By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
After several weeks of summer vacation, your child should be heading back to school rested and determined to make the most of his or her potential. As a parent or guardian, you can facilitate this mindset by setting goals in each of the areas that are so important to academic achievement. Here are some suggestions:
GOAL ONE: Raise the bar
Whether your child is an excellent, capable or struggling student, earning the best possible grades should be one of the most important goals. This means envisioning certain targets and committing to the hard work it takes to reach them. If your child had relatively good study habits, worked moderately hard and earned “B”s and “C”s last year, set a goal to earn all “A”s and “B”s this year. In most schools, this GPA level will qualify for the honor roll, signify that your child is performing at grade level, and show that he or she is well-prepared for increasingly difficult work. If your child is already an “A/B” student, set a goal to earn all “A”s and do everything possible to help achieve that goal. If your child struggled last year and ended up with “C”s and “D”s, talk with teachers right now about the subject areas that proved most troublesome so they can shape their instruction and find the extra help your child will need.
GOAL TWO: Create and stick to a firm study schedule
From the beginning of the school year to the end, study time should be part of your child’s daily schedule. This should be a certain period of time, every weekday and one day on the weekend, when your son or daughter completes homework, prepares for tests and engages in “free-choice” learning to explore special learning interests and aptitudes. Keeping on schedule tends to be easiest if this period is the same time each day of the week, with more flexibility on the weekends.
If you’re like many families, you should find it easier to stick to this schedule if it’s aligned to your child’s biological learning clock. This is the period of time after the end of the school day when your son or daughter is most alert and attuned to the learning process. Some students may need to jump into study time and “get it over with” as soon as they get home from school. Others may need a break for physical activity or socializing before they’re in the right mindset to buckle down and make best use of the time.
Effective sequencing will make this time more productive. Homework assignments should be completed first. Studying for upcoming exams – including those scheduled for the next day or in the next week or so – should come next. If all the homework is done and your child tells you there’s no test to study for, he or she should fill the rest of the schedule with independent learning activities that could include reading, working on an extra credit project or utilizing the Internet and other resource materials to explore special interests.
GOAL THREE: Take action when trouble lies ahead
If your child is struggling to understand quadratic equations or the symbolism in a novel assigned for an English Literature class, the problem may go beyond simply not paying attention or not applying enough effort. You should encourage your child to alert you whenever he or she is struggling and then talk with teachers to see what kind of extra help is available. This may include some remedial work to build or strengthen basic skills, or the use different teaching strategies to convey concepts in a way that better suits your child’s learning style. Taking action early is absolutely critical – you don’t want to find out about a major learning issue the day before a big test, or at the end of a quarter when it may be too late to address the problem.
GOAL FOUR: Get an extracurricular boost
While academics should always be job number one, extracurricular activities can also expand your child’s learning horizons and strengthen the impression he or she will make on college admissions applications. Reading groups, language clubs, political campaigns, academic competitions and volunteer projects can extend your child’s natural aptitudes and interests and pack a lot more learning into the day. These activities can also lead to stronger friendships and connections to your school and community, which can give your son or daughter a stronger sense of well-being and purpose.
GOAL FIVE: Maintain a can-do attitude
Your child’s self-esteem can be a very big factor in social and academic success. Students who truly believe in their abilities are in a better position to overcome bad test scores and master especially difficult coursework. You can foster this self-esteem by showing how much you value your son or daughter’s hard work and accomplishments. When your child gets a bad grade, position it as a temporary setback, not a failure, as long as he or she learns from the experience, and make sure that major successes are acknowledged from the beginning of the year to the very end.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington is co-founder of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for over 28 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, call 1-800 CAN LEARN.