as you mean TO GO ON
John Cowan on a new school year
John Cowan on getting ready for a new year at school.
You can start your kids off on a great academic year while they are still on holiday. Studies show that American kids regress in their education, on average, about a month over their summer vacation. Over 13 years of education, summer holidays put the average child back one whole year. But not all kids slide back over the holidays – some actually return to school ahead in the achievement. The thing that makes the difference is reading for pleasure – kids who read on holiday retain their academic performance and start the next year with a huge head start. Other things that will make a difference are stimulating, non-academic learning experiences like travel and museum visits, and not letting them mush their brains with too many video games and too little sleep.
Children are no more thrilled about getting back to work than we are and the idea of homework is particularly unappealing. Their imagination fills with a vision of hours of drudgery. Let them know that you understand they need rest, fun and down time... but that school and homework is still very, very important. Instead of your message being “Work! Work! Work!” try, “You probably need half an hour on the X-box. Get stuck into your homework, show me that you’ve done it and then I’ll let you thrash me at a game”. It's an old technique called Grandma's Rule – you can do what you want to do after you have done what you have to do.” Pace is important: pace their learning, pace
their rest, pace their fun. Otherwise they will develop the pattern that tyrannizes so many of us: procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate, PANIC!
Routines are important – a child who thinks his whole night is going to be hijacked by homework is going to be demotivated; a child who knows that on every school night he has to be at his desk between 7 and 8pm can handle that. Routines go to pieces during school holidays – get back into them quickly. School-term bedtimes should be started even before the end of the holidays so your kids aren’t jet-lagged for the first week of term.
They should be able to get into their work quickly without having to spend half an hour clearing a space and finding pens and pencils. Here’s a tip: have a drawer or a box with all the things they might need – scissors, sticky tape, coloured pencils, a calculator, whatever. Take them shopping – most kids love new stationery (or maybe it was just nerds like me).
Don’t stress your kid out with “If-you-don’t-work-super-hard- you-will-be-a-failure-forever!” I don’t think many kids respond to our anxiety well, but I think all of them respond well to our pleasure and pride in their effort and progress. Express genuine interest in what they are learning rather than just in the marks they are getting.
Finally, if your child is suffering from postholiday blues... sympathise! I was on holiday last week and I’ve found it very hard getting back into work. All of us get over the blues quicker with empathy, support and gentle handling. Reduce their backto-school anxiety by helping them strategise – it’s amazing how often just putting everything down in a list can reduce the terror.
It's an old technique called Grandma's Rule – “you can do what you want to do after you have done what you have to do.”