Yay, fall! It’s time for rainboots and fresh, clean sheets of lined paper. As a kid, I liked the first day of school almost as much as the first day of summer. Even now when I have no reason to be there, if I have time to kill I always find myself perusing the back-to-school aisle at my local box store. Look at all those brand new pencils that are just begging for us to make the perfectly pointy!
Chances are, you don’t get as excited as I do about school supplies. And if you do, maybe your kids don’t. I was a teacher for seven years, and saw many children dragging feet as they came into the classroom, even on the first day. I learned over time that I couldn’t expect kids to come to me raring to go. Most of the time, by the time kids came through my door, they were well beyond the pencil-loving stage of the game and it was a gradual and painful process to get kids excited about learning.
There are as many different reasons as there are kids in the world as to why students have a hard time studying. They may have crippling insecurities, which can come from things like feeling socially awkward or having a hard time with math or reading. Or maybe they just have a hard time sitting still for the time required to read a book.
Whatever the reason is for their difficulty with studying, there are always things parents, kids and teachers can do to help kids grab a little relaxed quiet time with their books. Not everything on this list will work for every kid, but maybe it will get you thinking about how to start building a toolbox to help your kids build up their academic confidence.
Use Silly Putty
When I was a teacher, I would head to the dollar store and scoop up the good school supplies. You can never have too many cheap composition books, pencil sharpeners and erasers. One other thing I always got at the dollar store was Silly Putty. Lots of Silly Putty.
Silly Putty has a few uses for kids that have a hard time focusing their attention on their studies. Hand it to them, and tell them they can only use it when they’re doing something academic. I simply couldn’t believe how some kids transformed under the power of the putty. Suddenly, kids who couldn’t retain any verbal information or read more than half a page of a book had no problems whatsoever. Kids with attention issues love to multitask, and playing with the putty seems to fill that need without overstimulating them.
There will be kids who can’t handle the Silly Putty, but for those who use it appropriately, it’s miraculous.
Play games that mimic test formats kids are likely to find in the classroom
Test anxiety is very real and happens for a lot of reasons, but that doesn’t mean you can’t practice practice practice with your kids. Make it fun. I used to love multiple choice tests because my girlfriends and I always did those quizzes out of Seventeen magazine. If your kids have trouble taking tests, just turn the format into a game. There are a lot of quizzes online, and multiple choice app games.
If kids have trouble with longer paragraph tests, grab a few paragraphs and make a game out of finding patterns. Which name is spoken the most? Which sentences are the longest? How many words are longer than six letters? Race each other for the answers, and make the rewards for winning each challenge small and sweet.
Set aside time for naps and turn off screens well before bedtime
Set aside time for kids to grab a snooze or some quiet solitude before they get into the evening’s activities. Then, make sure the screens are off an hour or so before bedtime so their brains have a chance to power down before lights out. Play a tabletop game together if you want, or read something together. If they’re losing sleep because they’re too wired at bedtime, it makes studying a much larger challenge.
Set aside a designated study space
Even if your space is limited and your evenings are just nuts, you can clean out a little quiet corner and designate it as the homework space. Make it inviting and bright and let kids decorate it with their favorite non-electronics, but make sure it’s away from stimuli like TV noise. If your kids study better with headphones, so be it. Just make sure they’re in charge of the noise, and that it really helps rather than distracts.
Help kids journal
I was an English teacher, so I may be a little biased towards writing, but personal journaling can help a variety of issues and academic insecurities. It helps if you take a genuine interest in their writing, at least initially. Have them write for ten minutes, and then tell them to read you the best sentence they wrote.
If they want to keep it private, give a sticker for each time they write for ten minutes and a reward on the weekend for a full week of stickers. Just get them writing and reflecting.
Using writing for a non-academic activity will help them feel better about writing academic assignments, and will help them flex their mind-muscles.
Most of the time the trouble kids had in my class was with writing, but you can give kids fun ways to practice whatever skill they struggle with. Have them play sudoku if they have trouble adding, or do some science experiments in the kitchen if they hate science. Kids seem to forget that just like in sports or video games, the only way to improve is to practice.