The school year has started fast and furiously. If you feel like you’ve been hit by a whirlwind and are already behind, there are five steps that you can take to gain control.
Develop a nighttime routine. Everyone needs a set bedtime - adults and kids. After a few days of adhering to a set bedtime you brain will be trained to get ready for sleep. Sleep is essential to our health and wellbeing. Don’t believe me? Check out this article on the psychological effects of sleep deprivation. The bottom line is a sleep-deprived brain doesn’t work. Once you establish your bedtime, work backwards to give yourself a few minutes to prepare for the next day and have 15 to 30 minutes of quiet non-technical, non-screen activity. Establishing a routine helps you tackle repetitive and important tasks without a whole lot of energy and effort. Prepare by checking the next day’s calendar and picking out outfits and accessories. Set bags and anything else that needs to leave with your family by the door. To slow down before heading off to bed try reading, writing, meditating, a warm bath, coloring, knitting, or some other quiet activity.
Develop a morning routine. Having a set wakeup time will, over a short period of time, make it easier to wake up on time. To encourage the habit of getting out of bed, set up something to look forward to – like a cup of coffee that was scheduled to be ready with the delay brew function on your coffee maker. Record a motivating phrase and use it as the alarm sound on your cell phone. Need more motivation? Try the Sonic Boom alarm clock. Allow enough time in the morning to have breakfast and review the day’s activities with your family. By breakfast, I mean something with nutrition rather than a fast fix of sugar. Hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, and peanut butter on whole grain bread are fast and portable if your appetite doesn’t spring to life first thing in the morning. A benefit from reviewing the day’s events with your family is that everyone starts off with the same information and everyone is more likely to successfully remember. Waking up 15 minutes before your children do provides some time to tend to a few chores. Tasks like emptying the dishwasher and folding a load of clothes are essential to running the household as smoothly as possible and tackling them first thing in the morning starts the day on a positive note.
After school, children need some outside time and a nutritious snack. Play is serious business. Actually adults need outside play time too. Unstructured time outside helps promote movement, curiosity, imagination, creativity, and a host of other benefits. Nature has healing properties; so say a number of studies. Plan periods of unstructured time so they happen. Nutritious snacks are important to sustaining blood sugar and focus. Plan ahead and create a snack drawer in the fridge so folks can help themselves when they are peckish.
Set up a productive homework environment. What works depends on your child’s age and nature. Generally speaking, younger children often work well at the kitchen table and older children often prefer the solitude of their own rooms. Talk with your child to see if she has a preference. If she doesn’t, experiment. Regardless of where your child works, make sure that supplies are organized and handy. If your child works at the kitchen table, try putting the needed supplies in a caddy so it’s easy to set up and clean up the homework spot. Keep in mind that most students need a few supplies. Stockpiling supplies creates storage and access problems plus it makes it harder to keep things in order. Keep the work area as uncluttered as possible. Store completed units of study in a desktop file so that the student’s binder holds only the current topics. Storing the completed work makes for a lighter backpack. The desktop filebox helps keep students focused on the current subjects while keeping material available for comprehensive exams.
While we’re on the subject of completed work, let’s cover the work that becomes memorabilia for the parents: the art project, the A+ paper, the worksheet with the glowing teacher’s feedback, etc. Have a special place to show off these items, but keep the display fresh. After a short period of time either recycle the work or store it as memorabilia. Only keep items that really show off your child’s personality, nature and creativity. A worksheet will not do that; however, an essay might. Take pictures of 3-D projects like sculptures because the picture is easier to store than the object itself. Be careful how much you store. Consider if you stored just 10 things for each grade, including kindergarten, you will have 130 pages by high school graduation.
Two important tools every student needs are a planner and a clock. Planners help students keep track of homework assignments and also help them develop their time management skills. Time management is an essential life skill, and a clock is critical to developing it. However, one of the tools students often lack is a clock that is easily visible from where they work. The best clock for helping students develop an internal sense of time is the analog clock. The analog clock displays time passing. There is a sense of the amount of time that has passed as well as the amount of time remaining. Digital clocks display the present moment.
While tools are important to a student’s success, creating a comfortable, uncluttered environment for your child is very important. Clutter is not only unsightly it’s distracting. Help your child succeed by minimizing distractions.
Distractions can be internal too. Despite our best efforts at optimizing our environment and health, focus can be challenging. It may seem paradoxical, but fidgeting may help increase focus. Sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair provides minute movements that may engage focus and – bonus - strengthen core muscles. Creating and listening to a playlist of music that the student likes but does not get to engrossed in, is another useful strategy.
A strategy that will save parents a lot of last minute changes of plans is to update the family calendar right away with the school and sports calendars. Make time to do this. Knowing what is happening in your child’s life gives you the ability to be proactive and supportive. If you use an electronic calendar, you may be able to important your school’s calendar into your calendar. Importing a calendar saves you lots of time from entering events individually – that is one of the strong points of an electronic calendar. If you are getting started with an electronic calendar, Cozi and Google calendars are easy to understand. If you prefer paper calendars but loathe entering recurring events, the WeekDate calendar is for you. The unique design of the WeekDate calendar means recurring events only have to be entered once (plus they are darn cute calendars). If possible, find out when important school projects are due and when tests are scheduled. This knowledge can help you support your child’s academic efforts. Inquiries about the status of your child’s homework can be supportive if the phrasing is neutral and upbeat. Saying something like “I notice you have an exam coming up. How do you plan on preparing for it?” is more supportive than saying “Have you studied for that test yet?” The former is more likely to get an honest answer than the latter, which may be met with a silent eye roll.
Keeping things together for the school year means developing some structure, routines and acting proactively. The strategies laid out here will help you not only survive the school year, but thrive. You’ll be developing healthy habits for yourself and your family. Organization is a great tool for living the life you want to live. If organization has been elusive for you, consider hiring a professional organizer to help you develop systems that will work for you and the support needed to implement them.