Starting the School Year Strong

Pointers for classroom success from start to finish.

Along with cooler weather and changing leaves, fall brings one of the most important transitions of the year for families— the return to school. For elementary-age children and their  parents, this can mean both exciting new opportunities as well as difficult challenges. Here are some tips to allow you to start off the school year right and deal with issues including motivation, homework battles, teacher conflicts and report card surprises.

Helping Your Child Get Motivated for a New Year

As back-to-school season approaches, encourage your child to open up about his expectations and concerns. Many kids breeze through the early grades, expecting each new school year to pose no more of a challenge than the one prior. But extra work and greater complexity can lead to frustration. Yet, by creating a supportive environment at home and facilitating a love of learning, you help make the transition from summertime to September smooth. Children who have constant encouragement from their parents are more likely to enter school with the attitude that they can meet any obstacle head on and defeat it. Nurture your child’s curiosity about the world, sending the message that learning is fun, satisfying and worthwhile. Entice your child to explore, take risks and approach challenges with a sense of adventure while fostering his abilities and motivating him to improve. By instilling in your child a positive outlook and the belief that wisdom comes from effort, he will approach tasks with a sense of pride and control.

Avoiding Homework Battles

Struggles concerning homework can be eliminated by establishing a routine. Base the homework routine on what time of day your child concentrates best, his extracurricular activities and when someone is available to assist your child with his studies, if needed. Solicit your child’s thoughts about when and where he prefers to do homework and make a mutually agreed-upon plan. When it comes to homework help, it is important to remember to offer advice and guidance when asked, but refrain from doing your child’s work for him. Think of your role as that of a consultant. If your child works in his room, stop by periodically with words of encouragement, to drop off a snack and to offer praise. Let your child know that you are willing to help when asked, though you will not complete assignments or battle over methods. Eventually, expect your child to tell you he wants to work alone and give him the pleasure of banishing you with his newfound independence.

Dealing With New Teachers

We hope that our child will have many wonderful teachers. The reality is that each of our children will likely face some average teachers and, inevitably, a few lacking the skills, teaching style or personality you desire for your child. If your child and his teacher do not get along, the school year is likely to be an academic wash unless you intervene constructively. The key is to support your child without fueling the fire. Talk to your child about his problems, understand his viewpoint and determine if it is a singular misunderstanding or a recurring problem. Keep in mind that your child isn’t always the most accurate or reliable judge of a teacher’s ability. Talk to parents of other children in the class to check for similar issues and then set up a meeting with the teacher to hear her perspective and try to find a solution. If the problem persists, ask to observe your child in class. You may also need to  speak with the principal or your child’s guidance counselor. Just be mindful that taking your child out of his class is rarely the only recourse to a situation like this. Be open to teamwork and other options. Ultimately, everyone’s goal should be the same— creating an enriching environment within which your child can learn.

Handling Report Card Surprises

Research shows that a child’s passion for learning steadily decreases from 3rd through 9th grade as work becomes more demanding. This can prove difficult for everyone when report card time rolls around. Regardless of the grades your child brings home, look for something positive to comment on first, taking special note of any improvement. Show compassion and understanding when reacting to a bad report card, as a surprise grade may be unexpected and disheartening to your child, as well. Also, always remember that a report card is only one measure of your child’s strengths. It actually does not measure your child’s capabilities but, rather, the work he produced during a specific time period. Instead of criticizing your child’s mistakes, guide him to find remedies or assist him in improving his study patterns. You can also talk to your child’s teacher to find ways to refine his academic standing, and possibly look into tutors and resources both in the school and out. If your child feels disheartened, reiterate that the most important thing is that he tries his best, not that he’s perfect.

While the back-to-school season is sure to present challenges, being prepared can ensure the transition goes smoothly for you and your child. With good routines in place, everyone will eventually settle in and hopefully enjoy the school year.