Sadly, the carefree days of summer have come to a close and we are right back into the swing of school.
It seems to me that when kids go back to school, we all start following more of a rigid schedule. In my family, my husband starts taking classes two nights a week, we have sports and all sorts of nightly “duties”, such as packing lunches and unpacking backpacks, to prepare for the next day. Some days I worry that kids have too much going on, what with a long day at school, followed by activities and homework, times 5 (days a week). Yet, I remind myself that this is what is typical for our society; we send our children to school to receive an education, starting at least by Kindergarten, we are fortunate to have our children receive a formal education, and you know what else, we did it and survived (my ultimate reasoning for many things). To really be proactive, I have come up with a list of five ways to help focus students on their schooling, while hopefully keeping it fun and motivational.
- Make it Applicable: So little Johny is learning about fractions in math; have him help you in the kitchen! You could ask questions such as “If I have 1/2 a cup of milk and add a 1/4 cup of oil, how much liquid do I have total?” Showing kids that the skills they are learning in school can be used for real-world application will not only help motivate them, but it will also reinforce the lessons they receive at school. Games or experiments are other great ways of providing more active methods of learning through doing. Personally, I was a much more visual learner, so seeing something done, rather than just reading or hearing it really solidified the information for me.
- Build relationships: One reason I’ve grown to love the town I live in is because there is a strong sense of community. I’ve gotten to know, or at least recognize many of the families, and I’m getting better acquainted with the educators in our schools. My hope is that the relationships we’ve built will help my sons as they grow up, partially because it will keep them honest. Now, I’m not saying I expect my boys to tell me bold-faced lies and to start wreaking terror in school and town. But I do expect that they may try to tell me little white lies, such as “we didn’t get assigned any homework” and “of course Matt’s mom will be home while I’m over there“. If I am communicating with the teacher, hopefully I know what is going on in the class and how my student is doing. If we have a good relationship and open dialogue, maybe the teacher would even be comfortable contacting me with any concerns regarding my child. Same goes for the parents of friends. I’d like to have an open line of communication so that I have some idea of what my child is doing when they aren’t at home.
- Check in on progress: This relates to the last idea, because it would mean talking with the teacher(s) about your child(ren)’s progress. But, I also believe that having set times to check in, whether it be once in a while, like at parent teacher conferences, or as often as weekly, will encourage a child to keep up with their school work. Let your child know that you have an upcoming meeting, or a series of meetings. (I think back to the time I was trying to lose baby weight, and how an impending visit to the OBGYN, where I’d have to jump onto the scale, would impact my eating behaviors in the week leading up to that appointment). Try to keep these meetings positive in the eyes of your child by letting them know you are excited to see all the projects they are working on and to hear how well they are doing in class. These meeting shouldn’t only take place if a child is struggling or having conflict. Kids also like to show off and feel proud about their work!
- Reward System: having an age-appropriate reward system can be a great way to motivate your student! The reward could be tied to many different things, from behavior to academic success. We have a great chart for our son that he fills up with stickers for being a good helper, remembering to be responsible for the items that need to go back and forth from school to home, and for an overall good daily report from his teacher (he’s in Pre-k). Once he fills up his chart with stickers, he gets to pick an outing, which is usually a trip to the movie theater. Stickers may not be too exciting for older kids, but you can tailor the rewards to suit your child and keep them interested in earning the rewards.
- Relate it to a job: growing up, my mom used to tell my sisters and I that being a good student was our job. This philosophy stuck with me right through college. I was expected to do well, because it was my most important job (I also worked at retail stores, restaurants and a gym to make rent and to buy food, but those jobs weren’t nearly as important as my education). Now, I think about having this discussion with my son. He sees the dedication my husband and I have to our careers; he sees us get up and go to work every. single. day. I have explained to him that he goes to school because mom and dad go to work, but I have not yet gone that extra step to talk about our expectations of him, because he is still young. But, for older kids who don’t want to get out of bed, or do their seemingly endless amounts of homework, I think this stance could come in handy.
All of our kids learn in different ways, and have varying experiences with school.
These are just five ways to actively be involved or to motivate students; but I encourage families to find what works best for them and their children.
Most importantly, keep it fun, be encouraging and stay involved.