How to help your child jump start the second half of the year.

Nearly halfway through the school year, children have settled into their routine. Now is the time to incorporate some new strategies to help them make the second half a success. Check out these tips to get you and your child from January to June, finishing the school year strong.

1. Know What is Expected

To support your child’s success in the academic environment, it is important to know the expectations of the teacher, classroom and school. Generally, the best way to find this information is the class/school website. These sites no only provide information on assignment deadlines and assessment dates but when a permission slip is due or money is needed for a book order. If children are involved in the process of checking the sites and noting the important dates, they avoid unpleasant surprises that can add stress to the school day. They will feel prepared for the school day and ready to focus on learning.

2. Set Goals and Establish Realistic Strategies to Meet Them

As children progress through the school years, there always seems to be a something that can be improved upon from the previous year. This could be remembering to store important papers, a gradual improvement on spelling quizzes, or being more responsible for personal items such as lunchbox, water bottles and jackets. Whatever the task, it is important to establish the end goal and then set realistic benchmarks along the way to meet that goal.“Let’s remember to bring your lunchbox home every day this year” is too broad of a goal and possibly unrealistic. Start with something simple and short-term: “Let’s remember to bring your lunchbox home every day this week.” This is a more manageable goal and allows for success and further development – maybe even working up to an entire month of the lunchbox coming home every day.

It is important to set academic goals as well. Inevitably, children all make silly mistakes when taking quizzes and tests, affectionately labeled by many children as “brain farts.” This is evident when you see a child scratching their head wondering why they put a certain answer when they absolutely knew the correct answer. Many times this is attributed to test anxiety or simply rushing to not be the last one finished. Either way, they are very frustrating to both students and teachers. When your child comes home with an assessment, review the material with them. If they had four “brain farts” on a quiz, set a goal of having only three on the next quiz. Talk about some strategies they can do to reach this goal such as slowing down to review the material and reviewing past mistakes they had made. You can even make a little game of it by saying to your child: “For the past several spelling tests, you have had three silly mistakes. I challenge you to see if you can find the next three silly mistakes on your next quiz and correct your answer before you turn in your paper.” This sets them on a search to find any possible mistakes and guides them in the direction of checking their work a little more carefully.

3. Develop Mindfulness, Focus, and Persistence Through Fun Family Activities

Attentiveness and perseverance are important skills for children to learn and these skills support success in school. The best part is that mindfulness, focus, and persistence can all be developed through fun family activities. For example, working on a challenging jigsaw puzzle can utilize all these skills. Children need to separate the pieces by color or by straight edges. They need to focus when they are looking for specific colors or puzzles shapes. Perseverance is definitely tested when a single puzzle with hundreds of pieces could take days or even weeks to complete. This is one of many family activities that can be used to work on these skills. Others could be woodworking or sewing, creating and tending to a garden, caring for a pet, or being responsible for specific chores around the home. All these activities help children learn to focus on a task and follow through until full completion of a task.

4. Hone Listening and Observation Skills

Listening skills are put to the test when children are in the academic environment. Classroom rules, instructions, important announcements, or just interesting bits of information are thrown at children throughout the day by both teachers and classmates. Most classrooms do rely on paper announcements or the website for important information, but keep in mind that some information will be through verbal instruction and will need to be remembered. The good news is that you can help your child develop these skills while doing simple activities at home. Give your child a multi-step instructions such as “First you need to collect your dirty cloths, then you need put away your toys, and then I want you to make your bed.” Even simple tasks have an order that is more efficient – the parent can get a start on the laundry and the toys need to be put away before the child can move freely around the room to make the bed. Listening skills can also be developed when they are engaged in everyday conversation with others. This can be done while seeing a neighbor out for a walk or running into a family friend while at the grocery story. Ask them to follow up with a question or a comment while in the conversation or even to retell the conversation to another member of the family. Attentiveness and listening skills can be developed almost anywhere.

Observation skills are needed in all academic classrooms, not just during science experiments. Children might be asked to observe an author’s unique word choice, the similarities and differences between numbers or shapes, or even the different brush strokes of impressionist paintings. Being fully engaged in a task and recognizing the unique features and qualities of the items in the task are skills that can easily be developed at home. Enjoying a walk in nature, making a batch of cookies, sorting the laundry, or selecting music for the family dinner all utilize skills of observation and listening. There are many opportunities throughout the day that can be used to help your child observe and make sense of their world.

5. Support Organization and Time Management

Even as early as elementary school, children need to learn how to manage their workload with other aspects of their life such as sports, hobbies, music lessons and chores around the home. An assignment due on Wednesday cannot wait until Tuesday night, especially if your child has soccer practice until 6:30 on Tuesday night. Teaching children to think ahead and map out at plan can begin even before they go off to school. Parents can start with simple tasks around the home such as cleaning their room, working in the yard or helping prepare a meal. Explaining to a young child that a yard needs to be cleared of sticks before it can be mowed and ingredients need to be assembled before a recipe can be followed shows them that large tasks are broken down into smaller tasks and one step needs to be down before another.

