By Janet S. Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition)
Ah, summer! Whatever your kid-centric routines are during the school year, for most of us summer is a time to hit the reset button. It can also be a time to review what worked—and what didn’t—during the past school year. In this post, I’ll give you a few tips to help you start your kiddos off strong when they head back to school this fall.
Tools That Can Help
Here are some of the physical tools that can give kids a healthy start. In bold print are possible items for your shopping list:
- A sturdy backpack. Sturdy, because it is important that your young student does not suffer back injury. I suggest a backpack with compartments so that items can be separated according to need (this organizational technique is known as “zoning”: everything in its place).
- A transparent zippered, pencil pouch for small items like pens, pencils, calculator, and the like.
- A well-stocked binder. One with a zipper or a “locking-ring” mechanism is worth the investment. Colorful dividers with sleeves can hold papers and help students find their place. Clear plastic sheet protectors keep handouts damage free.
A homework folder that lives in the student’s binder. This is a simple two-pocket folder, with one pocket for homework to do and the other for homework that is done.
- A planner if the school doesn’t provide one. This can be digital or analogue, as long as there is a way for the student to view long-term due dates. (See the tip* in the section below.)
- Note-taking skills can be enhanced with aids like the Cornell note-taking system, where pulled-out keywords highlight the more detailed material. You can purchase or make notebook paper with keyword columns down one side of the sheet.
- In order to complete tasks like homework, students need a quiet, well-lit, comfortable study space with minimal distractions. Keep a pencil box at home with extra pencils, paper, and so on, especially if the student doesn’t have a desk.
- At school, lockers can be zoned by using shelves or magnetic pockets, and desks and lockers should be cleaned out regularly.
Get Ready for School
Here are a few things you can do with your child to prepare for the school year.
- Homework time should be consistent. Plan ahead with kids to figure out when they will do their homework—and where. I suggest a physical activity break right after school, followed by a homework time period of 10 minutes per grade level.
- Long-term planning requires calendar skills.* Do a “planner walk-through” to acquaint students with the planner’s layout and with ways to record and retrieve information.
- Often students have no idea where their time goes. Have them keep a log: Predict how long they think they’ll spend on different things during a day (or morning, or afternoon), such as video games, snack time, homework time, and so on. Then, time all these things to see how long they really take. Does it take 20 minutes to brush your teeth, or two? Did you watch five minutes of TV, or 35? This will help kids get a stronger grip on how to manage their time when school starts. (It’s a good idea to do this during school, too—especially in those after-school hours.)
- Active reading helps with retention, so encourage kids to practice it. Try the PQRST method: preview, ask relevant questions, read, summarize, self-test.
Tips for the First Few Weeks
Once school starts, you can encourage good school habits with these techniques.
- Backpacks should be completely emptied every night, checked for missing items (that permission slip), restocked (pencils sharpened), and, once homework is complete, readied for the next day and placed by the door. Help kids get into this habit.
- Teach your young student how to file older papers and when to get rid of papers no longer needed.
- Help your child manage the homework load. Some students work best if they get the hardest assignments done first; some need to get the small things out of the way. Assess your student and direct her efforts.
- Brain research shows that after 20 minutes, even adults lose focus. Twenty minutes of concentrated effort should be followed by a short break. Five minutes off for every 20 minutes of work is a good model.
- We all need to feel rewarded for a job well done, so allow students to take breaks between tasks, and hand out mini-rewards (cookies, gold stars).
- Procrastination may be a result of feeling overwhelmed by a project. The technique for dealing with this is called chunking—breaking larger projects into smaller chunks, like learning only a few vocabulary words at a time or writing only one portion of an essay.
- Long-term retention of information and ultimate mastery requires repetition. Repeat material over increasing periods of time, and encourage students to review often.
A few minutes of preparation and an examination of good school habits will go a long way to helping your students succeed this fall. More importantly, these tips may help reduce stress for both you and your kiddos—and ease that transition from summertime to school time. Happy fall to everyone!
Janet S. Fox writes award-winning fiction and nonfiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the nonfiction middle grade book Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2017), and three YA historical romances: Faithful (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), Forgiven (Penguin, 2011), and Sirens (Penguin, 2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle (Viking, 2016) has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she lives in Bozeman, Montana.
Janet Fox is the author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition).
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