Pre-emptive organization can make a smooth school year

The beginning of the school year is an exciting time, full of unrealized potential. For the students who come into the tutoring office, we look at the new school year as an opportunity to refocus and start anew. We talk about their goals and dreams to motivate them to manage their time better and become more organized.

Parents can also proactively create a positive foundation for the upcoming school year by making changes and improvements at home to reduce stress and increase children’s potential for both academic and personal success.

Following are five easy tips to transition into a strong school year.

• Before school starts, convene a collaborative family meeting where you openly ask your children how they envision their school year and what they would like to change (or retain) from last year. Once children start to think about and verbalize their own personal goals and dreams, they become more motivated to consider changing their habits.

Scheduling this meeting at the beginning of the year makes it proactive rather than reactive and is more likely to build a positive foundation for change. The meeting is a great time to discuss which study skills did and did not work – and to partner with your child to find solutions.

Most children, no matter how well-intentioned, get off track easily. Setting weekly (or daily) regroup time where students can sort through their backpacks, clean out old papers, reorganize binders, look at their online homework calendar for upcoming assignments and update their planner gives them an opportunity to regroup without too much time lost. Half an hour every Sunday afternoon might work for your family, or Tuesday night might be a better option. Every family’s schedule is different, but consistency is key.

• A kitchen timer can help students focus and complete their homework in an efficient manner. By scheduling 40 minutes for work, followed by a 10-minute timed break, most students are less likely to have that 10-minute break turn into an hourlong excursion staring out the window or playing video games. I encourage students to use a timer when they are on Facebook or other social-networking sites. They can set the timer for a 30 minutes, explore, chat and instant message all they want until the timer goes off – then log out.

• Cell phones, iGadgets and other technological innovations can be fun distractions from working and getting to bed in a timely manner. Having a technology box in an identified place where gadgets go during homework hours and after a certain time in the evening can help students work more efficiently and rest well.

• After school, children are often exhausted. Having simple, healthful afternoon snacks ready is one of the best ways to avoid the 7 p.m. sugar low caused by eating too many simple carbs – either from sweet snacks or sugary “power” drinks. Almond butter and celery, hummus and carrot sticks, and tortilla chips and salsa are all better options to maintain concentration as the night wears on so that homework is completed efficiently and children can go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Ana Homayoun is founder and director of Los Altos-based Green Ivy Educational Consulting and the author of “That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life” (Perigee, 2010).

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