The holidays are over and those first few weeks back to school are tough for most (even for moms and dads who have to get back into the alarm clock/carpool routine!). For many around the country, it’s dark and its cold in the mornings, and older students will soon be gearing up for their national standardized tests. All of these factors may have your kids less than thrilled to finish the year strong, but here are a few tips to help them give their best!
*get back on the schedule
This could refer to structured bedtimes, ensuring the kids are getting enough sleep, to doing homework at the designated time, eating dinner at a normal time, and rounding out the day with all of the proven routines to help them get to sleep (i.e. bath, stories, down time, etc.).
*fuel them for success
Not only should your kids be eating a healthy breakfast, but they should have some healthy snack options, too. For breakfast, think things like oatmeal and yogurt or waffles and pancakes with fruit or pure maple syrup. For snacks, they need things that will keep their energy levels up which will help their focus and attention. Opt for snacks like fruit or raw veggies with dip, hard boiled eggs, nuts like cashews and almonds, protein or healthier granola bars, and even healthy smoothies if at home to make/offer them.
*hold them accountable
If you have older children, keep encouraging them to give their best and check their homework before they put it away. This doesn’t mean their answers must be right, but that they gave it their best effort if it was an area of struggle (i.e. many teachers would rather see it wrong than a parent have their child fix it so they can work with the student on those areas). By following up and asking about their work, you’re making sure they know your expectation is that they give it their best shot each time.
*get them help if/when they need it
If it seems your child is struggling in an area and you can’t help, see if the school offers before or after school tutoring. Explain that we are all really good at some things, while some of us need a little help in other areas. Needing help to improve doesn’t make you stupid, it makes you mature in taking responsibility for your achievement and success.
*create channels for communication
One solid way to know if your student ever needs help is to always make yourself available to talk. Sometimes they only need to talk it through with someone else to realize they can do whatever they may have trouble with. Open communication creates partnerships and helps each understand how they can help and how they depend on each other in a number of ways.
*give them something to look forward to
Think of ways you can treat them when they meet certain milestones (i.e. when they read “x” number of books, score “x”% on a quiz or test, etc.). Mind you, it doesn’t have to be expensive gifts or food, and in fact, it shouldn’t be food at all. Rewarding with sugary treats and food could lead to weight and self-esteem issues on down the road. Consider rewards like gift cards to an arcade, a special outing, or even a trip to the bookstore for a favorite book.
*enforce homework long before bedtime
Offering your kids a snack and some down time (i.e. playing outside, reading, video games, and just plain old conversation), and then having them get started on their homework helps spare them late night anxiety. Obviously, this saves them from the infamous time-crunch and procrastication that could result in bad study habits as they get older. If your child is saving homework for after dinner when it’s closer to bedtime, they’re much more likely to have trouble sleeping due to an active mind and possibly even anxiety over any struggles they had with their assignments. The sooner they can complete their homework, the quicker they can enjoy the rest of the evening doing the things they like best.
*help them create a plan
We all know that kids often respond better when they think a plan is “their” idea. Encourage your students to come up with a list of 3-5 ways they can finish the year strong and hold them to it. This could be as simple as setting a goal for the number of books read, setting a time to study on math each night, or even setting a goal on the specific grade that they want to make on a project or can achieve in a subject matter, etc.
*consider a field trip
There’s nothing like making their learned experiences real. If you know your students are studying something that you can show them in the real world, think about treating them to the experience. For example, studying colonial times is well illustrated with a trip to Williamsburg, VA where they can see firsthand the trades they worked and how they lived during war times. If they are studying space, see if your local museum has a planetarium for exploring more about the planet and solar system. Learning about the ocean? Consider a trip to an aquarium where you and your kids can learn more about the animals and habitats of the sea. It’s these types of experiences that enrich their learning at school, making the concepts come alive for them.
*teach them forgiveness
It’s important for your kids to know we all make mistakes. That is exactly why pencils have erasers! I have had this conversation more than one time this year with my 10 year old twins, so it’s a pretty hard lesson to learn. Instead of dwelling on what they did wrong or incorrectly, (or what they may not have done at all…sorry, I digress!), encourage them to own it, fix it and move on. Help them understand that the quality of their work reflects directly on them and that the expectation of their teachers and you is that they do his or her best, regardless of what that looks like. Perhaps they should study more efficiently or for longer periods of time, or even find other tools to help them succeed. Use technology to your advantage to help your kids better understand the concepts with which they struggle. Without forgiveness, your student may lack the motivation to improve.
*teach them the art and importance of reflection
Even if they never hit that wall of frustration, show them how important it is to sit back and look at all the things they’ve achieved. Being a student these days is no easy task. So many of our kids are in school for upwards of 8 hours each day (and recess and PE is dwindling at even the best of schools)…that’s like a full-time job! Teach your kids to appreciate all of their time, hard work and effort that it took to achieve “x” goal or to make that grade. After all, for many of us, reflection is what helps us understand how we got here and how to move forward, overcoming new obstacles and setting and crushing that next goal. Show them it’s okay to celebrate themselves.
Don’t just let the rest of the year slide by. Use these tips to help your students make it the best year yet!