By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
Every August and September, newspapers around the U.S. publish articles about how to get young people prepared to go back to school. Readers are typically advised to get to know their children’s teachers, create a schedule for homework and volunteer with the PTA. This is tried-and-true advice for the ages. But with the end of “social promotion” and an unprecedented emphasis on making sure students meet tough standards for achievement, many parents and adult family members are looking for a much deeper level of involvement to ensure their children are prepared for the challenges ahead.
If you’re one of those who wants to go “above and beyond” to ensure your child excels, the following activities will be helpful:
Look out for key benchmarks on the academic calendar.
Many parents and students focus a lot of attention on the tests that all public schools are required to give in the spring, particularly when the results are used for such high stakes decisions as grade advancement and graduation. But most schools also give important tests in the fall so they can chart student progress during the year. By going to the Department of Education Web site for your state, you can usually learn which tests will be given to students by grade level, and when. You can find out the key subject matter that will be tested and when you should expect to see your child’s results. Keep in mind that these tests are not given simply to see how your child “measures up.” They’re offered as a diagnostic tool for revealing academic strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these strengths and weaknesses will enable you to determine what kind of tutoring and other support your child might need to ensure that the fall, winter and spring are all winning seasons for high test scores and overall achievement.
Remember to schedule “extra help” for high achievers.
Most people tend to think of mentoring and tutoring as services for students who need extra help to catch up. But extra attention can also be a boon for students who want to nurture special aptitudes and accelerate their achievement. In addition to Advanced Placement and merit courses, parents and students should become aware of opportunities to participate in special projects to strengthen skills in subjects that will enhance students’ preparation for higher education and careers.
Maximize the value of parent-teacher conferences.
It’s important to understand how much homework teachers plan to assign and the approximate amount of time teachers believe it should take to complete the work satisfactorily. This information helps parents develop a homework schedule and feel confident that when they hear “it’s all done” students really have spent enough time on the work. Parents should also mark their calendars for times when the stakes for homework may be highest. Are there some days or upcoming weeks (e.g., prior to exams or near the end of grading periods) when the assignments are especially important for determining grades or other measures of achievement? And are there specific times when the teacher expects the homework load to increase?
Most teachers will also appreciate a brief recap of your child’s educational experiences to date, such as any major successes or stumbling blocks along the way. Did your child score off the charts in mathematics? Did he or she require extra tutoring to improve reading comprehension? Providing a snapshot of your child’s educational “resume” will help the teacher personalize instruction to suit your child’s special abilities and needs.
Create the right home learning space.
Studying is hard work, even more so amid the myriad distractions of television, technology and other factors that may get your child off-track. Establishing a quiet, neat, well-lit space for studying will help your child focus on homework and significantly enhance his ability to retain material. Be sure to have materials such as paper, pencils and pens, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a calculator readily at hand. The seating area should be moderately comfortable – with a straight-backed chair that will keep your child relaxed but alert as opposed to soft upholstery, which can encourage drowsiness. It’s also a good idea to have enough space to read and write in the same area.
Strike the right balance between learning and leisure.
Keeping in mind the significant amount of study time most children need to make good grades, take a look at all of the other activities your child wants to fit into his or her day. Have a frank discussion to determine which activities are most important to your child and see if you can arrive collaboratively at a decision about which should be pursued.
Finally, make sure you spend time talking with your children about the year ahead. Remind them that learning is an adventure and that while they can expect some difficult challenges, you’ll be there with plenty of support for overcoming whatever obstacles they may encounter.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has been helping children succeed in school for more than 26 years. For more information about Huntington, call 1 800 CAN LEARN.