With school in session for more than a month now in some places across the country, many parents still find themselves working hard to get their kids back into the routine of prioritizing reading, writing and arithmetic — over recreation.
If you’re still helping your child transition from summertime slacker to studious scholar, consider focusing your efforts on these three areas.
1.) Help your child prioritize and plan. Without doing these, children and adults tend to use our time and energy on activities that don’t further our progress toward long-term goals. Our decisions about how we use our time and energy tend to be shortsighted.
A schedule helps a person prioritize so that the tasks that move us toward our short- and long-term goals get done and are ordered, so that we use our time and energy efficiently.
It can help to illustrate this for your child. Collect enough pebbles to fill a quart-size jar and four or five large stones that will fit inside the empty jar. Explain to your child that the stones represent the important tasks he or she needs to get done to do well in school. The pebbles represent less important tasks and distractions.
The jar represents time and energy.
Demonstrate by filling the jar with pebbles that the stones that represent the most important tasks won’t fit. Then empty the jar and put the stones in first, filling in any gaps around the stones with pebbles. Explain that when we prioritize the important tasks that move us toward our goals, such as doing well in school, we can fit some of the less important tasks in around the edges.
Take a few minutes each Sunday to review with your children their planned activities for the week. Teach them how to use a calendar or daily planner to prioritize their activities and block out timeframes for each task, including studying and other homework. This time is also a good time to review the accomplishments of the past week and examine where or how scheduling might be improved.
While it’s ideal for creating a habit to schedule homework to occur at the same time each day — this may not be possible. Using a daily planner becomes much more important for getting things done when each day has a different set or order of events.
Younger children may need some daily direction and coaching from a parent to help them follow their plan. As they learn how to follow a plan and demonstrate responsibility, they can be given more autonomy. Teens may need less help from parents, but regular check-ins can be used to encourage them, provide tips, and help to hold them accountable.
2.) Limit distractions. A bedroom or library once offered a quiet place where students could study and do other homework with few distractions. Internet-connected computers, tablets, and mobile phones now allow kids to take the world with them anywhere there’s Wi-Fi or cellular reception. The cost is lost brain power and focus — children constantly switch their attention between the demands of school and interruptions from text messages, email, social media alerts, and multitudes of apps.
Teach your child how to use technology responsibly. If technology isn’t being used for homework, it’s best to have it turned off or in another room. If homework requires the use of a computer, urge your kids to log off social media accounts and email while working. If working on a tablet or smartphone, help them learn how to use the do-not-disturb function to silence distracting notifications from texts and apps.
3.) Boost brain health. A healthy brain can do a lot to help a child make the most of study time and do better in school. Rest, exercise and nutrition are very important for focus, memory, and problem-solving.
Just by adding an hour of sleep each night, a child’s alertness and emotional regulation improve. That’s the finding of researcher Reut Gruber and her colleagues, who studied the benefits of sleep for children. They published this study in the journal Pediatrics. In the same study, they also discovered that by losing only one hour of sleep each night, children increased in emotional instability and restless-impulsive behavior.
In a separate study, Gruber and her colleagues discovered that children with good sleep quality are likely to experience improved performance in math and language skills. Researchers at the University of Texas in Austin also reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that brief rest periods between study-related tasks boosted learning in their study participants.
Research cited by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guide “Health and Academic Achievement” emphasizes the importance of exercise and nutrition for school-aged children to excel academically.
Poor eating habits can lead to poor academic outcomes.
Students who are physically active tend to have better brain functioning and perform better in their studies as a result. In addition to regular exercise, five- to 10-minute activity breaks during studying are also beneficial.
And regardless of how hard and how much time a child studies, skipping breakfast causes deficits in students’ alertness, attention, memory, processing visual information, and problem-solving. Combined with a lack of adequate consumption of fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods, poor eating habits can lead to poor academic outcomes.
Jon Beaty, counselor and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”