August 29, 2022

Gearing up for back to school

By Adina Levitt, Instructor

As summer begins to come to a close, the start of the new school year is on the horizon. With that comes a range of emotions, from anxiety to excitement, for both students and parents. Students may be wondering: Who will my teacher(s) be? What will homework look like this year? What will I be learning? Parents may have similar concerns, along with: How will my student stay on top of their assignments? Will they be able to balance their homework with their extracurriculars? Will they keep their school materials organized? 

To help ensure a smooth transition back to school, here are 6 tips for you and your student to discuss and tackle together:

1. Make a schedule

The school year brings routine and structure that many of us crave. With that, comes scheduled sports games and practices, theater rehearsals, and instrument lessons. To help students remember their extracurricular schedule and plan their homework times accordingly, together, you can make a schedule with all of their after school activities. It may be helpful to collaboratively set a target number of minutes allocated to “homework time” each night. This helps students have clear expectations of the daily plan and be more independent with their homework routine. Students can also create a “Ways to Spend Extra Time” choice menu for lighter homework days. Ideas for this menu may include: organizing your desk, filing away old papers, organizing class notes (including digital files), independent reading, checking grades, etc. 

Note: Make this schedule in a way that promotes flexibility by writing it in pencil or making it digitally! Students can then erase and move things around as plans change throughout the year.   

2. Create a homework space 

Having a designated homework space gives students a sense of organization and routine that sets them up for success when doing their homework. Before the school year begins, work with your student to determine and organize a space that works for them. It’s important that the student is heavily involved in setting up the space. Ask them where they want to work to be most productive and what materials they need to get work done. Take a look at images online to view examples together and brainstorm a list of what they need to set up their homework space. 

3. Go shopping

Some schools and teachers provide detailed school supplies lists, while others provide more flexibility. For those with some choice in their school supplies, think about material organization systems that have worked well in the past (i.e. binders, folders, divider tabs), along with pencils, pens, highlighters, pencil cases, notebooks, and paper. Allowing your student to have a choice in the colors and styles of their supplies is a fun way for them to take ownership of and get excited about the new school year. A planner is another item students should consider buying or getting from school to help them stay on top of their assignments. Digital planners, such as myHomework, are another alternative. 

Note: Some teachers wait until the school year begins to tell students what materials to get. Find out what your school does, to avoid buying materials that won’t be used. 

4. Reflect and set goals

The beginning of the school year is a fresh start and a chance to set goals. Ask your student “What was challenging for you last year? What do you want to work on this year?” Maybe your student wants to work on handing in their homework assignments on time or keeping their materials organized. Consider creating a SMART goal – a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant (and rigorous, realistic, and results-focused), and timely (and trackable). SMART goals provide a helpful structure in setting goals to help students embrace challenges that come their way. 

5. Practice self-advocacy

A new school year likely means new teachers! To start the year off, a student can email, send a video, or prepare to have a conversation in person with their teacher to introduce themselves. They can share information about themselves as learners including strategies that have worked in previous years such as using organizational checklists or a homework reminder system. Parents can support students’ self-advocacy skills by role playing conversations they might have with teachers, helping their student generate a contact sheet of teacher websites/email addresses, and providing sentence starters for their child to use in communicating effectively with teachers. Practicing self-advocacy at the beginning of the year prepares students to use this skill with increased confidence and independence throughout the year.

6. Model desired behaviors

The “Do as I say, not as I do” approach may not cut it. Children are receptive and learn by watching others. Parents can reflect on which executive function skills they want to model for their students. For example, they can model impulse control by waiting to check their phone after it dings; they can model organization by keeping a family calendar on the fridge; and they can model planning skills by talking out loud at family dinner about the upcoming weekend’s logistics. The more students see, hear, and practice these EF skills, the better they will be prepared to exercise these skills in academic settings. 

We want our students to enjoy every last drop of summer, while also recognizing that planning for the school year and frontloading what’s coming will serve them well. As we bid summer vacation farewell, we wish you and your student a successful school year.