School is well and truly back in full swing. For students, the first weeks’ settling-in period is over, as teachers have started assigning homework and projects in earnest. My students at Dwight School are already talking about their first tests and quizzes and, at the same time, they’re trying to establish effective study methods that will take them through the year. This is the perfect time for parents to review good study habits and to set some new strategies in motion. Here are my top tips for helping your child succeed:
- Create a quiet, dedicated place to study at home. The younger the child, the closer to mom and dad this place should be. It allows parents to be available for questions and to monitor progress. As children get older, that space could be in their bedroom, but set clear boundaries and expectations. Kids should turn off their cell phones and the TV and agree to use their computers for study purposes only rather than for social and entertainment diversions. Many students often tell me that they study for four or more hours nightly. In reality, this precious time is often interrupted by social media and other distractions. By eliminating them from the start, students remain focused and more efficient with their time.
- It’s often a good idea for a child to listen to soft music or other white noise while studying. Parents may ask why, particularly after I just mentioned eliminating distractions. Music can be of assistance to the right child. I have seen this in study halls where listening to music via headphones is allowed. It envelops students in a cocoon of sorts. Initially, this may need some monitoring, and may also depend on the age of your child, but soft music can certainly be an effective tool for keeping children in the study zone.
- Children should study every day and begin as early as possible. Taking multiple bites of the apple over time will really pay off. This is one of the hardest self-management lessons to learn–and children will model behavior from the adults around them. If we procrastinate, many times they will as well.
- Students should to start with the hardest work first when they are fresh, and then to move on to easier assignments after having met some tough challenges.
- Study habits should match each child’s individual learning style, and teachers and schools really try to help students identify what their style is. Are they visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learners? Each lends itself to different study tips that can yield significant results. For example, visual learners do best with organized, written notes that are color- coded or in flashcard form. Auditory learners like to record notes and play them back repeatedly while also sub-vocalizing (talking through their work either to themselves or someone else). And kinesthetic learners need to combine “doing” with studying, such as doing homework on a computer, going through mental drills while being physically active, or being quizzed by a parent using flashcards.
- Students should take regular breaks: 10 minutes per hour to stretch, recharge, and feel connected to something other than a desk or textbook.
- Make sure that your child’s school bag, folders, and notes are organized by subject throughout the year, not just in September when things are new and novel. This is crucial for all students, who should be able to find handouts and assignments quickly and easily. They should also keep a list of homework assignments and due dates (hardcopy or electronic, depending on your child’s use of technology), which you can review together at the start of each week and help set priorities, if needed.
- Encourage your child to ask teachers for help if he/she is struggling with something. Young children ask “why” all the time as they discover the world. As they get older, however, they often stop inquiring as they try to fit in with social groups. But teachers hope to turn this “why” button back on, and parents can be of great assistance in encouraging intellectual independence of curiosity.
Finally, I often talk to parents about the value of the team approach in setting their children up for a successful academic year. The school, teachers, and parents should all be in sync and communicate the same message about expectations and goals for your child at school. Consistency is key. I urge parents to keep in touch with teachers and administrators if they notice issues with their child, whether that’s difficulty with a particular subject or peer issues. Don’t wait for a problem to escalate nor to dissipate on its own. As children get older, schools encourage students to develop independence skills and to advocate for themselves. That being said, parents see their child from a different perspective at home. When you communicate early with educators, the school can help to keep your child on track for success.
Dianne Drew is Head of School at Dwight School, a 141-year-old independent school in New York City. A native of Melbourne, Australia, she is an internationally recognized educator with over 20 years of experience in teaching, curriculum development, and educational consulting in both public and private schools in Australia, Asia, and New York City. Also serving as Vice President of the Middle Years Program for the Guild of International Baccalaureate Schools in North America, Dianne is expecting her first child this fall.