It may feel like a lot of what happens after your child heads to school is completely out of your control: whether or not he or she likes the teacher or finds lessons interesting, interactions with other students, achievement on in-class assignments, or the ability to understand the curriculum. But there are still a number of things we can control as parents to help promote academic success this school year.
Promote Healthy Habits
According to the CDC, “healthy eating patterns in childhood and adolescence promote optimal childhood health, growth, and intellectual development”. Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains into daily meals can make a significant difference. Selecting items with lower fat or sodium content is also recommended. Giving your child fruit and whole-grain cereal, oatmeal, or whole wheat bread over an item high in sugar at breakfast or lunch can impact his or her ability to stay focused and energetic during classroom instruction.
Getting a good night’s sleep before each school day can have similar results. This means setting and sticking to an appropriate bedtime as often as possible. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9-11 hours of sleep each night for school age children (ages 6-13). They suggest 8-10 hours for young adults (14-17). Establishing a nighttime routine can result in an alert, eager learner. A fully rested student is more likely to participate and focus in class than a sleepy one.
Exercise is also important. While physical education and after school sports provide this opportunity away from home, incorporating movement into homework or study time can also be beneficial. Taking a 5 -10 minute break to stretch, walk the dog, or even do a few jumping jacks, can help refocus a student who is losing interest in an assignment. It’s also a great opportunity to check in with your child and do something fun together.
Designate a Work Space
If possible, every child should have a quiet work space to complete homework and study. This is especially helpful for children who are easily distracted. It’s important that the space be clear of disturbances and uncluttered, so that materials are easy to find. This doesn’t necessarily rule out a kitchen or living room. Those spaces are perfectly fine as long they aren’t used during high traffic times. A medium sized table and adequate supply of resources, like paper, pens, or even a laptop is also recommended. The less a child has to search for items to complete an assigned task, the better.
Communicate with the School and Teachers
For younger students, checking the backpack at the end of each school day is a must. Teachers often use this as the primary way to communicate. They might include folders, assignment sheets, and notes to keep you informed about assignments, progress, and upcoming events. For students, out of sight can often equal out of mind. Checking the backpack with your child can help to keep him or her on track. Therefore, it’s best not to depend solely on a child to remember to tell you if there’s something in the backpack that needs attention. For older students, folders and backpacks may also provide useful information. However, finding out how to view assignments online, as well as the easiest way to contact each teacher, are musts.
Encouraging your child can go a long way. This includes recognizing that assignments are challenging, acknowledging the effort shown, and discussing problems. Some of the most comforting things we can say to a child having difficulty are I know it’s hard or You’re right, this is difficult. Children need to know that acknowledging they’re having trouble with something new doesn’t make them less intelligent or incapable of eventually understanding. Following up those statements with words like Let’s just try taking it one step at a time or Let’s see if we can figure it out together can provide the encouragement needed to persevere.
While it’s absolutely essential for your child to feel supported, it is important for the teacher to feel that way as well. Students don’t always understand the reason behind an action or lesson, and asking the teacher for more information can be enlightening. Children take their cues from adults, so voicing support for lessons and activities will make it that much easier for a teacher to meet your child’s needs.
If your schedule allows, volunteering can be a great way to support your child and school at the same time. Chaperone a field trip, help out during field day, a class party or other special event, read to the class, or even volunteer to assist in the library if the opportunity presents itself. You will understand the environment and day to day activities better, while also setting a great example for your child. It may even lead to more elaborate at-home conversations about the day’s events.
Even when I can’t volunteer, I try to ask my daughter two questions every day on the way home from school. What was one thing you learned today? What was your favorite part of the day? Sometimes she talks animatedly for the entire ride home. Other days, she answers quickly and moves on to topics of her own choosing. Either way, she knows that I care about her day. And I know at least one positive moment she experienced.
Ask for Help, When Needed
Lastly, if your child is struggling, reach out for help. Many schools offer additional tutoring and support for students who need just a little more. If support is not enough, there are many supplemental educational programs that can be completed after school or at home. The sooner a concern is addressed, the better.