The school year is just beginning, and now is the optimal time to help your child have a successful year.
There are many important tips and strategies you can implement now to ensure this will be the best year ever for your child.
Set Goals Both Academic and Non-Academic
Early in the school year, ask your child what they would like to accomplish during the next year. This could include trying out for a team, making some new friends, joining a special club, or striving to be an officer in a club. Whatever it may be, have your child approach the school year being actively involved, engaged, and ready to move forward.
Creating challenging-yet-realistic goals gets them excited about the academic environment and all the possibilities. Parents can help by knowing what is offered at school -- websites usually list all the clubs, sports, musical opportunities, etc. Also, many students have taken it upon themselves to create a club of their own. Over the years, clubs such as Quidditch, teen cooking, transgender teens, hula-hoop, chess, and environmental affairs have been created by students in their schools.
"Through the positive experience of goal setting, your child can learn about his or herself, by taking responsibility for his or her own behavior. This will teach your child the boundaries of his or her own capacity," Dr. Gail Gross noted in a Huffington Post article, "Teaching Children Confidence Through Goal Setting" (huffingtonpost.comdr-gail-gross).
When discussing goals with your child, make sure you are setting a goal that challenges them but is also realistic and age-appropriate. It is also important to determine how this goal can be achieved and what support will be needed along the way. Children will be more invested if they feel their goal is attainable.
"By looking at your whole child and meeting your child where he or she is, you can help them and guide them towards increments of small goals that can be rewarded and applauded on their way to learning how to set high, yet still reachable, milestones," Gross wrote. By doing this, children learn to make choices that lead to accomplishments. It is important for children to feel they are part of the process and in control.
Establish a good relationship with school personnel early
One of the easiest ways you can establish a positive relationship with the teacher is attend any meet-and-greet or open houses offered by the school. Not only can you meet your child's teacher, but you also have an opportunity to see the classroom, hear about the curriculum, and ask any questions you might have. Most teachers have email addresses, and this is an excellent means of communication. Remember, they are busy with your child during the day, so phone calls do not always work. Never be reluctant to contact a teacher about a concern -- teachers would rather have the issue addressed early on then let something fester with the parent or child.
Like any person, the more you get to know a teacher, the more comfortable you will be in approaching them about a concern.
"A positive parent-teacher relationship helps your child feel good about school and be successful in school," said Diane Levin, a professor of education at Wheelock College. "It demonstrates to your child that he can trust his teacher, because you do. The positive relationship makes a child feel like the important people in his life are working together."
It is also extremely important that parents be involved in their child's school as their own schedule allows. Many schools offer events during days and evenings to help accommodate all schedules. This gives parents an opportunity to meet other parents outside the classroom and also be involved in fundraising or the decision-making process at the school. Schools are always looking for volunteers for festivals, fundraisers, or sporting/musical events. Participate when you can to show your support.
Use the school and class website to stay informed
The class website is an invaluable tool for staying up to date with all the happenings in a classroom, such as homework assignments, assessments, projects, and special activities. How many parents can relate to this conversation at the end of the day? Parent: "What did you do today at school?" Child: "Nothing much." Class websites let you know what material was covered, if there was a special guest, what special events might be coming up, and other general information on how your child spent their day. Plus, checking the website gives you the opportunity to ask specific questions at the end of the day, such as, "Tell me about the insect video you watched today," or "What did you think of the orchestra performance?"
Some schools even have online grading systems through which parents can track their child's homework assignments, quizzes, and tests, and also can see any upcoming assignments. This is extremely important for students who might need a little extra support in preparing for quizzes, tests, and long-term projects.
Preparing a supportive workplace at home
Creating a supportive workplace is a very important aspect in helping your child transfer their academic lessons from school to home. Here's a common problem teachers experience, especially as kids reach the tween and teen ages. If a student's performance were slipping, the teachers would call a conference with the parents to discuss a plan of action. This would begin by asking some simple questions about the home environment. One of the first questions asked is, "Where does your child do their homework?" The next question would be, "Where does your child keep their phone/computer/tablet when they are doing their homework?" If the answer was the same location (usually their bedroom), this might be part of the problem. Students need a quiet place to work with no distractions. Some children struggle with monitoring their time on social media, so it is up to the parents to help them with this. Maybe have them do their homework at the dining room table and keep all electronics away during this time. After a certain amount of work, give them a little break and let them check social media -- only for a few minutes. Then it's back to work.
Also, make sure the work area has everything your child needs for their school assignments and projects. This includes notebook paper, graph paper, pencils, pens, calculators, rulers, protractors, scissors, dictionary, and even a good thesaurus. This is especially important for children who spend time in different households due to separation or divorce. Another important note -- if a teacher distributes a textbook to keep at home, you might want to check if you can get another copy so there's one textbook at each parent's house. This creates a lot less stress for the child, and they will always have the resources they need at both homes.
Every once in awhile, purge the backpack
Keeping a clean, organized backpack is something parents need to instill in their children during the early years of school. This is important for the transfer of assignments, money, permission slips, party invitations, book orders, and numerous other items that go back and forth between school and home. Sometimes it helps to have a special folder (usually a bright color) that is used to store the most important papers. If a teacher sends home a permission slip for a field trip -- it goes in this folder. When the parent signs the permission slip -- it goes in this folder. Eventually, your child will learn to put all important papers in one place. Also, similar to the work environment, the backpack should contain important items your child might need at school -- pencils, extra paper, markers, etc.