In the early elementary years, it is important to sit down with your child and review both their expectations at school along with their commitments outside of school. Talk with your child about the best way to go about managing these different aspects of their lives. Keep a calendar and review the week ahead with your child noting assignments, activities, or any other special requirements (the due date of a signed permission slip or their turn for show-and-tell). Working through their schedule and commitments shows a child that planning and organization are very important to help their lives run smoothly. Doing this at a young age will help them establish these skills when they are older and their extracurricular commitments get even more demanding.

6. Support Literacy Skills Used in the Classroom

Strong literacy skills are important in every academic area in schools. In school, students will read Phantom Tollbooth while also reading a timeline of events during American Revolution, the process of the water cycle, a challenging math word problem, and how different wild animals hibernate. Parents can help develop these skills at home by simply asking their child point ed questions about what they are reading, either for school or for pleasure. This will require the parent to know a little of the subject matter to make sure the child fully understands the material. Reading a synopsis of a classroom book or brushing up on some subjects covered in the classroom allows a parent to ask specific questions about what their child is reading in school.

7. Utilize Pockets of Time To Support Learning

Running errands in the car and waiting in the dentist office can be used as valuable learning time. Vocabulary and spelling words can be reviewed while walking to the bus stop or driving the kids to school. Having your child explain the steps (in order) of a science experiment can be done while waiting for the dentist. These little pockets of time throughout the day should be viewed as opportunities to support what is being taught in the classroom. Children will retain information if it is reviewed over a period of time as opposed to cramming at the last minute. Think of the difference between reviewing spelling words a little throughout the week versus cramming the night before the quiz. Repetition and review are the key the fully learning the material.

8. Be Familiar With School Resources

There is a wealth of resources in both the classroom and the school but many children and their families are not aware of these resources. Get familiar with what is offered at the school including classroom and library books, audiobooks, DVDs, and special services. Many schools offer enrichment materials on topics covered in the classroom. School libraries might have DVDs on a Shakespeare play, the early settlers in America, and even math concepts. These resources can be used to either support a struggling student or provide enrichment to a topic already enjoyed by the student. It is also important to look into any tutoring and organizational services offered by the school – either through staff members, older students, or volunteers.

9. Utilize Community Resources

Tapping into community resources is helpful for additional support or material on a topic of interest. Local libraries, museums, parks, and special exhibits can all be explored for this purpose. Many libraries offers tutoring services, quiet work spaces, special interest clubs, and computer and printing services. Museums and parks bring to life the concepts children see in the pages of their textbooks. Sculptures, paintings, the solar system, fossils, machinery, animals, plants, historic artifacts, photographs, letters and diaries, methods of transportation, clothing, and ocean life are just some of the many items exhibited in local museums and parks.

10. Let Your Child See School Subjects In Their World

Children are no different than adults in that they learn better if they know why they are learning something and how it can be applied to their everyday life. Simple activities such as reading a recipe or a shopping list, having an allowance and creating a savings chart, working on a repair project, or planning a family trip all require skills learned in the classroom. Reading comprehension, math concepts, task management, and informational research skills are all utilized in these simple everyday activities. These are all wonderful opportunities to show children the importance of what they are learning in the classroom and how this knowledge pertains to everyday life. This helps answer the question “Why do I need to learn this?” and “When will I ever use this?”

11. Teach Your Child The Value of Learning

Encourage your child to learn something new outside of the classroom. This could be learning a new instrument, trying a new sport, attending enrichment programs in your community, or taking an art, dance or cooking class. This shows them that learning is enjoyable and important and will allow them to learn more about themselves and their world. This concept is reinforced when children see their own parents taking courses, attending seminars or professional development programs or simply taking a yoga or pilates class. It shows children that you are never too old to learn something new.

12. Recognize When Your Child Needs Help

A challenge for many parents is to know when their child might need additional help with their school work. To recognize this need sooner, it is important for parents to stay informed of classwork, assessments, and any comments from the teacher. This is easily done with younger children through classroom websites or teacher correspondence, but many parents feel they need to let go of the reins as their child gets older. This release is important because it does give the child more responsibility for their academic success, however, not all children are ready for this. You might have a child that needs additional help organizing learn-term projects, preparing for tests, remember important materials, or even purging the clutter of their backpack. It is important to recognize what your child needs and address those needs accordingly.

Kristin Guay lives on Cape Cod with her husband, two daughters, and beloved black lab. A former middle school language arts teacher, she is currently Youth Services Director at Centerville Library.