In a perfect world, your children would come home from school, bypass the television, the cell phone, the iPod, the Xbox and the computer, and prepare to study. From perfectly organized backpacks they would pull unwrinkled assignments and happily set to work without so much as a warning look from you. Sound like a dream? Few kids have that kind of motivation, but just a few small adjustments to your child’s study habits might just have him moving from slacker toward scholar in no time.
Establish a System
The most important part of establishing good study habits is knowing how to prioritize, and this means keeping track of assignments and upcoming tests and quizzes. To this end, encouraging kids to keep a calendar or weekly planner is advisable. Being able to see “the big picture” can help alleviate stress; kids learn to divide their study time over the course of the week or month, instead of feeling overwhelmed by everything all at once. While at school, children should not only jot down due dates, but also topics covered in class. That way, if they check over their planners nightly they can perform a quick mental review of what they learned in class that day. This will actually cut down on their overall studying time—if kids review the material for 5 minutes every night, they eliminate the need for a less effective 2-hour cram session the night before.
The best-kept calendars and day planners are of no use if they (or the homework assignments they catalog) can’t be found. It is important for kids to start the year right by keeping their backpacks organized. Accordion folders can help organizationally challenged children systematize their work; the plastic ones with the wraparound elastic, for example, ensure that a critical assignment won’t just slip out. Creating tabs for notes, incomplete assignments, complete assignments and graded assignments can go a long way toward helping students monitor their work and chart their own progress.
Establish a Workspace
First thing's first: make sure the room in which your child is working is well lit and temperate, and then look for distractions. Children today are masters of multitasking—they’ll be the first to assure you that they are perfectly capable of texting, doing their math homework, updating their Facebook status and downloading songs onto their iPods simultaneously. While this may be true, multiple interruptions make study time less effective. For the most part kids need a distraction-free, clutter-free environment in which to study, so encourage them to turn off the television, the phone, and the computer, and put away the magazines. Generally, quieter is better for schoolwork, but some kids may welcome a low to moderate noise level, such as background music. One more important point: think twice before letting children feed their bodies at the same time they’re feeding their minds. Snacks are best left for breaks—allowing kids to eat their way through a study session can pack on pounds and make for a messy workspace.
Establish a Routine
Especially for the younger set, routines are important. Getting schoolwork out of the way sooner rather than later is preferable, especially since late study can interfere with family time, dinner and sleep—all of which are equally important to a child’s academic life. That said, try to give your child some control over when to study, and understand that when kids come home from school they will often need time to unwind—just make sure that a 20-minute cool down doesn’t turn into a three-hour Wii marathon.
Some parents may misread a child’s needs for breaks as laziness or procrastination, but it’s important that kids be given the opportunity to take them. With the use of their planners, help them divide larger tasks into smaller chunks and let them reward themselves with 10-minute breaks. These rest intervals actually help increase a child’s cognitive ability and can aid her in retention. Have light snacks and drinks on hand during these breaks, too—even the most diligent scholars will find it hard to study on an empty belly.
Establish Boundaries—For You
While your child is setting study habits, squelch the impulse to constantly hover or do things for him as much as is practical—this kind of behavior only hurts him in the long run. Routines may take a while to institute, but once kids have a particular study rhythm, things like academic planning and time management will eventually become second nature to them. Keep in mind that every child is different, and there is no perfect equation for study skills success that will fit them all equally. Know your child’s needs, goals and temperament. Discuss expectations, but instead of threatening or bargaining consider helping her to initiate a pattern that is both individualized and efficient. As you help your children to take more responsibility for small things, like study routines, you’re really helping her to take the first steps down the road of academic and intellectual independence.