Once the school supplies have been purchased and the backpacks have been filled, most parents would assume that their child is ready for the new school year. But there is an entirely different issue at hand when it comes to starting off the academic year in a positive way. It’s all about the brain.
Most children have spent the summer months watching too much television, staying up too late, and playing really hard. So what are the best strategies for parents, when it comes to getting their child’s head back in the game?
According to Jenny Farmer, Center Director at Sylvan Learning Center in Fishers, there are four major categories to consider: goal setting, time management, organizational skills, and test anxiety.
Setting goals that are attainable and inspirational is an important part of starting out the school year right. Just as adults are expected to set yearly goals at their jobs, students need to establish certain goals to stay focused and reach their potential.
“Whether your child is an excellent, capable or struggling student, earning the best possible grades should be one of the most important goals,” says Gotz von Bulow, PhD, Director of Huntington Learning Center in Fishers. “This means envisioning certain targets and committing to the hard work it takes to reach them.”
1. Raise the bar. If your child worked hard and was a “C’ student last year, set a goal to be a solid “B” student this year.
2. Create and stick to a firm study schedule. Von Bulow suggests that parents designate a certain period of time every weekday, and one day on the weekend, when a student completes homework, prepares for tests and engages in “free-choice” learning to explore special learning interests and aptitudes.
3. Take action when trouble lies ahead. If a child is struggling in a specific subject, you need to know immediately. Encourage your children to let you know if they are experiencing difficulty, and talk with teachers to see if extra help is available. As von Bulow stresses, “Taking action early is absolutely critical. You don’t want to find out about a major learning issue the day before a big test, or at the end of a quarter.”
4. Get an extracurricular boost. Von Bulow suggests that, although academics should take priority, extracurricular activities can also expand your child’s learning horizons. “Reading groups, language clubs, political campaigns, academic competitions and volunteer projects can extend your child’s natural aptitudes and interests and pack a lot more learning into the day,” he adds.
5. Maintain a can-do attitude. Parents can foster a child’s self-esteem, which is crucial for social and academic success, by showing how much you value your child’s hard work and accomplishments. “When your child gets a bad grade, “ explains von Bulow, “position it as a temporary setback, not as a failure, as long as he or she learns from the experience. Make sure that major successes are acknowledged from the beginning of the year to the very end,” he says.
Time Management & Organizational Skills
Having good organizational skills is natural for some, but for most of us, it is not easy. Once a student works at being organized, they can also learn to better manage their time. As Lynne McCauley, Owner/Executive Director of LearningRx in Indianapolis explains, these skills can be learned, but it can seem overwhelming at first.
“Being organized requires strong underlying logic and reasoning skills,” McCauley says. “Logic and reasoning skills are what allow us to plan our work, solve problems, or see ‘the big picture’ and break it down into separate parts.”
McCauley suggests that parents begin by using a one-month calendar page that can be written on. Sit down with your child and plot out all school and extracurricular activities for the coming month to help illustrate “the big picture.” Then break it down into several parts.
Next, transfer those activities to a weekly calendar, and then add daily homework along with project deadlines. Add on all extracurricular activities, and talk through upcoming deadlines and activities. McCauley advises spending a few minutes after school each day having the child review their calendar and homework while backpacks are being cleaned out. Continue to discuss planning strategies for the next day or week.
“Guide their learning by asking them questions instead of telling them what to do, which involves auditory processing along with logic and reasoning skills,” she suggests. As their skill level increases, begin to transfer responsibility for the daily review to them.
Farmer emphasizes the importance of having a consistent place for work-related items, like book bags or backpacks, completed homework and extracurricular equipment. She also suggests that in order to help students learn successful time management skills, they need to make study time a priority. Parents also can offer incentives by rewarding positive efforts.
“I always advise parents to reward the work that a child does, not how they do on the work,” Farmer says. For instance, if a child manages their time effectively, studies hard on a test and practices good study habits, reward those efforts instead of what the final grade turns out to be.
“I have found that when money is the reward for the grade, it doesn’t work,” says Farmer. “What seems to work better is offering consumables, like a night out at the movie with friends, a new electronic gadget or a special event,” Farmer says. She suggests that the reward be something memorable, not monetary.
Taking tests can be a major cause for stress and anxiety among some students. They may perform extremely well on homework and other classroom assignments but be unable to function under the pressure of a formal test. Farmer says you can help your child conquer test anxiety by visualizing success, talking through some relaxation techniques, getting a good night’s rest and eating a good breakfast.
Getting back in the swing of learning and doing homework can be difficult for both students and parents alike. By taking steps to set goals with your child and offer support and resources, your child can get off on the right foot and have a successful school year.