No matter how organized a backpack, it can still be a challenge making sure the necessary items actually go into the backpack in order to make the connection from school, to home, and back. One clever trick is to have a small checklist for the backpack. Do this by creating a list and putting it into a clear plastic photo key chain and attaching it to the backpack. This checklist can include such items as homework assignments, lunch, book, supplies, textbooks, anything the child needs to mentally check off before leaving home or school. This way an overdue library book does not stay at home and a textbook needed for an assignment does not stay at school
Many teachers have seen first-hand how important this process is in helping a child feel prepared for school and reducing stress and anxiety. Teachers describe the countless times they have watched a student frantically look through a messy backpack for an assignment. The student assures the teacher they have completed the assignment, but they cannot find it anywhere. This would result in the student not being able to check the work with the rest of the class and feel bad that they could not prove they did the work. Sometimes, the assignment could appear as a crumpled, torn mess -- but not until after a great deal of stress. Your child will feel less stressed and more prepared if they know exactly where everything is they need.
Help your child organize a calendar/agenda book
Many schools issue agenda books to each student at the beginning of the year. These are important tools for keeping track of homework, assignments, and even activities outside of school. Students can see a week at a glance when assignments are due and tests are scheduled, as well as what other activities migh
t interfere with these assignments -- sports practice, instrument lessons, a visit from an out-of-town family member, etc. Some students find it helpful to put an open box next to the assignment and check it when the assignment is completed. Also, colored highlighters can be used for different assignments, tests, projects, etc.
Having a calendar at home can also help your child prepare for long-term assignments and crunch periods when it seems like everything is due at the same time. As a parent, it is important to teach your child to prepare in advance. For example, if your family has big plans for the weekend, help your child think about any work that might be due at the beginning of the week. With a little preparation and forethought, they will be able to complete their work and enjoy their free time.
Talk to your child about their school day
This is when it is necessary for parents to know exactly what is happening in the classroom and at school. If you check your child's class website, you can ask very specific questions about their day. Be sure to talk with your child every day about what they have experienced at school -- questions can cover academics, friends, special events. As a parent, try setting a goal to ask at least one specific question about your child's school day. Usually one question will lead to another, and before you know it, you are having a wonderful conversation about the events of the day.
The federal Office of Adolescent Health offers a series of conversation tips and suggestions for effective communication with your teen at hhs.gov.ash.oah/resources-and-publication/info/parent/taling-teens. Some include: listen and ask open-ended questions; pay attention to the conversation and make sure your teen knows you are listening to every word; let your teen know that you understand the challenges of adolescence; and remember that talking to your child is an ongoing process that comes in bits and pieces over time.
Help your child control stress and conquer test anxiety
There are many little tricks a parent can do to help their child prepare for assessments at school and approach these in a more confident manner. Many times a child will know the material, but freeze during the test. My daughter used to call these "brain farts." We came up with a strategy after each test. If there were seven "brain farts" on one test, we would try for six "brain farts" on the next test. Another strategy is to help your child prepare a little at a time. For example, if your child has an upcoming spelling test, work on the words a little every day -- during car rides, at the breakfast table, or walking the dog. A little practice every day, as opposed to cramming at the last minute, will help your child feel prepared and confident.
Seek support at school and through community resources
If your child is struggling, do not hesitate to request a meeting with the teacher and a guidance coun-selor. The teacher and school personnel will be able to make suggestions to help your child's academic success. It is important to address any concerns you or your child might have and come up with a plan to help your child be successful in school.
Keep in mind your community offers many resources that can be used to help your child make the most of their academic environment. Libraries, museums, concerts, festivals, and historic sites are all enrichment activities that can be enjoyable and educationally beneficial at the same time. These resources can make what is taught in the classroom "come to life" by presenting the topic in a different manner. A child can read several books about the pilgrims, but this topic is complemented with a visit to Plimoth Plantation.
Final thoughts for each level in school
Elementary school -- This is the time to establish good study habits. Help your child organize their backpack the night before, keep it clean, and have all papers in the correct folder. Use a calendar to write down important events at the school and in the classroom. Teach your child to plan for large projects by breaking the assignment down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Give them a quiet homework spot that has all the necessary supplies and proper lighting; teach them to focus on one task, take a break, and then continue with the task. Be sure to keep all distractions away. Even though there is not a lot of homework at this age, this is still an excellent time to instill good homework habits.
Middle school -- This is a very tricky age because some kids can be released a little from parental homework supervision while others need it more than ever. You want to build on the strategies you taught your child during elementary level. Continue to check calendars and agenda books, and teach your child to record assignments and plan for long-term projects. Keep them focused for periods of time and continue to monitor distractions. At this age, encourage your child to work independently but be sure to recognize when it is not working. Many middle school teachers will hear parents say their child should be working more independently at this age and the parents want to back off. This can work for some kids, but others might still need more guidance. Always be ready to get involved if you see your child needs assistance. Middle school is a very challenging time for kids, and they do not need the added stress of having trouble in school.
High school -- By this age, most students have the skills to navigate their school-to-home environment. Unfortunately, many other things come into play -- jobs, clubs, and college applications. This is when they can really use advice from adults and learn to have some balance in their lives. Help them select only the activities they feel passionate about and to which they feel they can contribute. As a parent, you know what it is like to juggle family commitments and other obligations. This is a great opportunity to share with your teenager what you have learned in balancing all of life's obligations. Many parents have had to drop an activity or say "no" to a request in order to meet their commitment to their own priorities. (For example, saying "no" to being on a fundraising committee because you cannot commit to evening meetings due to your young children's needs.) We have all been there, and it is important to explain this to your teenager and help them make the choices that are best for them.
Demonstrate the importance of being a lifelong learner
One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is to be lifelong learners and to never stop wanting to explore, learn, and grow. Let them see your enthusiasm about the new school year and all the possibilities and opportunities it holds for them. Share stories of your own school experiences and any clubs or teams you joined, new friends you made, or opportunities you explored. Let them see each year as a new adventure and understand it is up to them to make the most of it.