With back-to-school time fast approaching, most parents are looking for simple suggestions to help kids have a productive year. One of the best ways to ensure academic success is to get organized before the first school bell rings. In other words, use the last few weeks of summer to transition to a stricter daily routine, which will make returning to school easier on the whole family.
"First and foremost, it is important that students understand that they can be strategic when it comes to school," says Susan Kruger, a certified teacher and learning specialist who created SOAR Study Skills. "They use strategies for sports, video games and manipulating parents, and then they get to school and stare at textbooks and rehearse random facts that mean nothing to them. There are ways to be strategic with homework, organization and studying. The first hurdle is for them to believe that!"
Richard "Dr. Rick" Bavaria, senior vice president for education outreach for Sylvan Learning, believes organization is key to a child's school success. "Keep a planner, electronic or written, and keep track of important dates, such as when book reports are due, tryouts for the school play, the science fair and, of course, tests," he says.
Kruger, who has two children, likes to set aside time for weekly family meetings. "A weekly meeting is a great strategy for busy families," she says. "Make it 10-C-C -- 10 minutes with calendars for a quick conversation. The conversation is key here. Avoid a nag-fest by having a two-way conversation with children about plans for the week. Share your plans first, and then ask for updates on due dates, sports practices, etc. This is an excellent way to coordinate schedules, avoid last-minute chaos and help everyone get along better."
Samantha Buck, founder of Life Organize It and the mother of four children, is also a firm believer in calendars. "I like to start kids using a simple calendar in which they can jot down assignments and tests," she says. "Keep a master 'family' calendar in the home that lists all the family's activities for the week and month ahead. Get kids in the habit of checking this calendar so they can see what's coming up or what they need to prepare for."
No matter what the day holds, getting off to a good start in the morning can make all the difference in a child's success. "Kids thrive on structure," Buck says. "Make sure everyone knows what they need to do and when they need to do it. For instance, in the mornings before school, we get up, make our beds, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, brush our hair and go to school."
Families who lay clothes out the night before and keep their kids' hair in simple styles will notice a real difference in the morning routine, Buck says. She instructs parents to keep the TV off in the morning while parents and children are getting ready for the day. "It's a distraction that slows everyone down."
Leave the television off during homework time, too. Pick a quiet place to work, and maintain a supply of pens, pencils, paper and other supplies close by. Bavaria recommends that students pick a "study buddy." "Call each other at homework time to make sure you understand the assignment and its due date; ask for help when you're stuck; support each other; compete with each other; and celebrate with each other," he says.
Parents should take advantage of dinner or homework time to talk to their children about school every day. They also should talk to teachers regularly, either by e-mail or during scheduled meetings. "Let your children know that you know about what's happening at school," Bavaria says. "Keep them on schedule."
Finally, don't let kids stay up too late. "You'll know how much sleep your kids need by how they act the next day," Buck says. "If they are cranky, moody and staring blankly out the window ignoring you, it may not be their attitudes; they may just need more sleep.
"Kids should have a regular bedtime that allows them to get the right amount of sleep. If bedtimes have slipped a little over the summer, then be sure to start back to a regular bedtime a month to two weeks prior to school. That goes for wake-up time, too."