Good habits for going back to school

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  • Aug. 25, 2011 8:00 p.m.

Dear Paul,

Summer is over and our three children are returning to grade school. Everyone is pretty excited around here. What specifically would you recommend I do as a parent to support my kids’ success at school?

-Mom of three

All children have basic needs that are the foundation for their success at school — and in life.

Every child needs secure routines, basic care, good nutrition, plenty of sleep. Every child needs to experience physical safety, the freedom from excessive fears or anxiety. Every child requires emotional security, with a sense of belonging and personal self worth.

When these needs are consistently met, children are free to play, to learn and grow with the opportunities before them. That’s how it works.

So first of all, don’t underestimate the difference you are already making. But since you asked for some tips, here are a few additional suggestions that support school success.

1. Let your children know that their learning and success in school are paramount to them and to you — it is part of a pathway to the future they will create for themselves.

Communicate that school is not only an exciting and valued opportunity, but also their responsibility. School is their job.

“Mom and dad have their jobs — the responsibilities they attend to each day. School is yours. Your job is to participate and play fully, do your very best and learn all you can.”

2. Establish routines at home that support school and become natural habits.

You support your child when you introduce structure around their school responsibilities in your home. Routines and order give your child a foundation to be organized and responsible. This can be done in many ways.

Set up a quiet consistent homework time after dinner. Keep it fun. Start with a short 15 minutes. A routine that regularly happens “before the television goes on or computer games begin.”

Locate, with your child, the place they can do school work. Make this area comfortable. Have a place in your home where their school books and materials are kept. “This is where we post the school notes. This is where the back pack goes.”

Put up a school calendar so the family can track events and talk about them. Mark library due dates. This modelling teaches your children ways to organize their responsibilities at school.

Clearly, it is much easier to introduce these kinds of habits and routines early in their school experience rather than later.

3. Create a sense of partnership with your child’s teacher. It makes a difference to personally know, value and support your child’s teacher.

Throughout the year, his or her teacher will have learning and developmental objectives for your child. Find out what these are and what you can do at home to support them.

Together you identify mutual goals. Your child’s teacher is an expert on developmental stages and learning tasks for children your child’s age. You are an expert on your child, so work together. Your relationship with their teacher and your feedback to them is a fundamental part of their school success.

Moreover, if you have the time, see if you can involve yourself with, or contribute to, the school classroom, specific projects, or the school community.

Model for your children the expression of your knowing, positive regard and appreciation for their teachers.

4. You support your children to succeed in school when you express and model a passion for the joy of learning.

Bring your interest, your curiosity, your questions, to the projects and activities your child is undertaking at school. Find ways to invite your children to share their new information and skills with you. Have a place in your home to display their work.

It is the curiosity and enthusiasm for learning (not simply “getting their homework done”) that drives learning success.

I hope these suggestions support you and your children to have their best school year ever.

—Paul Beckow is an individual, marriage and family therapist on the West Shore. See



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