By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
Last September, you sent your child off to school feeling confident that good study habits, good behavior and good grades would be a top priority all year long. But by February and March that back-to-school energy may be a distant memory, while the rewards of summer are still months away. If so, you and your child may need a jump start to get back on track. Here are some simple ways to get over the late winter doldrums and help your child recapture his or her enthusiasm for learning and achievement:
Take stock of the high and low points. Healthy self-esteem and a can-do attitude are important to academic success, but insecurity over learning difficulties can start a frustrating cycle of failure. For this reason, it can be helpful to look back over the year and revisit the accomplishments and challenges your child has encountered so far.
Begin by looking at major tests and projects that earned top grades and praise from you and your child’s teachers. Talk with your child about his or her inherent abilities. Is he a naturally good reader who might some day grow up to become a famous writer? Does she have an innate ability to understand the challenging mathematical concepts that lead to scientific and engineering marvels? As a parent or guardian, it’s important to recognize and nurture your child’s special talents. This will help build confidence and a will to meet new challenges.
It’s likewise important to take a thoughtful look at trouble spots so far this year. Which subjects have been the most challenging? Which skills have been most difficult for your child to master? This type of a discussion can be tricky – you don’t want it to be about criticism as much as observation. Your son or daughter needs to be reminded that absolutely no one is a genius at everything and that some people are bound to be more gifted in reading, writing and mathematics than others. But once you candidly pinpoint the weak spots, you can find a way to overcome them.
Create an action plan for improvement. Think of some unique ways to leverage your child’s talents while shoring up the skills that need work. If your son or daughter is struggling in a particular area, talk with teachers and guidance counselors about how to improve. Simple steps – such as setting aside more time for homework, improving study habits or minimizing classroom distractions – may help solve the problem. Your child may also benefit from after-school programs that offer concentrated or one-on-one instruction.
Teachers and guidance counselors should also be able to suggest activities that nurture your child’s innate talents and interests. These might include book clubs for avid readers, extra-credit experiments and projects for the scientifically-minded, or “field trip” excursions to museums or other educational or historical sites that you can enjoy as a family. Nurturing these talents will help your child understand that despite the inevitable challenges, learning should be viewed as an adventure.
Identify benchmarks and rewards. There are several events in three or four months that can have a big impact on your child’s academic future. If your child is in public school, the statewide tests given in the spring may determine whether or not he or she progresses to the next grade. Third and fourth-quarter exams and major assignments will likewise impact your child’s grades and readiness for the increasingly challenging work that lies ahead. It’s a good idea to contact your child’s teachers to find out when the big tests will be given and when the big projects are due so you can make sure your child makes the best use of his or her time. Mark these events on a calendar and keep it readily at hand.
At the same time, it can also be inspiring to mark the fun and rewarding events ahead. In most school districts this means a week for Spring Break – which will hopefully include some of the learning activities suggested above. You might also mark exciting events such as birthdays, family trips and visits from relatives. And as long as you’re blocking off the period for final exams, start thinking now about a way to celebrate the last day of school, when the rewards of your child’s hard work become clear.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington is co-founder of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for 26 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, call 1 800 CAN LEARN.