By Mary Ashton Mills
It’s hard to believe a new school year is already upon us. By the time you read this, school supplies will be purchased, backpacks ready to go, teachers will be prepping their classrooms and students will be savoring a few more nights with no bedtimes, days with no schedules and mornings without the beep of an alarm clock.
Whether your child is entering the first year of elementary school or advancing to high school, everyone hopes for a great year. Education experts from the CSRA have weighed in to help come up with 10 ways to help you prepare your child for their best school year ever!
1. Parents, continue to be involved. The older children get, the less involved parents have to be when it comes to volunteering, attending parent teacher conferences, and helping study for tests. Continue to get to know your child’s teacher and make a point to visit the school to help out for different events. Virginia Veale, Language Arts and study skills teacher at Davidson Fine Arts School, offers good advice. “Don’t be that parent who waits until spring break to schedule a conference with your child’s teachers. Also, if you suspect your child is struggling, schedule a conference with the whole team. That way, you can have one conversation and it will help you see how your child is progressing overall.” Veale also stresses that the transitional years, 3rd, 6th and 9th grades may require extra attention. Children may be changing classes for the first time or attending classes with different students each period.
2. Keep learning fresh and fun year round. Don’t let summer or long breaks slip by without brushing up on those math tables. Play math games and ask your children reading comprehension questions in casual conversation. SOAR Academy is a tutoring center in Augusta whose primary mission is to educate each student according to his or her own unique ‘individual’ learning style. SOAR’s director Kenisha Higgins likes UNO cards for easy and fun math drills. “It is all about making it fun and increasing fluency which is so important,” she says. She likes to draw two UNO cards and have the student quickly give the product of the two numbers.
3. Don’t procrastinate if you suspect your child needs extra help. You may dread the melt down that you’ll receive from your child when you tell them it’s time to go for extra help, but they will be so much better in the long run if they aren’t falling behind. “Many schools offer after-school study sessions or extra help. If your child’s school does this, have him/her attend,” says Veale. “They may even make friends with people they wouldn’t normally have met.”
SOAR Academy can help with tutoring a variety of subjects if your child’s teacher doesn’t offer extra help. They recommend tutoring at least twice per week. Mathnasium, a successful math-tutoring center with locations in Augusta, Aiken and Evans, is also a huge help to many local students. Harrison Zeigler, Augusta director, stresses the importance of continually practicing math and not memorizing. “We have to make sure they know what is going on behind the scenes. It’s about understanding the why behind the algorithm,” says Zeigler. Mathnasium offers tutoring for students in grades 2 through 12.
4. Teach study and time management skills. Veale says parents should keep close watch to see that homework is being prepared properly. “If it is taking too long, set a timer and when that timer goes off, books need to be packed up. A student will get used to the time allowed, and he/she will get down to business to get their work done,” she says.
She also offers the following study skills tips:
• If a teacher gives notes in writing, have your child study those.
• On-line practice spelling tests are wonderful!
• Parent and child should study together to try to identify how the student learns best.
• Flash cards are great and can be used on the drive in to school.
• Simply rewriting key information helps many students.
• Making an outline of information is also a great practice.
• Quizlet (a Website that helps you make simple learning tools) is wonderful and very popular with middle school students.
• Study sessions for older students are a great help.
• Older students can even do group chats online to go over material for big tests.
SOAR Academy has experience with students who find it difficult to remember long vocabulary definitions. In a pinch, they recommend learning the bold nouns or verbs in a definition rather than every single word. If you can remember one or two bold-faced words, chances are they will help jog your memory. Drawing pictures also helps to help memorize vocabulary words.
5. Don’t over-schedule your kids. Keep a level of activities that provides your child some down time, time for studies, family and friends. When children get home from school, se the tone for a positive environment. Inquire about their day and support them emotionally, as well as provide a space for them to work quietly and independently. Running from one practice to the other without adequate breaks can leave your child feeling stressed. If you know that a particular day is typically busy, plan a way to make the most of your travel time with practice test questions prepared for the car ride, flashcards or a Quizlet you’ve prepared for them to complete between soccer and play practice. Be ready with healthy snack/meal options in the car so you aren’t always opting for fast food.
6. Follow the rules. Veale says parents should have a long, meaningful conversation about the rules regarding cell phones and social media in school. She notes that Richmond County Board of Education Code of Student Conduct outlines rules on cell phones at school. “A parent must help adhere to these rules. If there are any types of suspected cyber-bullying or even inappropriate use of technology, it must be reported immediately and that may mean the loss of technology for a time. Parents must back the school’s administration on this,” says Veale. In addition, sit down and talk to your children about bullying, peer pressure, cheating and other behaviors that come with heavy consequences. Give them your expectations of them and explain what the consequences will be at home if the rules are broken.
7. Set healthy eating habits early. A well-balanced breakfast is important to help children stay focused and have energy at school. Take a trip to the store together to allow your child to choose some snack and lunch options. Visit www.produceforkids.com for tips on how to pack a healthy lunch box, healthy grab-and-go breakfast ideas and more.
8. Limit Screen Time. Lack of sleep greatly affects a child’s performance in school. Don’t allow the distraction of the screen light in your child’s room while sleeping. Have a designated spot for electronics to charge away from your child’s room. Limit screen time and cut off all electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. Replace those electronics with a good book.
9. Stay Organized. SOAR Academy recommends parents create personal checklists for children who tend to be disorganized or forgetful. These can be catered to their specific needs and can easily be kept in a clear outer notebook pocket. If your child tends to forget his or her lunch or homework at home, you can also create a personal checklist that they must check each morning before leaving for school.
SAM’S MORNING CHECKLIST:
• Completed homework in folder
• Football gear
• Library book
This checklist will eliminate trips back to school for parents and keep the child responsible. If your child continues to be forgetful, Veale does not recommend parents play the rescue game. “If they are constantly leaving homework, materials, gym clothes, even lunches, at home, a parent can better help his/her child by allowing him to get through the day on his own and NOT making the trip to the school. You’ll see a quick change in behavior after one or two days when your child has to face the consequences,” she says.
Have your child keep an organized school binder and clean out their backpacks regularly. Get them used to keeping their personal space clean and free of clutter. The less cluttered the space, the easier to find things that they need.
10. Continue to provide fun options for down time. Just as adults need to unwind and de-stress, so do children. Have sleepovers and play dates on the weekends, allow plenty of time with friends and plan some memorable family trips together.
Mary Ashton Mills lives in Augusta with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in Charleston Magazine, The Post and Courier and Augusta Family Magazine.
This article appears in the August 2016 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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