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The Informed Parent

How is it going? What makes a successful school year

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Oct. 07, 2013
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When summer comes to a close, most parents and children greet the new school year with a sense of anticipation. Outfits, backpacks, and required school supplies are purchased. Children look forward to learning who their teacher is and what friends are in their class. Mixed with the excitement may be some nervousness.

If children have had difficulty with friendships or academics previously they may be afraid that the coming year bodes no better than before. Encouragement is given. Good intentions are set. A school-year schedule is started. Like New Year’s resolutions though, often these plans fall by the wayside. Now, six weeks into the semester, it’s time to review what makes a school year successful.

Encouragement

Children need encouragement to continue doing their best. Even when they enjoy school it is hard work. Telling your children specifically what you appreciate about their efforts goes a long way toward keeping them on track. Always look for small increments of success and reinforce those as some children may never hit the final goal. By paying attention you can always find where your children are succeeding.

Sleep

Most children and teens get an hour or more less sleep than recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. While there are individual differences, preschoolers need 11 - 13 hours of sleep each 24 hours. Children from 5 to 10 years of age require 10 - 11 hours.

Children and teens 10 - 17 years old function best with 8.5 - 9.5 hours.

Dr. Avi Sedah, a sleep researcher at Tel Aviv University, reported that a sleepy sixth grader will perform in class much like a fourth grader. He stated, “A loss of one hour of sleep is equivalent to (the loss of) two years of cognitive maturation and development.”

As well as learning and functioning far below their capacity, children with a sleep deficit are more likely to suffer from colds and flu, have a decreased joy in learning, and have less ability to attend in class.

A reasonable and consistent bedtime, a bedtime ritual, and a consistent wake-up time help to insure that children receive an adequate night’s sleep.

Organization

For many parents it comes as a surprise that children need to be taught how to organize. It is not an innate trait. Toddlers can be taught, step-by-step, how to tidy their rooms and keep their belongings in order. Older children who don’t yet know how to organize need to be taught in the same step-by-step way. For example, say, “I want you to put all your shoes in the closet. Next, put all your books on the bookshelf. Then put all your underwear in the hamper. When you’ve finished that, I’ll check and we’ll talk about the next steps.” 

Parents of older children might think this is a babyish way to treat them. Yet, if your tone of voice and attitude are respectful, it will show them that although they are older, they need to learn a skill that they did not learn when they were younger--a skill that will help them for the rest of their life.

Regardless of age, children learning the skill will need assistance. Even with help, little ones can only handle one step at a time. Older children can usually handle three steps but no more. With guidance, some children will learn organizational skills, outgrow the need for assistance, and be able to monitor themselves. Others will need your help as long as they live under your roof.

Organization is only possible when the environment supports it. Baskets, plastic tubs, and enough shelf space are necessary so that toys and school supplies are easily put away and accessible. Shoeboxes make great containers for crayons, pens and pencils. Perhaps the most important element is your modeling. If you are disorganized, children will not recognize the importance of a more orderly way of keeping their belongings. You may want to practice the steps toward organization together.

Homework

Parents and teachers often become impatient with children who don’t get their homework home from school, completed and returned. Incorporating a few simple strategies can alleviate the homework problem. 

Each morning, remind forgetful children to put their homework in their backpack before leaving school at the end of the day. If this doesn’t work, set up a contract with the teacher so that she checks with the child each afternoon to assure the work will get home.

Establish a consistent homework schedule. If you are a non-working parent, soon after your child gets home in the afternoon is best. Provide a short playtime and snack. Then get down to homework. It will be finished with plenty of tine to play before dinner. If you are a working parent, homework is best done right after dinner.

Many after school programs have a scheduled homework time. If your child goes to private daycare, work out a schedule with the daycare worker if you prefer to have homework completed before you return home from work.

After the homework is complete, regardless of where it is done, it needs to be returned to the backpack. In the evening the backpack should be put in a consistent place so that it is readily available to take the next morning.

As you can see, the four skills that can lead to a successful school year work together. Children who get enough sleep are better prepared to learn. When they develop good organizational skills, they are more likely to become effective at completing homework. When parents give regular encouragement and acknowledgment to their children, the children respond optimistically.

Effective parenting takes time. It is less time consuming and more rewarding, however, than tackling the problems that arise when children do not receive the guidance and boundaries necessary for becoming successful. When children and parents work together, a positive school year is likely to be a reality.




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