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Bill Cirone: Getting Students Off to Good Start for New School Year

Establishing a schedule and expectations will help ensure success for children of all ages

Those of you with children or grandchildren starting off a new school year know that adults can play a major role in helping the routine start smoothly by preparing their children for the rigors of homework and classwork.

For first-time students, it’s important to make sure all of the proper immunizations have been given, and there is a requirement for a whooping cough vaccine booster called Tdap for seventh- through 12th-graders. For students of all ages, there are certain basic areas in which parents can play a role in supporting school achievement throughout the year.

This is a good checklist to repeat for children of all ages:

» Breakfast: Children should begin each day with a good breakfast, and then have snacks and other meals at regular times. This helps small bodies adjust and react at maximum capacity.

» Schedules: Children should know their parents’ or caretakers’ schedules at home and on the job. This helps establish a sense of time, but also reassures children about consistency and order.

» Reading: Children should be read to every day that’s possible. Newspapers, short stories, books and poetry can all be the basis of enjoyable shared experiences.

» Homework: If possible, a specific time each day should be set aside for homework. Children should know that homework is a No. 1 priority but should also be granted flexibility if soccer practice or band tryouts fall during homework time. Together, set a new time for that day.

The adults in a child’s life should resist the temptation to do the homework for the child, but it’s important that children know an adult, serving as a “consultant,” is available for help. If children seem to be asking for help because they want someone else to do the thinking, a good response is: “I think you can figure this out on your own. You try first.”

» Tests: When children are studying for a test, they should be discouraged from “cramming” the night before. Instead, children could be asked to bring a textbook home every other night and teach you what they have learned in school. These discussions could be held at the dinner table for everyone’s benefit.

When children are preparing for a test, help them avoid panic. Advise them to study one section at a time. Encourage a good night’s sleep and a nutritious meal before the test.

If children are procrastinators and seem to do everything but homework, it might help to set up a reward system. Also, let children take homework breaks every half-hour to refresh their minds.

A tape recorder is a great study aid for children whose parents are short on time. One technique is to record a definition or question on the tape, pause for about five seconds and then record the answer. Children can then play the tape, have a chance to test their knowledge and get immediate feedback.

If children are having trouble with an assignment, be careful not to criticize. Find out what the problem is and try to help solve it.

The most important point for adults to remember, at all times, is that their positive attitude toward homework, teachers and school can have great influence on a child’s success. That’s the bottom line for all of us, and reaps great rewards in the future.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools.

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