Making Every School Year Successful

In this article, you will find:

What kids can do

Eighteen Adjustments to Make with Kids

  1. Seek better, not redundant, school supplies. Rather than stocking up on more of the same markers, pens, and pencils, each year consider "therapeutic" or more "ergonomic" school supplies. Is there a chair, table, lamp, pencil, or other kind of backpack that has a more efficient and comfortable design? Buy brighter lights for Ollie's desk or a slant board to ease Alex's eyes during reading. If Alex's handwriting, as he approaches fourth grade, still looks like something the cat ate yesterday, get him a mechanical pencil to force a lighter touch. Think smart tools.

  2. Keep a log. If your child has academic, behavioral, or social problems throughout the school year, document them. Note test grades, especially. To avoid unnecessary paperwork, use your personal appointment book to record events as they occur. Running commentary has three benefits: It reveals behavior patterns and might reveal a link to something as unexpected as a lack of sunshine. It charts the course of and often reveals reasons for an academic shift. It provides invaluable documentation for teacher, counselor, therapist, or physician conferences. Refer to notes in last year's appointment book to anticipate the timing of recurrent challenges in the coming year. This practice helps you to be proactive, right on schedule.

  3. Make predictions and set goals. When Alex can forecast future action logically, it means he can recall details, select key ideas, and sort them in a reasonable order. Forecasting is not only essential to planning, but it is also an important comprehension and note-taking skill, so use it regularly when you and Alex strategize about the new school year. If he thinks math will be a breeze this year, ask him why. Is it because he finally got a calculator that will allow him to download data in class and graph it later at home? Ask him to make forecasts about academic subjects, extracurricular activities, and social events. Jot his predictions in your appointment book, then critique and revise them together in January and June.

  4. Plan like corporations do. Decide which areas need focus and discuss measurable ways to achieve goals. For example, have Ollie work with an English tutor for six weeks, and then evaluate his progress. Action steps and time frames allow kids and parents and major corporations to compare actual, measurable outcomes to planned ones and then revise future plans more realistically. Give Ollie his own erasable wall calendar to track his progress through his designated activities, time frames, reviews, and to set new goals.

  5. Set a study time and nail it down. Establish study time for kids, no matter their ages. Elementary-aged kids typically need 30-60 minutes per night. Middle schoolers need 60-90 minutes, and high school students, two hours. Demonstrate that study hours are a priority by maintaining them despite thunderstorms, babysitters, and unexpected guests. Enlist the support of other family members, too.

  6. Stake it out. Together, pick a study spot that's all Alex's own, even if it's a corner of the dining-room table. Kids in primary grades like visible access or shouting distance to parents, so pick a nearby spot for studying your Italian. Though older kids often prefer a secluded space for doing homework, their computers should be located in a quiet but common area to allow for regular parental monitoring. Don't be shy about dropping by for a look.

  7. Be a homework detective. Being a homework detective means knowing what is required of Alex each day. This puts you in an excellent position to evaluate his planning, organizational skills, and study habits, Teacher monitoring and intervention during the elementary school years helps most kids maintain a productive organizational structure. However, because the changing cast of teachers and increased demands of middle and high school can disrupt the study methods of even the best students, you'll need to stay vigilant for clues during those years, too.

  8. Don't help if they don't need it. Unnecessary aid creates dependency and stifles a sense of responsibility for their own work. Ask for a short demonstration to gauge Ollie's ability before you slide up a chair and hunker down. Play dumb like a fox and watch instead. If Ollie can maintain a productive pace for even as short a period as five minutes, he is demonstrating confidence, so go off and study your Italian. Don't succumb to the temptation of doing Ollie's work for him. You've already been in elementary school.

  9. Monitor understanding. If Ollie has a problem with a concept covered in a homework assignment, this often becomes evident in the first five minutes, too. If you try teaching it yourself, you will likely be challenged by the words, "that's not the way we learned it in school." Avoid adding confusion to the homework equation by immediately writing a note or sending an e-mail to the teacher. Do this whether Ollie is in elementary, middle, or high school. Ask the teacher to review the concept with him and give him a second chance to complete the assignment. Most teachers will be happy to oblige, as long as it doesn't happen too often.

  10. Watch for three strikes. If difficulty with a concept or in a certain subject occurs during three homework sessions in a row, this might signal a misfit of task and skill or merely a lack of listening in class. This is the right time to conference by e-mail, phone, or visit with the teacher.

  11. Don't let problems persist. Don't let problems drag on from one year to the next. Don't forget that sometimes even the biggest problems have simple solutions. Look for them first. Each year, take stock of recurrent issues before school starts and again in the middle of each quarter.

