And just like that, another school year is underway. The summer break flew by and we are now adjusting to the circadian rhythms of the school day. You have spent the last few weeks working to make the transition from playgrounds to classrooms as smooth as possible. Now, the key to having a good year is to establish good routines.
In addition to the first day of school, last week was devoted largely to shopping for supplies and attending school orientations. Everyone was rushing around trying to find school uniforms that fit, the right type of binders, and backpack large and sturdy enough to hold the 20-plus pounds of school books and supplies.
By now, all the supply hunting is over and we can now shift our attention to arranging the days and weeks ahead. Typically, the fall semester is a very busy time of year. In addition to making room for fall and winter holidays, we must now figure out how to juggle a schedule that includes 7½ hours of school and after-school activities such as team sports, band, scouts, private lessons, and — for some — part-time jobs. While we consider these extra-curricular activities to be an essential part of a child’s development, they can detract from the time needed to recover from the school day, to finish homework assignments, to study for exams, to spend time with family, to go to church, to eat dinner, and all the other things that families do.
And although all of these activities are important, we have to keep their school work somewhere near the top of the priorities list. The reason is simple enough — kids are in school to go to school. That’s the first priority. If you’re not passing your classes, the rest is of no consequence. For most students, that means staying on top of homework and studying. Although a few schools have moved into the “no homework” direction, most have not. Instead, many students — including those in elementary school — are left with some amount of mandatory homework every evening.
It is imperative, therefore, that parents create a structure for their students as a way of maintaining some consistency and predictability in their days. With a proper routine, students should be able to accomplish the “have tos” (i.e., homework), while also enjoying the “want tos” (i.e., playing outside). Throughout the year, we must remind ourselves that it is not reasonable or realistic to assume that a student can attend school for almost eight hours a day, then come home and do three hours of homework without any down time. We do not accept that as adults, why would we expect that of our children?
There are a few simple steps to take in order to provide students with some essential down time. First, look over your child’s schedule and make a list of his/her daily obligations. Ideally, your child’s schedule will be pretty much the same each day. However, with extracurricular activities, band practices, football games, etc., there is bound to be some daily differences to accommodate.
Second, consider your child’s after school energy and activity levels. Is he the type of student who is so tired after school that he needs a nap before starting homework? Does he need to do his homework right away because his schedule will have him busy until bed time? Does he need to play outside every afternoon if he hopes to go to sleep on time? All of these factors come into play when creating a successful schedule for managing homework and studying.
Third, once you know your child’s schedule and you have identified the best time to do homework, it is time to create the routine. Try to make the day-to-day schedule as consistent as possible. While there is nothing you can do about soccer practice starting at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, structuring the other days will provide some stability for him.
Students need routine; they need structure; and they need consistency. The problem, however, is that even most teenagers are unable to establish and maintain routines, structures and consistency. They need our help to establish and also to maintain them. By working WITH them to establish an after-school plan that fits them, we can take the first step in helping them find success and ensure that they stay on top of all their work from the first day of school.
Dr. Berney, a licensed psychologist with Psychological Associates of Central Florida in Lakeland, is a national speaker and the co-author of "Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child." Listen to Dr. Berney's podcast, "The Mental Breakdown,” on iTunes and YouTube. You can submit questions or topics to Dr. Berney by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.