Having a successful school year involves more than surviving and having fun during the first few weeks. It means getting it together during the early part of the school year in order to learn comfortably the rest of the year.
Set the Stage for Success in School With Habits at Home
Utilize the first few weeks when things are easier to set the stage for school survival. Resist the urge to imagine the year will be an easy one because the beginning is smooth. Be a stage director, setting up every detail to bring success as the year will surely get harder when new material is introduced.
Set up a daily schedule which includes after school snack time (which is a great time to chat with a parent about the day, even if on the phone), physical activity or other type of break time, and of course homework time. Putting it on a chart to be hung where it will be seen regularly can help it actually happen.
Have a Daily After-School Chat With the At-Risk Child
During the after-school chat with a parent, avoid making it just a homework harangue. Try asking what the student had fun at that day, or what did he do for P.E. or recess. Asking open-ended questions breaks the ice and assures the child that the parent really does care about the child, not just the homework. Avoid asking too specific or too many questions at first since the idea is to express parental interest rather than cross-examine the student. However, this does not mean avoid the homework conversation, just lead into it gently.
A word to parents about the after-school communication: block at least 10 minutes of uninterrupted time for this. To assure success in communicating with a child, give this time wholly to the child. Other things, like the cell phone, can be done later. When homework is discussed, it’s always appropriate to include a reminder of the daily reward which could be a special privilege or desired reward. Then, a weekly reward could be earned by the weekend if homework happens and school is adequately handled for 4 of 5 days. However, don’t demand perfection. Reward progress toward the goals.
Don’t Wait Till Problems Come to Give Extra Support
Since the first month or so of the school year is rather easy for many students, parents may have the mistaken impression that this means the year will be a breeze. Most of the time this is not the case. If the student had issues last year, it would be wise to devise a preventive plan for this year.
This early phase is the time to set a plan in place to provide needed support for this at-risk student. Structure is quite effective in programming the child for success. Have a good and unrushed breakfast, and see that bedtime is honored to allow enough sleep. Make daily homework time an regular habit.
Tutoring can be a helpful way to give extra support, but is best done before problems surface at school. Since school testing and standards can stress both the child and the family system, extra support from outside both the school and the family can be tremendously effective. For example, if a student does homework with a tutor two days a week, the parents get a bit of a respite, allowing them to put forth their best efforts on the other weekdays. For tight budgets, there may be a high-schooler nearby who can sit with the student during homework time for a couple of days per week. (Some children respond well to an older student who can reinforce good homework behavior.)
Stay in Touch With the Teacher of At-Risk Students
This is important for all students, but it is absolutely vital for parents of at-risk kids. One may define at-risk as including students defined that way by school letter or conference along with special needs children, but also may include any children who for any reason may cause a parent or teacher some concern. This could be due to a move over the summer, divorce/separation or other emotional challenges at home, or a wide variety of other issues even including death of a pet or loss of a friend due to moving or a falling out.
Since most classes send a weekly folder home with papers, grades, and other input about the week, define that day as a time to sit and carefully go over that folder. Parents may want to go over the folder when not hungry or otherwise distracted in order to avoid overreactions to information found in the communication. Usually blowing one’s top at the child or sending an angry email doesn’t improve the situation. However, a carefully thought-out response can help, whether as a note in the folder or by email.
Parents of Reluctant Learners Help at School
Just as important as maintaining rapport with one’s child is nurturing a relationship with the teacher and others at school. Help at the school by taking food and volunteering in any way possible. Helping at the school can perform two vital functions. It lets the teacher know the parent understands the heavy work load most teachers have, and that the parents are returning the favor by doing their part. Working at or for the school also helps a parent keep a more realistic view of what is expected of students and their families as well as what is fair to expect of the school.
It is possible to help reluctant learners get started this year with a positive chance for school success by establishing habits at home early in the year, having a daily after-school chat, faithfully following through on homework, helping at the school, and not waiting till problems come to give that much-needed support.