We all want our children to grow into happy, successful, and independently functioning (as in not living on our couch) adults one day. As a teacher, study skills tutor, and parent, I have come to the conclusion that if you want to know what to teach your child so that they can thrive in school, you should think about the skills that successful working adults possess.
As they progress through school, your student should be acquiring skills that will help them to become independent in a way that is appropriate for their age. The tricky part is that many of these time management and study skills are never directly taught. Setting a predictable weekly routine at home that incorporates and models these skills is one of the best ways to ensure school success. Routines have saved me a lot of stress as a parent and as a teacher over the years. Here are some simple routines to try with your kid this school year:
1. Plan as a Family
Sit down once a week, when you have time, perhaps on Sunday, and plan out the week. This gives your kids the message that successful people plan ahead. It also models executive functioning (planning) skills that they can use to become more successful in school and in life.
At this family meeting, discuss what appointments have been made and write down lessons, activities, and practices. Let your child share with you what they have planned for their time after school that week. Older students can share their work schedule and after school activities. This can be written on a family or parent calendar. However, students beyond elementary school should record their own activities and appointments in their planner because it gives them some personal responsibility for their schedule. Having their commitments recorded in their own planners will allow older students to become capable of organizing their time and being responsible.
You can also use this meeting as a time to reflect on goals and what went well and did not go well the previous week. In my family, we like to share something we are proud of from the week and something we would like to improve for next week (and how we plan to make that happen).
2. Encourage Your Child to Write Down School Assignments Daily
As an adult, when something is important to us, we write it down and make time for it. Kids should learn to do the same. Upper elementary to college students should make it a habit to write down their assignments and the due date for each assignment. Something should be recorded during the last few minutes of each class, even if it is the word “none”. This will help students to get into the habit of writing everything down.
For younger students this can be done in a planner. Older students can use an app, such as the Google Calendar, that allows you to record a list and then also block off time for each assigned item on a daily schedule. In addition to writing assignments down, high school (and college) students need to estimate how long the assignment will take, break it up into pieces if necessary, decide when they can complete it, and block off this time on their schedule.
3. Set Aside Time to Do Homework
Developing self-discipline will allow kids to grow into successful adults. Kids need to understand that practice is a part of becoming good at something. If you want to succeed at school, or anything really, you have to devote time to it.
Elementary and middle school children should have a set time to do homework each day. The amount of time should be different depending on the age of the child, but if possible, it should be at approximately the same time each day, in order to develop a routine. A 2nd grader might have twenty minutes set aside, a 7th grader one hour, and a high school student, two hours.
If your child does not have enough assignments to work on during this time, they could read over notes from the day, do additional practice problems for their math class, play educational games, or read a book they are interested in. Older students can do additional tasks, such as study for a test a little bit at a time or begin to work on practice problems for the PSAT, SAT, or ACT. Many school systems also have websites for teachers or online systems where students can check their grades. Students should make a habit of checking teacher websites and their grades regularly to stay updated on how they are doing in each class.
4. Set a Time Each Week to Clean and Organize
Adults do not carry every paper they have completed during an entire year with them and neither should kids! In order to stay organized, kids need to develop a habit of going through school binders and organizing their at-home work space at least weekly to ensure that papers are in the right place. Kids should sort through their book bags and file papers away in the appropriate binder. Older papers should be taken out of their binder and stored in a safe place at home. A file folder in a file cabinet or in a box, for each subject, works well for this purpose.
5. Pack Up At Night, Not in the Morning
After your child completes their homework, have them put it in the appropriate folder and pack everything into their book bag. You don’t want to have to search around for papers in the morning before you have had your coffee, or end up running around like a crazy person only to have them miss the bus anyway because they have misplaced something. For this reason, it is a good idea to have everything prepared at night, including lunches packed in the refrigerator. For younger kids, this takes some parental effort each evening but older kids should be doing these things for themselves.
How Will This All Work?
Most of these routines have to do with study skills and time management, but don’t forget, one of the most important things that a parent can do to ensure school success is pretty basic: make sure that your kid is getting enough sleep and eating balanced meals. This will help them to stay focused and improve their ability to retain the material they have learned. If this doesn’t happen, all of the work on these other routines will be a waste of time.
Another important factor to consider when you are setting up new routines, is to remember to err on the side of kids doing things themselves. When kids do something independently, they can take ownership of it. They also learn how to do it. None of this happens when the parent does it for them.
And be patient if it doesn’t work out perfectly the first day or even the first week. It usually takes about 21 days, or more, to form a new habit. If you have been doing things a certain way in your house for years and then decide to make a change, remember that change will not happen overnight. Stick with it!
I hope that by implementing some of these , eve you are able to make the rest of the school year a smooth one! Hang in there — it will all feel a lot easier in about 21 days!
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.