Get Your Child Ready For A Successful School Year

By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

For many students, going back to school is an exciting occasion- a chance to make new friends, embark on new extra-curricularactivities and take on new responsibilities. For all students -including those who may have struggled through the last semester -it’s also a chance for a fresh start toward academic success. Asthe most important “coaches” in our children’s race toachieve, there are three key steps we can take to prepare them forthe journey ahead.

Step One: Create a Learning Space

Studying is hard work, even more so amid the myriaddistractions of television, technology and other factors that mayget your child off-track. Establishing a quiet, neat, well-litspace for studying will help your child focus on homework, andsignificantly enhance his or her ability to retain material. Besure to have materials such as paper, pencils and pens, adictionary, a thesaurus and a calculator readily at hand. Theseating area should be moderately comfortable – with astraight-backed chair that will keep your child relaxed but alertas opposed to soft upholstery, which can encourage drowsiness.It’s also a good idea to have enough space to read and write inthe same area.

Step Two: Establish a Learning Schedule

The beginning of the school year is also a good time to setparameters that balance study time and leisure time. Setting asidea designated period of time after school or in the early eveningthat is to be used only for schoolwork is a strategy that has beenproven effective for countless students over the years. There areseveral factors that can influence the decision about which timeis best. One of the most important relates to your child’s risingand falling energy levels. Some children, for example, maycomplete homework more successfully by beginning immediately afterschool, leaving the rest of the late afternoon and evening forother activities. Others may need time to “wind down”after being in school all day before they’re relaxed and focusedenough to complete homework successfully.

Another factor is your child’s schedule of extracurricular andathletic activities. Keeping in mind the significant amount ofstudy time most children need to make good grades, take a look atall of the other activities that your child wants to fit into hisor her day. Have a frank discussion to determine which activitiesare most important to your child, and see if you can arrivecollaboratively at a decision about which should be pursued. Thensee if you can also determine, together, the best time to be setaside for studying in the midst of these activities.

While it’s important to set and maintain a schedule throughoutthe year, most high- achieving students also plan ahead to ensurethey have enough flexibility to fit in extra effort that may beneeded during high-pressure periods, such as the approach ofmid-term and final exams.

Step Three: Set the Stage for Effective Parent-TeacherCommunication

The beginning of the school year also marks a fresh opportunityfor parents to establish the foundation for an ongoing, effectivedialogue with teachers, guidance counselors and other schoolprofessionals. Begin by either going to the school to introduceyourself, or calling or writing a note. Speak forthrightly aboutyour child’s particular strengths and interests, and areas inwhich he or she may need extra help. Ask about milestones – suchas major tests – for the coming year. Find out how you will bekept informed of your child’s progress. Are there other vehiclesand mechanisms aside from report cards that can help you find outif your child is struggling so that you can take positive stepsfor improvement?

The first parent-teacher meeting can also be a good opportunityto find out how you can best support your child’s school. Askabout meetings and activities of special parent groups such as thePTA. Find out if there are upcoming field trips or otherextracurricular activities that require adult volunteers.

Finally, make sure the teacher knows to get in touch with you.Communication will be much easier if the teacher knows your name,has your phone number and email address, and is aware of the besttime to reach you during the day and evening. By establishing theright environment at home and a strong, positive connection towhat’s happening at school, you can give your child a head startthat will drive success all year long.

Dr. Huntington is co-founder of HuntingtonLearning Center, which has helped children achieve success inschool for 26 years. 

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