The struggle is real. When asked about the top frustrations created by the challenge of guiding their children through thirteen years of school, parents listed these roadblocks related to their child's homework and study habits: no organization, lack of work ethic, procrastination, and failure to accept responsiblity. For many families, these challenges cause frustration, tears, and disappointment.
1 Corinthians 14:40 instructs parents that, “All things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” In most areas of life, this is an easy mantra to follow; however, early biblical scholars did not have to deal with school work, assigned to be done after a long day of caring for their flocks or reaping the wheat of their fields. After thirty-five years serving as a teacher and mother, I am still in the process of developing a proper and orderly manner of “playing school.” If you are searching to develop successful children and create orderly mornings and peaceful evenings during the school year, here are five tips to get you started.
Tip #1: CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
Paul Tough, author of the book How Children Succeed, reports that children succeed in life through the development of Grit, Curiosity, and Character. “Those traits - an inclination to PERSIST at a BORING (“I can’t stay awake in science, Mom!”) and often UNREWARDING task (“They don’t grade my homework, Dad.”); the ability to DELAY GRATIFICATION (“What will I get if I have all A's?”); and the tendency to follow through on a PLAN (“Agendas just don’t work for me!”) — are the most valuable skills in school, in the workplace, and in life.”
At MPCS, our mission is to unite home and school with the goal of creating successful christian citizens and servants of God. Instead of getting caught up in the GPA race, it would be wise for parents to center school-related goals and discussions around essential work related skills (reading, oral communication, goal setting, self-management, problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, listening, and self- motivation.) This would result in students becoming more successful in school. In addition, I believe, relationships between parents and their children would become less stressful. Instead of threatening and angry discussions when a child has missing work or fails a test, choose a life skill that can be taught through the failure and teach your child that skill. Do not focus on the grade — focus on the progress of developing the important skills needed to reduce failure. Help your child learn the value of time, the success of perseverance, the pleasure of working, the worth of character, the wisdom of economy and duty, and the virtue of patience (Marshall Field) through the homework process. You will create stronger, more independent students, and later, more confident and successful adults. Praise progress, not perfection.
Tip #2: ESTABLISH YOUR ROLE AS A GUIDE ON THE SIDE
Retire from the job of homework police, task master, and micro-manager when it comes to homework. These roles often create a sense of self-defeat or a lack of confidence in the child. Instead, serve as a guide who assists in providing the structure and the routine of “the workplace.” Your role is to ask powerful questions that challenge your child to problem solve and practice the job-related skills presented above. Work to limit the amount of time and discussions that revolve around school work.
Tip #3: SET ASIDE TIME TO ASSIST WITH PLANNING AND GOAL SETTING
THE CORPORATION MEETING
“The art of communicating starts at home.” — Unknown
Establish a time, once a week, that you will meet with your child. The purpose of the meeting is to empower your child to take responsibility for his/her success and to clearly communicate weekly expectations. Start the meeting with prayer and define the purpose of the meeting. During this time, it is important to make your child part of the solution by giving him/her the power of choice. Keep in mind the job related skill you want to model or teach that week. The new definition of success is not grade related, but progress driven. It is important to cede control, keep quiet while your child thinks out a plan, give positive feedback, and be transparent about your expectations. Keep your child’s goals and needs at the center of all discussion. Together work as a team to establish routines, expectations, responsibilities, and consequences.
Begin by asking the child to evaluate his or her success over the past week and expect him/her to provide you with clear examples of what went well and why. Then, with the use of a weekly planning sheet, work together to create a plan of attack for the following week. Chart out lessons, sporting events, church activities, tutoring sessions, breakfast, and lunch times on the weekly/hourly calendar. Rephrase your study check ups:
- Instead of dictating how homework will be accomplished and where, ask the child questions to get him or her thinking about the plan. If a child has determined that he/she will begin homework by 4:00 p.m. ask, “How will you be reminded of the time?” Instead of, “Did you study for that test?” ask “How did you prepare for the test?” Ask your child to show his/her proof of study.
- Reading over notes or the chapter in a book is not solid preparation. You should expect to see mind maps, drawings, and/or flash cards. Instead of, “I can’t believe you have another missing math assignment!” Try, “I noticed you have a missing assignment in math. What safety net or organizational plan failed? What system can you put into place so that it won’t happen again?”
- Instead of “You got a late grade for your history project?” ask, “You seemed to have procrastinated on the history project. Why did you wait so long? Did you feel overwhelmed, did you have a hard time thinking of an idea? What can you do next time to become more of a self-starter?”
Using the student agenda, “chunk” the work for the following week. Plan ahead to learn three new vocabulary words or to read a certain number of pages in a novel each night. Large projects should be broken into manageable parts. Start with the due date of the assignment and then work backwards to plan to accomplish a little each night. Use color codes, sticky notes, and tabs to help organize the agenda.
I am not Pollyanna; these meetings may be painful at first. Try to keep them short, focused, and positive. There is power in your ability to role model the characteristics of a successful manager and the beauty of a well-orchestrated meeting.
Tip #4: LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Research suggests that one study area is not always the best, the bedroom is NEVER the best place to study, and it isn’t true that the best studying is always without music. Retention and memory retrieval can be tied to place, color, and association. During an assessment, students may be able to recall information based on where they were when they filed it into memory. Movement can also enhance memory. Some students may find that practicing for a spelling test is better using shaving cream in the bathtub or pacing while writing the words on a tablet. Acting out or drawing pictures to learn definitions is a more powerful way of preparation than flashcards. For some students with ADHD, music helps the brain focus on the task, not on outside detractors. For students who insist that they want to listen to music while they solve math problems, add an iPod to Santa’s list. Where there is a phone... there is distraction. Establishing where the phone will wait while homework is completed should be part of a corporation plan.
Before each semester, purchase project and school supplies and place them in a central location. A small closet can be converted to a “crafts” space where school projects are completed.
Tip #5: CONQUERING HOMEWORK TIME
Homework time should include the following routines:
- Organize the backpack, binders, and folders after a long day at school.
- Make a list of “jobs” to be completed that night. Estimate how much time each “job” will take. Teach him/her to begin with the easiest tasks first. This method creates a sense of momentum.
- Cross off the tasks as they are completed and file them in the course binder.
- Get ready for the next day: Repack the backpack, clean the homework site, lay out the clothes you will wear the following day, place your backpack, coat, keys, supplies, and phone at the “launch pad” site. This can be a spot in your child’s room, a basket by the door, or a cubby space. Choose a place that is easily accessible as your child runs out the door the following morning.
With abundant activities and academic loads, our students are balancing more than ever before. Parents can help ease the frustrations of workload, homework, and testing by guiding students, rather than coddeling or imparting undue pressure. When parents change their mindset on failures and success of their children's education, students thrive and peace is restored to the home once again!
Phone Apps: Forest, Streaks, SelfContol
Robin Fogg serves as a Directed Studies Teacher in high school, providing individualized support for students at Mount Paran Christian School.
To learn more about challenging academics for students in preschool through high school, please click here.