Just as a new calendar year brings time of reflection and resolutions to do better, the beginning of a school year is the perfect time to help set goals and create new habits for our kids and their learning. Supplies are shiny and unspoiled. (Well, they were when I started writing this.) There are new routines and different classroom assignments and teachers. It can be a great opportunity to start fresh. What plan of action can you develop to help your child be motivated to learn and be responsible for their own goals?
As parents we are all engaged in a constant juggling match – whether single parent or two-parent household, one child or five. Daycare. School. After-school activities. Transportation. Illness. All to deal with and none of it scheduled to fit around a full workday plus commute time. And then there’s family time and homework to squeeze in. No wonder we’re all exhausted. Having a routine and some kind of integrated planning calendar/system is key to keeping the family ship from capsizing. Are there areas where you want to do better than last year? Have you become complacent about any specific areas?
My goals for this year for helping my daughter be successful are these:
• Be a cheerleader not a critic. Listen more. Talk about the challenges and how to deal with them, instead of commenting on the “should have” or “could haves.” Listen more. Give more praise. Listen more.
• Stay on top of the homework. We use the school district’s online system to track assignment completions, behavior, grades, etc. Where I need to do better is keeping current with the math curriculum so I can see if the she is keeping up with the concepts. This includes requiring her to use her school planner more to record assignments and reviewing more homework together (in spite of moments of bad attitude and less than stellar behavior). I buy extra books and look online for more problems. It’s a challenge to keep her motivated at times.
• Enforce the completion of homework after school as much as possible. This is a challenge on days when there is not much time between school and team sports. She needs a little break in between also, as I do when I come home from a long day, but the tv watching has to be limited until the homework is done. Finishing homework late at night is not an acceptable plan. This is a challenge for me as well when I come home tired.
• Sign up for those music lessons to supplement band. I have been putting this off to prevent over-scheduling, but mostly have just procrastinated.
Here are some suggestions for how you can get started if you want to make some changes to keep learning on track.
Ask your kids what their goals are for the year. This may be a new concept for them as it was for us. Can they describe, write or draw one goal each for their academic year, social or athletic activity and family? Display them and review them regularly. Ask them what they think they need to do to reach those goals. They may not know what an action plan means but they know what doing means. Compare them to your goals and you might see some differences that require discussion and compromise. Are you all overscheduled? Are your own expectations realistic? Did you learn something about your kid that you didn’t realize?
Talk about your expectations. Do you expect good academic performance? Is there a regular bedtime that is adhered to during the school week? Do you make time for rest, homework and reviewing assignments and progress? If there’s an online grade tracking system at your child’s school, do you monitor it frequently? Do you e-mail the teachers and ask for help or a meeting if performance looks concerning? Most are glad to arrange a meeting before or after school. Classrooms are overcrowded. Your child may not be getting the individual attention needed to understand a complicated part of the classwork. You may not be able to teach or tutor your child in every subject but you can be their advocate for getting the help they need to succeed. As your kids get older encourage them to reach out to classmates for help on difficult assignments.
Look for resources available to help. Many schools offer study groups during or after school. Your child may need encouragement (or prodding) to participate in them or academic clubs. Use the library for access to study books and computers if you don’t have the resources at home. Print extra materials from the internet. Find a non-profit that offers educational activities that demonstrate how fun it can be to explore math, science and technology. Encourage career day activities.
And this is the biggest suggestion I would like to make. Whether you did well in school or not, do you talk with your kids about the importance of getting a good education? They may not seem to be interested but the message sinks in over time. Does your own experience limit the way your kids view their future or set their own expectations? Their future is wide open but effort is required. It may or may not include college but don’t rule it out too soon. Praise every achievement. Brag to others when your kid can overhear you. Repeat something complimentary that was said to you about your kid to your kid.
One of my biggest personal annoyances is hearing parents say in front of their kids, especially daughters, how much they HATE MATH. Girls start hearing in their social circles before middle school age that it’s not good to be a geek – which they equate with being good at math and science. Encourage exposure to all kinds of careers so that they see their options as wide open, not limited based on a narrow exposure. A mentor can help with that as well.
Just do the best you can. Then learn and do better the next time.
I’d love to hear what has worked to keep your kids on target for a successful school year or what actions you plan to make things run smoothly.
All my best,