    • In elementary school: Focus on persistent problems in phonics, spelling, reading, and handwriting, which along with math are the core skills of the early grades. Track Alex's progress by tuning in to some common, everyday activities. Listen to how he reads cereal boxes, relates stories, writes thank-you notes, or divides up grapes for a snack to share with his sister and his best friend. Is he still miscalling the short e sound? Or is he having comprehension problems because he still doesn't stop at periods when he reads? Does he have trouble dividing by three? Inform his teacher of persistent patterns by note or e mail before school starts. Then follow it up with a phone call or schedule a conference. Ask for suggestions for helping him at home. Consider giving them both a hand and getting him a private tutor. Core skill problems unresolved in the early grades drag like a ball and chain straight through high school.

    • In middle school: Focus on friends because they matter most to those delightful but hormone-hammered kids in grades six through eight. When friendships and social situations are calm, middle schoolers turn their heads toward academics. Make lists of social conquests last year and establish a four-week strategy for handling back-to-school friendship flare-ups. Don't bother building long-term plans; short-term strategies are better suited to the constantly changing friendships and social upheavals that characterize middle school.

    • In high school: Keep coursework balanced and matched to his capacity. While satisfying their requirements for graduation, don't let kids enroll in so many difficult courses in one semester as to imperil grades and increase stress to unhealthy levels. Encourage inconsistent achievers to take the hardest courses in summer school. If physics is on the schedule this year, choose an elective that provides a hands-on creative outlet, like pottery. Help Alex choose courses all through high school that keep both sides of his brain stimulated and satisfied. Give him chances to demonstrate his broad-range talents, and open the door to new career options or academic interests.

  12. Constantly consider new alternatives. When kids have personal or academic problems, always keep your eyes and ears open for new solutions. Use quilting to teach geometry, for example. Or for a change of perspective and fresh ideas, look to cultures other than your own. Check out people like Michio Kushi, an expert in the Japanese macrobiotic diet, for some startling ideas about how to raise calm and healthy kids.

  13. Teach kids to be diet detectives. Draw Ollie's attention to the fact that he runs up the wall and across the ceiling every time he eats too much chocolate. Then show him, with a simple elimination diet, how to detect and then avoid food culprits that could be contributing to his inability to focus, hyperactivity, or allergies.

  14. Put the computer in a central location. If Ollie is prone to nonproductive online chatting and distracting Internet browsing during homework times, don't put the computer in Ollie's room, especially if he's in middle or high school. Place it in the family room or in a large hallway where you can just happen by, regularly. Though there might be opposition to this proposition, know that it unequivocally puts you in the best position to derail potentially dangerous online or game-playing habits and helps Ollie use the computer more productively.

  15. Use TV as a learning tool. For kids of all ages, limit TV-viewing time during the school week to one favorite show per night, and then use it as a tool to improve reading and writing skills. During commercials, talk about plots and characters. Play thickheaded about details or the sequence of events. Ask Alex to predict how the story will end. To improve his persuasive writing skills, watch a home-shopping show together, and analyze the methods they use to sell cheesy watches or tacky shoes.

  16. Read every day. Add 15-30 minutes for reading to nightly study hours and weekends. If reading is a sore spot, don't hesitate to offer to partner read. This means taking turns reading alternate pages, paragraphs, or sentences. Don't let beginning or reluctant readers struggle with words. Tell Alex the word and get on with the reading. Make notes for his teacher about repeated phonics, pronunciation, or pacing problems. Watch middle school kids' comprehension problems or difficulty focusing on the page, tracking a line of words, or sweeping their eyes across a line of words. If Alex is in high school, read to him from a book or the newspaper while he's lounging on the sofa or eating breakfast. Keep the daily habit of reading before his eyes and in his ears, no matter his age.

  17. Don't be a stranger. Become a familiar face at school, even if Ollie is in middle or high school. At the elementary level, volunteer your talents at least once a month in the classroom, such as chaperoning trips or painting the scenery for the class play. In middle and high school, become a part of the parents' organization, or offer to chaperone school trips or dances. Offer to demonstrate your skills when kids are studying career options. Help the newspaper staff by giving interviews or providing experts for news articles. Find creative ways to become a familiar face at school. If you can't come by, then call more often. Building a good relationship with students, teachers, and staff on a good day puts you in a much better position when Ollie has a bad one.

  18. Teach kids to take risks. This does not mean doing things that will endanger health or safety. This means encouraging Alex and Ollie to step out of comfortable old habits and move into new adventures. Whether it's trying a mechanical pencil or experiencing life without chocolate or taking on a new school project, carefully guided forays into the unknown expand the mind, amass knowledge, and raise self-confidence levels, something all kids and adults need. Kids are willing to take on more challenges if they have the freedom to fail as well as the opportunity to succeed. Given a safe, supportive environment, Alex and Ollie will learn that defying their own limitations is an exhilarating and rewarding thing.