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Early alarms, packing lunches and catching the bus! School is back in session. As parents, we all want our children to succeed, and this is often the time of year when we re-evaluate strategies and schedules to give our kids the best chance of academic success.
As Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” One of the best ways to help our children succeed in school is to focus on helping them to develop ways to learn more effectively. Homework time is an opportunity to nurture good study habits.
Here are the 5 “P’s” to help your child become a better learner.
Prepare their Minds
The brain adapts to whatever is presented to it. When children spend lots of time playing video games on the TV or on their phones, their brains begin to expect motion and vivid images. Processing text is much slower and involves more concentration and effort. Make sure your child spends a limited amount of “digital” time and participates in activities that encourage effort and focus such as board games, puzzles, drawing, and playing a musical instrument.
Plan a Schedule
This seems like a no-brainer, but is often the most difficult thing to establish for homework. The time after dismissal is often the busiest of the day, with extra-curricular activities, works schedules and dinner pushing homework start time to 7 or 8 pm.
So what’s a busy parent to do? First, take a few days to observe your child to determine how much time they actually need. Then set a start time for as early in the evening as you can and stick to it. Schedule it on your calendar just like you would a soccer practice or music lessons and have the same expectations for “attendance.”
It often helps if the entire household is engaged in “study-like” activities during this time. It’s easier to be part of a group that’s doing an activity than doing it in isolation, so turn the TV off and sit and read or do something else that matches the activity level and tone of homework time.
Place Them in the Right Environment
“I have to get a pencil.” “I need a marker.” “My ruler is missing.” An incomplete study space is the perfect excuse for “homework stoppage.” Don’t give your child an excuse to lose focus. Gather pens, pencils, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, a glue stick, color pencils, crayons, markers, a few paperclips, a highlighter, a small stapler, a staple remover, post-it notes and a ruler and put them in a plastic container that can be easily toted. Use your child’s school supply list as a guide. A great way to fill this container is by using left over school supplies from the previous year. Add a folder with lined paper. Put it all in a plastic tub or canvas bin. In a pinch, you can even bring this in the car for those moments when a sibling has to be at practice and homework time takes place in the car. (Yes, we know it happens.)
If siblings are a distraction for each other but space is at a premium, create a privacy screen by cutting in half a 36” x 48” trifold display from an office supply store. Your child can decorate the inside with their favorite color. After study time is over, simply take it down and fold it up.
Silence is golden…sometimes. Sometimes silence drives people to distraction. If this is the case in your home, try playing some soft background noise. Pandora is an easy and free option, and one of their genres is actually called, “Studying.” Experiment until you find the right station for your family.
Pace their Work
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the thought of finishing everything on that assignment notebook. One of the most important skills that you can help your child develop is the ability to plan and pace themselves.
Take five minutes at the beginning of each homework session to review tasks and deadlines. Make sure they have clear goals about what they need to accomplish in this study session. Strategize with your child about how they might want to tackle the evening’s work. Do they want to start with a harder subject while they are fresh? Or is it better for them to leave frustrating subjects to the end?
Then encourage your student to look ahead and break up big projects into smaller tasks and schedule those as they would any assignment. Include test preparation as part of this plan and chunk up the study time so they are not cramming everything into one night. Good time management skills take time to develop but are necessary throughout life.
When time is ticking, bedtimes are near and parents are weary, it becomes easy to succumb to the temptation of “helping” by giving away an answer. Don’t give in. You child will benefit more from coaching on how to find the right resources, whether that’s referring back to notes, reading a textbook or going online. If your child is really stuck, make sure they write down their questions and follow up with their teacher or tutor for further explanation. This also gives them a reason for doing homework when it is assigned, rather than waiting until the night before it is due.
If your child keeps forgetting the resources they need, try this trick. As they write their assignments in their planner, have them right down a code in the margin of the page for each resource they’ll need at home. (TB= textbook; NB= notebook; F=folder). When they are ready to pack up and go home, they will have a quick way to remember exactly what they need to bring with them.
Learning is a lifetime activity. By establishing routines and providing the right atmosphere and tools, homework time can become an opportunity to develop skills that will last through your child’s lifetime.
Remember to prepare your child’s mind, plan ahead, set a pace for work, place your child in the right surroundings, provide guidance on resources and make it a great school year.