Preparing Your Child for a Successful Academic Year

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By Anne R. Fenske; Center Director of Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes in Englewood
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It’s time to sit down with your family and talk about the coming school year. Coming off the last lazy days of summer, it is the discussions you have now as a family that will help to define a successful transition back into the realm of academia and less flexible schedules. By clearly defining from the beginning your expectations for each of your children, hopefully there will be less frustration and more joy for everyone.

A child needs to know what is expected of him and why. It helps him to understand that he is a part of a family and that everyone has jobs to do, both outside and inside the home. By including him in the planning, he knows that he has an important role in the family unit. As parents, we need to be able to communicate to him, in an age appropriate manner, just what his individual roles are to be. That is not to say that roles cannot be modified as time and circumstances change. It is essential that they are re-evaluated as the academic year progresses and that changes are made where needed. The best laid plans all have to have an element of flexibility built into them. That’s life. Begin preparing your child for it now.

Health:  The importance of sleep, diet, exercise, and down-time cannot be stressed enough. As a  parent, it is your job to make sure your family stays well. Put a bedtime routine in place and stick to it. As your child gets older, this can be a bit more flexible. Make sure your child has access to healthy snacks and well balanced meals. Of course, we all know the importance of daily exercise.  Make sure everyone in the family participates in this. It can be as simple as taking the family pet for a walk everyday. Finally, it is important to make sure your child has some down-time everyday.  This can include recreational reading, talking on the phone to friends, watching television, playing with friends, running errands with a family member, playing a board game, or going to a movie.  The focus should be on having fun and relaxing.

School/Homework:  It is your child’s “job” to go to school. It is your job, as a parent, to work both inside and outside the home environment. As with every job, there are certain expectations, and if they are not met, there are consequences. Let your child know from the beginning what is expected of her. Plan study time with a schedule and make sure you look ahead to see what is coming up. Help organize your child’s backpack the night before so that it is ready to go in the morning. If you start with this simple task when she is young, by the time she is in the upper grades, she will be doing this on her own. If your child takes a lunch to school everyday, perhaps making it the night before is easier than rushing in the morning to make it.

Make sure the space for doing homework has good lighting, is clutter free, and comfortable. Distractions should be avoided during this time, including loud music, television, telephones, text messaging, and electronic games. Supervise her schoolwork. Don’t just take her word for it that it is done. Look at it. Give her positive feedback. Finally, keep communication open with your child’s teacher. Encourage your child to talk to her teacher. If your child needs help on how to ask something, rehearse it with her. Enabling your child can be a powerful thing. If this proves unsuccessful, make an appointment to talk to your child’s teacher yourself. Problem solve with your child. This is a lifelong skill that can be “taught” at a very young age. Practice with your child. All of these suggestions can be applied to every stage in a child’s academic career. They help her to become independent and self-confident.

Activities:  While it is essential that your child focus on something else besides schoolwork, it is just as important that he is not over-scheduled. Discuss with him, at the beginning of the school year, what it is he would like to do after school for fun. Let him pick one or two activities per semester. Make sure he is doing it because he wants to, not because you want him to! Make sure that you can fit these activities into your schedule, and if not, make other arrangements. Activities might include drama, music, sports, art, or volunteering at a local non-profit. Having something else to focus on and included in his day helps to teach him time management, working with others, and leadership; all life skills that spill over into academic success.

Chores:  Chores are also a part of everyone’s life. A child needs to know that she is a part of a whole and that everyone in the family has certain expectations. Make sure you are realistic with time, ability, and age appropriateness. By doing this, a child sees that her contributions are valued and necessary. It also teaches her responsibility, a big academic success tool.  

Keeping communication open between you and your child is essential to your child’s academic success. This needs to be updated daily sometimes, as your child’s life evolves and grows with each passing year. During dinner or before bed, ask every member of your household, one at a time, “What is the best thing that happened today?” “Nothing” is not an acceptable answer. You will be surprised at what you hear and what you learn from that one simple question. Parents participate as well! 

Whatever the makeup of your family, mom, dad, child, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or cousin, academic success depends on everyone in our daily lives. Academic success isn’t just tied to your child’s classroom. While that should be a main focus during the academic year, it is also what your child learns outside the classroom, in his everyday life, that helps him to succeed. Lead by example. Care. Be involved. 

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