As summer vacation draws to a close, I am reminded of the plight of squirmy students – the ones who wriggle in their seats and cannot sit still as the teacher talks. Even if these students try to pay attention, they are easily distracted by a fly on the wall or the child in the back corner and then – What was the lesson again? What was the homework assignment? Is there really a book report due next week?
Transitioning back to school can be especially difficult for students who need a certain high level of activity to maintain their concentration and focus.
Many children go from a summer filled with sports camps where they run around all day to a classroom environment where they must sit for several hours in a row. Their daily steps, if tracked on a pedometer, could plummet from 30,000 to 7,000 in a matter of days, and that makes for a good deal of unused energy, which could translate into squirminess, boredom and/or unhappiness.
In honor of such students, I offer the following tips for a smooth transition to the school year.
• Sample breakfasts. A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 14 percent of high school girls and 13 percent of high school boys don’t eat breakfast at all – and many more skip breakfast one or several days a week – which contributes to irritability, lack of focus and general annoyance.
Before school starts, collaborate with your children to develop three to five tasty breakfast options that include protein and complex carbohydrates. At least two should be grab-and-go options for those late mornings that they can take and eat during their morning break. Breakfast bars made with rolled oats, flaxseed and almond butter can be prepared ahead of time.
• Vigorous exercise. Several years ago, I worked with a high school sophomore who started jogging 15-20 minutes before getting ready for school. He quickly saw a marked difference in his ability to focus and concentrate during his morning classes.
Many students exercise or play sports after school, but for those who struggle to pay attention in class, a short burst of exercise before school may be helpful. If that is not an option, it can also prove effective for students to prioritize a short spurt of activity before sitting down to do homework in the afternoon.
• Collaborate on family guidelines. Perhaps your family has already done this, but each school year can be different – and it’s useful to initiate a proactive conversation before the school year begins, especially if your child is transitioning to junior high or high school. Sample topics: homework (when, where and how it will be completed), technology (rules for proper use/abuse), sleep, etc.
Last year, a high school freshman admitted to me that he wished his parents would take away his phone when he did his homework, because it was such a distraction and he couldn’t regulate himself. (I guarantee that student had never told his parents that!)
• Schedule playtime. Play is crucial for creativity, problem solving and stress relief. Too many children stop playing too soon – high school students still need playtime. Play is often confused with obligations like sports and extracurricular activities. As part of that family conversation, devote a few hours a week to play.
Ana Homayoun is founder and director of the Los Altos-based Green Ivy Educational Consulting. She is the author of “That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life” (Perigee Trade, 2010) and the upcoming “The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Success and Happiness.” For more information, visit www.greenivyed.com.