COUNTDOWN TO SCHOOL KICKOFF

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Retail & wholesale advertising suggests the new school year kickoff is just days away with limited time remaining to make those last minute purchases of backpacks, binders, pens, pencils and all the various fresh new supplies. I know as child I loved the look and smell of those neatly arranged colorful crayons in my very own Crayola box. A new first day of school outfit always got my children excited for their first day on which they woke early and dressed without nagging, slipped their well stocked heavy backpacks on without complaint and traipsed happily off to the school bus in their spanking new sneakers.

By the end of the first week, enthusiasm began to diminish exponentially in the weeks that followed. The alarm rang too early, the backpacks were too heavy, the lunches “sucked” and the bus ride made them nauseous.

I believe one root to the declining attitude is routine, what kids often refer to as BORING.  7 AM alarm, bus, school, home, snack, homework, dinner, showers, bed. All to begin again the next day. So what can we parents and educators do as partners to keep the enthusiasm alive?While every day cannot be the first with all the fresh new supplies and the excitement of new teachers, we can try to help prevent the boredom associated with routine.

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Here are my 5 tips to happy school days.

  1. Set Goals. Ask your children to set 3 goals for themselves (one academic, one social and one athletic) to be achieved in the first quarter of the year (approx. 10 weeks). Mark the date of the end of the first quarter on your calendar, so they can see the end in site. These goals need to be realistic but challenging. While working toward straight A’s may be unrealistic, improving grades from the previous year in just one subject may be quite doable. Just as joining a social club may not fit every personality, finding one new friend may be just right for another. And while everyone is not athletically gifted, everyone can add one form of physical exercise to their daily activities. Think about these goals with your children and how each one might be achieved. Have them write these goals down, seal them in an envelope and tape the envelope to the inside of the their binders as a reminder. At the end of the quarter open that envelope. See how well they did and set new goals for the next quarter.
  2. Refresh supplies & save work.
    Every week or two, clean out those backpacks stuffed with loose papers, gum wrappers and broken pencils. Discard the unnecessary clutter. Replace those once beautiful crayons with a fresh box and those pencil stubs with new ones. Give your child a fresh clean folder to save favorite work and a special place to keep it.
  3. Change up the morning routine. At home try breakfast in bed, or special breakfast 4ibogkpbtday, a surprise sleep in a bit longer day and drive the kids to school. At school plan special days: pajama day, dress as book character day, inside out day, riddle days with solutions revealed at lunchtime.
  4. Change up the after school routine. Think about after school special treats: ice cream, bowling, skating, library visit, movies, etc. Make it a surprise or something to look forward to. Whatever will keep your child excited.
  5. Reward! Discuss what’s being done to help achieve those goals. Reward even the smallest steps forward. Reminder: There is nothing children want more than to please their parents and to be loved unconditionally. Recognize the challenge of achieving their goals and show them your pride in their efforts.

The Jake Pullman Story

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Chapter 2

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While Evelyn, Terry and I met privately, I sent Jake off to write a short story for me to later evaluate his writing skills.

Settling into the club chair facing Jake’s parents, I noted the tension in their body language. Evelyn sat at one end of the living room sofa with a decorative throw pillow clutched to her abdomen, and Terry sat at the other end with his arms locked tightly across his chest.

I smiled reassuringly at both of them, but before I said a word, Terry asked, “So can you save our marriage?” And Evelyn’s eyes welled with tears.

The mood was familiar and the question was not new to me. Often parental stress of dealing with their children’s academic challenges can lead to martial strife. I let them know they were not alone and with proper tools in place Jake would be successful. The anxiety level visibly deflated, and the door opened to a practical discussion.

Yes, Jake was struggling with incomplete assignments, poor test grades, low self-esteem and a rebellious attitude. Every day a new building block was added to the leaning tower of failure, not only for Jake but his parents who believed in quite different strategies in dealing with the growing family angst.

Evelyn began checking the school’s online progress report daily. Confronting Jake every day when she returned from work about the latest report of a poor grade or missing assignment. Terry threatened, “No summer camp,” if Jake didn’t end his lying and bring all his grades up to at least B’s. They both saw the ineffectiveness of their behaviors and welcomed advice. Terry  jokingly asked if they could just pass their son over to me and have him returned him after he was “fixed”.

That not being an option, I asked my usual questions regarding schedules, homework time, extra curricular activities, and family time. I learned Jake currently was a member of an indoor soccer team and played on two different basketball leagues, both of which his dad coached. I try to remain nonjudgmental, especially when listening to parents proudly espouse their child’s talents. But I was obviously unable to hide my alarm, and Terry grew defensive. These teams were of utmost importance to him. Jake excelled at sports. His success made Terry a proud  dad and no doubt added to Jake’s self-esteem which clearly was needed.

But so was a balance. Homework time was definitely limited and family time had all but disappeared. With Jake’s permission I shared his answer to my question, if you could have one wish: “A family dinner together at least once a week.”

After a short wide-eyed pause by each of them, I nodded as Evelyn and Terry were interrupting each other with excuses. Work schedules, business meetings, sports practices, picky eaters, orthodontist appointments, speech therapy, math tutor… And their one wish: To have a simpler life like when they grew up. Less schedules and more family time.

I summarized our discussion and closed listing three ultimate goals: Jake’s academic success (not to be defined by all B’s), a more comfortable schedule for all and regular weekly family time. They nodded in agreement, but eyed each other with disbelief. Then I laid out the initial steps of my plan.

  1. Evelyn would stop the daily checking of Jake’s academic report. And Terry would cease his idle threats.
  2. Instead, Evelyn would notify Jake’s teachers that they had hired a coach who was now responsible  for Jake’s academic concerns. She was to share my contact information and encourage them to communicate with me.
  3. I would set up either a group or individual conferences with Jake’s teachers to introduce myself and hear their evaluations of his progress.
  4. Jake’s extra curricular sports would have to be cut to no more than two days during the week.
  5. One night each week was to be set aside for family dinner.

There was some grumbling over the cut in sports and even the weekly dinner, but I held firm to these requirements if they wanted to work with me. I would send a full evaluation and agreement later in the week for them to review. And I encouraged them to carefully think about the commitment, discuss it between themselves and with Jake before each of them signed the agreement.

There are many academic coaches in the area to choose from. It’s a buyers market. And it’s most important that you choose one you and your child can comfortably work with.