just about everything. Why? Because when we do the same thing over and over again in the same way, our bodies and minds become conditioned to the routine, and it begins to feel natural. Subconsciously, we are less stressed.
This applies to older kids and teens (and adults for that matter) just as much as it does to teething babies. Have a routine for what kids do when they come home from school. Where does their back pack go? Do they have a snack? Set a specific time and place to work on homework where they won’t have other distractions. Once they get used to the routine, everybody’s life will be easier. You won’t have to nag and battle about homework as much, and they will know what is expected of them each day.
When I taught middle school, I used to play a game the first week of school with my students. I asked for three volunteers and gave each of them a different “organizational system.” One student got a binder with dividers marking separate sections for notes, assignments, and tests/quizzes. A second student was given a notebook with a pocket full of handouts. The last student was given a backpack that was full of crumpled up papers.
I explained that each of them had been given the exact same handouts, and then told the students that I was going to time them to see who could find a particular paper the fastest. I told them the name of an assignment, and yelled “Go!” Not surprisingly, the person who had been given the well-organized binder found her paper the fastest. On one occasion, the person with the crumpled “pit of despair” was still looking three full minutes later!
My point to my students was that when you take the time to keep things in order, you will save yourself a lot of time and frustration. I am surprised, however, by the number of parents who expect their student to somehow develop these organizational skills on their own. Sit down with your child, find a system that works for you, and help your child use it diligently.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Use a planner with accountability
Many schools now provide planners to students at the beginning of the school year. This is wonderful! However, some schools do a better job than others at teaching the skills needed to use a planner effectively and keeping kids accountable for actually using them. If students are not accountable to someone for using planners to keep track of their school responsibilities, then the vast majority of planners go unused and we killed a lot of trees for no good reason.
Especially by the time kids get to middle school and high school, they need to be able to keep track of seven or eight classes as well as extra-curricular activities. There is simply no way their brains can handle all of that.
My dad used to say, “The dullest pencil is better than the sharpest mind.” I liked to teach my students to write down in their planners what assignment they needed to work on each night. For larger projects, I suggested that they also record the assignment on the page for its due date. When they completed the assignment, they could put a slash next to it. When they had actually turned it in (a problem for many students), they could “double cross” it by making an “x”.
Whatever method you use, teach your child to use his or her planner, and make it part of your routine to check the planner with your child every day.
If your school doesn’t provide a planner, try this free printable planner.
Make sure that in all your organizing and routines that you plan time for breaks from academic work. The human brain can only process 4-7 new pieces of information before it hits overload and essentially rejects new incoming information until the prior information has been digested. When your child comes home from school, have a snack and a little downtime before jumping into homework (even 15-20 minutes makes a big difference).
While studying, have your child take a 10 minute break at least once an hour (more often for younger kids). This “time off” from thinking about school is when your child’s brain does a lot of the filing away of information, moving it from short term to long term memory.
If possible, encourage your child to take a break for exercise as well. Studies of both animals and humans have shown that 30 minutes of exercise at least three times a week can improve mood, increase brain mass, and improve cognition. When your child’s body has been moving, their brain is more ready to work, too.
Have family dinner, go for a walk, and be sure that your student is staying well-balanced. School work is important and needs to be a priority, but our kids are more than just students in school. We need to make sure we feed the rest of their soul, too.
Utilize resources around you
It’s becoming the expectation now for schools and teachers to have websites in order to communicate with parents. Bookmark your school’s site, and check in regularly to make sure that you know what’s going on. Through many school websites, parents can check student grades and sometimes even print missing assignments to be redone at home.
Teacher websites often have a calendar of daily assignments and upcoming due dates as well as links to homework resources and suggested reading lists. If you’re not sure if your child’s teacher has a website, ask! As a teacher, I LOVED knowing that the parents could be on the same page as me. It’s nice to be able to check your student’s planner against what is on the teacher’s site to be sure that nothing got forgotten. Keep in mind that teachers are fallible, and things aren’t always perfectly accurate. When in doubt, double-check.
If your student is struggling, look into tutoring opportunities at the school. Many schools offer a day or two a week where students can stay after school with a particular teacher to get help. And, honestly, most teachers are happy to help on just about any day if you talk to them about your needs.
At the end of the day, remember that teachers, parents and students are all on the same team. Work with the school, and they will likely go far out of their way to work with you and help your child succeed.