As an educational consultant, I view the start of the school year as a time for new opportunities and possibilities. Between my own time in school and my work with students, I am entering my 27th back-to-school season. Amazingly, I still look forward to it with a mix of awe and anticipation.
All parents hope and dream that their children will have a rewarding school experience. Below are a few tips to help parents and students move beyond past challenges and create a fresh start in the new school year.
• Organize a late-summer clean-out. Many people think spring is the time for cleaning closets, but it’s also useful to take inventory of clothes and supplies before school starts. Most children experience growth spurts over the summer, so clothes that fit in March might be too small by August.
Before back-to-school shopping, set aside a few afternoons for a proper clean-out of clothes and supplies. Set a timer for two hours to make it a game and create a sense of urgency. Have children sort into three piles – keep, donate and trash.
• Convene a family meeting before school starts. Actively encouraging children to make a fresh start is an effective way to maximize past experiences. Before the school year begins, a collaborative meeting allows children to reflect on strategies that worked well for them in the past and what they would like to change in the coming year. The discussion could take place over a weekday brunch downtown or during a car ride – choose a time and venue that works well for your family dynamic.
• Create a dedicated study space and school-supplies box. Parents often assume that their children’s bedrooms are an effective place to study and complete homework. The vast majority of students, however, readily admit that their rooms are full of distractions – and listening to music or staring at pictures of friends can easily take up 20 minutes of precious homework time. Designating a consistent study space outside the bedroom makes a noticeable difference in efficiency, as does compiling a school-supplies box close at hand.
• Set aside time to organize binders and planners after school begins. Most parents purchase supplies for their children before school starts – ornate binders with multiple pockets, zippers and little gadgets aimed to make life easier. Rarely do such fancy binders end up being more than a minor distraction.
Rather than purchasing supplies before school starts, wait a few days until students know what’s required by their new teachers. In my office, we encourage students to review course syllabi the weekend after school starts and then create their binders for an organized school year.
• Encourage children to develop a screen-free stress reliever. I once worked with a high school freshman who had an incredible amount of work to make up due to a prolonged absence. We met regularly for several hours at a time, and I could easily recognize when he was close to wilting. When he needed a break, I allowed him time off to re-energize. He loved race cars, so he would often spend his break designing and drawing race cars freehand.
The combination of school and extracurricular activities can be overwhelming for students to maintain and balance, so ensuring that children have a built-in way to decompress and relax is as important as developing organizational and time-management skills. Although playing video games, watching TV, socializing with friends online or searching the Internet relieve stress for some, such activities can add stress and drama for many pre-teens and teenagers. Taking the dog for a walk, baking, drawing, painting or building model cars are ideal examples of screen-free stress relievers.
Ana Homayoun is founder of Los Altos-based Green Ivy Educational Consulting and author of “That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life” (Perigee Trade, 2010). For more information, visit www. greenivyed.com.