10 Steps to school year success

Aug 22, 2012 at 9:29 p.m. ET

One of the most important aspects of parenting is ensuring that your child gets a good education. School is a place where your child not only learns skills like reading and writing, but also about friendship, responsibility and fairness. In short, school is a test-run for the real world, and your child needs your help to navigate this complicated arena.

How to raise happy, successful kids
Boy waiting for school bus

When your child was a baby, you scheduled your life around nap times and diaper changes. Now your growing child needs you to schedule your life around school.


Establish consistent routines

Take the "year at a glance" approach. If you have a child starting first grade and one in fourth, one a musician and the other an athlete, then you must sketch out how you will achieve a balance between school, their activities, your work and your activities.

It's best to look at all of these areas at once so you can spot the trouble spots. Once you have the big picture, it's time to ask how you can set up a regular routine to ensure that everyone's needs are met -- including yours. Early in the school year, decide which activities will fit and which will have to be postponed. One of the biggest areas of concern for modern families is activity overload. Avoid it!

Now that you know what activities you'll do regularly, decide where homework fits and set a regular time for it. Whether there are assignments or not, this should be the time of day that your child always does a little school work, even if it's extra work assigned by Mom or Dad. When will you have dinner? If possible, do it at the same time every day and expect all family members to attend (even busy teens). Don't eat on the run! If you have to eat in the car to stay on schedule, then you're doing too much!


Set reasonable bedtimes

alarm clock

Open any magazine in America and you might find a story on the cumulative sleep debt that Americans are suffering from. It causes accidents, ill health and poor work performance. It has the same effect on young students. Without enough sleep, their learning suffers, as does their behavior.

Additionally, lack of sleep makes kids prone to getting sick, which means they miss school and get behind in their learning. Avoid these problems by setting a reasonable bedtime for your children and sticking to it. According to Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a member of the National Sleep Foundation, elementary-aged children need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep each night. She also recommends adding an additional 10 to 20 minutes to that amount to account for the time is takes your child to fall asleep. Keeping these requirements in mind, your child's bedtime should be no later than 8:30 p.m.


Learn to say "no"

There are many demands placed on our time. There are after-school opportunities galore: sports, music, drama, art and more. Parents have an equal number of options for after-work activities. Parents want to provide the best for their children and many believe that giving them access to as many opportunities as possible is the best way to enhance their learning.

In fact, the best way to enhance a child's learning is to allow them to slow down and think about what happened in class and to talk to them about it. This type of reflection can only come when parents and children have some downtime together. We advocate the motto: Just Do Nothing.


Limit TV

We all love TV. We loved cartoons as kids, and probably sitcoms, dramas or reality shows now. But be careful not to watch TV to the exclusion of all other forms of entertainment. Kids aren't as good at moderating their exposure to TV. They need the help of their parents to make good choices and to limit the time spent being a passive observer. Kids learn best when they're actively involved in what they're doing. Reading, talking, exploring, drawing, building, playing -- these are all important parts of childhood. Make sure they don't get squeezed out by too much Phineas and Ferb.

Next page: 6 more steps to school-year success >>

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