Plan ahead for school-year sanity
The start of a new school year signals the start of a footrace for busy families with work, school, sports, music lessons and more. To make sure homework, healthful meals, adequate rest and family time get their due, get organized before the first day of school. Jane Blickhan, retired teacher, and Susan Jamison, working mother of two school-age boys, share strategies to get it all done.
Get to know your child’s teachers and routines
“From the minute the school year starts,” begins Blickhan, “there has to be open communication between the teacher and parent. Parents have to know how the teacher assigns homework, the expectations, and how often.” For example, when teachers only assign homework Monday through Thursday, families know they can plan weekend recreation and students will still have time to review and work on longer projects.
Become familiar with your child’s daily school schedule, too. Teachers often allow time for students to do some homework at school. Encourage your child to use those times efficiently so there’s less to do after school.
Organization is key
Use a take-home folder, says Blickhan. If the school doesn’t provide one, make your own. “This is the one folder where all assignments, notes, permission slips and completed work goes.” The student fills it in at school, takes it home and shows it to the parent. The parent goes through the completed work, notes and new assignments, and helps make sure it’s in the backpack for the next day. “It’s probably the finest organizational tool.”
Central Illinois natives, now Minnesota transplants, Susan and Dan Jamison, rely on solid organization at home to keep track of their family’s busy work, school, sports and music schedules. The after-school routine features open lockers in the “mudroom” by the back door to stop and drop materials and gear after school, quiet time for a snack and then homework at the kitchen table.
“It’s the best place to do homework,” Jamison says. “I can get dinner ready and answer questions while they’re doing their homework without the TV or friends to distract them. They also practice music for 10 to 20 minutes during homework time. I know when they’re both finished. When it’s done, it’s done.”
Jamison usually goes through her elementary school son’s backpack and binder with him and signs his daily agenda, but leaves much of her middle schooler’s organization to him. “In middle school here, teachers don’t require parents to sign the daily agenda, and my son never liked doing it. So, he goes online to the district’s website to check for assignments.”
Jamison uses a whiteboard to show the weekly schedule. “The whiteboard shows the schedule for one week, Sunday through Saturday,” says Jamison. The boys can see what intramural games, lessons, social and family activities are coming up, as well as what’s for supper and when. “It’s a good visual for them,” says Jamison, who makes meal times flexible enough so the entire family can eat together every evening. “We have a pretty good record of having family dinners together.”
Blickhan agrees that homework at the table, with a set time, no distractions, good lighting and all materials in one place is a good approach. “It’s really an opportune time when the child is not tired.” Then, if there’s no homework, review completed work. “Homework is for practice, to master the new skills.”
When something isn’t working
“If your child is struggling, if you see a negative change in attitude or poor marks on papers, it’s imperative to get on it immediately,” says Blickhan. “Meet with the teacher to help pinpoint the problem. Is it academic or attitude? The teacher is the guide for you and your child, and can help you get additional resources when needed. Don’t wait.”
Keep a positive attitude
“Figure out what works for your family,” continues Blickhan. “Prioritize evenings according to your child’s needs, but set the tone of school as a priority. Show that you value school. Make it fun, give your children praise and show how important it is to you how much they’re learning.”
When you see your child take a special interest in a lesson, expand on it. “The sky’s the limit now with the internet. Learn together, and instill a lifelong love of learning.”
Be sure not to undercut the teacher, she adds. When it comes to homework, don’t do it for your child or dismiss it as unimportant. But do help when needed, and make sure it gets back into the book bag. “Take the approach that school is your child’s work and you want your child to succeed, so you’re going to make it a priority.
“Finishing homework is part of a larger learning process,” says Blickhan. “Children learn they can complete tasks and practice new skills, and ultimately become productive citizens in college and the workplace.”
Include the morning in the evening routine: “Lay out clothes for the next day, repack the backpack and figure out what’s for lunch. Find what makes it easier for your family to function and then stick with it.”
Finally, be sure to plan a week ahead, including fun times together, Blickhan adds. “You can’t fly by the seat of your pants. Don’t overschedule but, if you find you’re overbooked at times, ask for help from a relative or friend. There’s always a way to get things done if you plan ahead.”
DiAnne Crown of Springfield, experienced parent, is a frequent contributor to Capital City Parent.