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Start strong in September!

September 2, 2018

6 min read
students at school

Help your child to return to school with a positive mindset and equip them with study skills that will set them up for success.

Developing good study habits is not just about providing the space, time and support that your child needs to complete their school homework; it is also about preparing their mindset so that it is easy and enjoyable for your child to integrate themselves into the school routine.   

Who doesn’t remember those back to school rituals:  new gym shoes; new stationery; the delicious smell of a fresh, clean planner? (Okay, well maybe that last one is just me). Whether those few frantic weeks of preparation after the long summer vacation filled you as a child with dread or excitement, make the anticipation of returning to school (or starting a new one) a positive experience for your own child.  Here are several strategies to help start your child off on the right foot.

Getting ready to start or return to school:

The new school year brings great new opportunities, social and academic.  It is a fresh start, full of possibilities, but it may also cause some anxiety.  

  • Talk to your child about how they feel about starting or returning to school; stress the positive and alleviate their concerns by sharing your own experiences or talking through any apprehensions your child has.  
  • Read books together that feature school life in a positive light.  There are various children’s books focusing on ‘the first day at school’ for those about to start in their Pre-K or K class to rehearse starting school in their imaginations, dispelling fear and uncertainty.
  • Involve your child in choosing whatever equipment they will require for the school year ahead and encourage them to organize it into their school bag themselves – resist the temptation to do it for them! Allow children to label their own belongings; this develops a sense of ownership, encouraging them to take care of their school possessions. It can even be a creative activity, using fabric pens.  This activity and involvement will help your child to process and prepare for their imminent return to school.

Getting organized & establishing a realistic routine:

Children need to organize their time and their equipment for successful study.  The ability to be organized throughout the school year is an essential skill; it is the foundation on which successful students build.  

  • Creating routines around study is helpful; ideally, your child will study at the same time each day for a set period.  Where this isn’t possible, think about how time to study fits in with your child’s other extracurricular activities and find a spot where it sits comfortably, so that your child won’t be too exhausted to concentrate nor too rushed between sports or music lessons.  
  • Consider the age of your child to ensure that the period of time you set aside for homework is realistic.  The time should be long enough for the child to engage meaningfully with their work and to complete assigned tasks, but not so long that the child cannot sustain their focus and homework time becomes a punishment! Consult with your child’s teachers if necessary; if your child struggles to sustain focus for enough time to complete a task, allow a ‘brain break’ where the child completes a different task or does a physical activity for ten minutes or so before getting back on task.  
  • Praise younger children for their focus and or/effort during their homework time when their concentration has been good, regardless of the quality of work that has been produced.

Time management:

Very few students are able to achieve academic success without being able to manage deadlines and plan out their use of time.  It is never too early to start; again, involve your child in each stage of the process to give them ownership and to allow them to work out what methods they prefer.  A tech-savvy child may enjoy using a calendar app to keep track of school projects and homework deadlines; an artistic child may prefer to make a decorative wall planner.  

Space & equipment:

  • Your child needs a dedicated space where they are able to focus on their work, whether this is a quiet corner of the lounge, a desk space in their bedroom or at the kitchen table before or after the evening meal. Ideally, you will be around to check that your child maintains focus and to provide guidance if needed (without doing the work for them!)  
  • Your child should have everything they need to be able to study, and nothing extraneous to distract them.  If your child uses a computer, give access to it only when it is needed for the homework task.
  • Set up a system to keep materials organized; differently coloured folders make a useful filing system for different subjects; pots of coloured pens, pencils, rulers etc. are good to have to hand.  
  • Your role as a parent is to support the child in providing materials and then keeping your hands off, other than reminding your child to make use of their system and to tidy it up after each use!  

Independent learning:

A lot of the work that your child will bring home will be consolidation work; covering what has already been covered in class.  Allowing your child to complete this work as independently as possible will bring a sense of accomplishment and will build confidence!

Do encourage your child to engage in activities which result in meaningful learning.  When an older child has finished all their homework, if there is still 10 minutes left of their ‘homework time’, have them work on a project with a longer-term goal, for example reviewing notes from a previous topic and making colourful flashcards to be used at revision time.  Alternatively encourage them to extend their learning in areas that interest them, through research (web-based or at the library) or by engaging in a creative project such as creating stories, presentations or even a short movie.

Get help!:

  • If facilitating an appropriate time and space for study at home is really not possible with your busy family routine, or if your child just needs some assistance or reassurance with homework, many learning and tutoring centres do offer homework assistance programs.  Look for a homework assistance program that provides a low student to teacher ratio, teachers with specialism in the subject areas your child finds most challenging and which offer individual workspace for your child.

The beginning of the new school year is a great time to set your child up to succeed in the year to come and indeed beyond.  Empower your child to take control of their homework and their learning; enable them to engender a sense of accomplishment, independence, and pride in their work.

Helen Chambers is a Director and Education Coordinator at Aspire Learning Academy in West Vancouver. She is a graduate of Cambridge University (where she also completed her teacher training) and has over ten years’ teaching experience, working with children of all ages and abilities.

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