New Year, New School Routine

I taught elementary school for 15 years, and one of the most common questions parents asked me was how to set up a study routine for their children at home. With everything they have to juggle, parents do not always have the time/space/energy to supervise their children’s homework and make sure everything – permission slips, money, signed tests, reports, and projects – gets back it to school on time. Many parents are just happy to get all of their kids in the car and to school on time each day, nevermind what’s in the backpacks!

I don’t have a magic formula that will restore your household to harmony, but I do have a few suggestions that might make it easier to get through the hours between school dismissal and bedtime without wanting to tear your hair out. The following ideas are appropriate for children in grades 1-5, but you can adapt them to fit your child’s age and maturity level and your family’s needs.

To create an environment of peace, love, and joy in your home during the school year, I recommend you:

1. Choose a landing place for important school papers and activity accoutrements. 

Designate a place to hang backpacks, sports uniforms and equipment (my second grade girls always brought their “ballet bags” to school on dance days), and any jackets/sweaters/outerwear appropriate for the weather. Help your child get in the habit of ALWAYS using this place to store and locate these items.

Create a place for your child to empty her backpack of any notices requiring a parent signature, homework, graded papers, etc. Make her empty out her backpack EVERY day! (I once had a student who was distraught to find a rotten banana that had gone to mush in the bottom of his backpack. We had to throw everything inside away and place the backpack outside our classroom!)

image: marthastewart

image: marthastewart

image: marthastewart

2. With your child’s help, make a list of morning and afternoon tasks she needs to complete daily.

Each morning, your child should be responsible for completing tasks like the following: get dressed, brush hair, eat breakfast, brush teeth, and check backpack to make sure homework and lunch/lunch money/snack are inside. Post the morning list on the mirror in her bathroom or laminate it and keep it at the breakfast table.

(One of my friends puts everything on the breakfast table the night before: hair brushes, ponytail holders/bows, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and even pours the cereal into her kids’ bowls. When the children come down the stairs – dressed for school, of course – all they have to do is pour the milk!)

Make a list of evening tasks your child must complete: do homework assignments, do chores, lay out clothes for the next day, make sure all school papers, including homework, are inside his backpack in the designated storage spot, bath, brush teeth, go to bed. Post this list in a prominent place he can easily check himself.

image: Regarding Nannies

image: IHeart Orgaznizing

{click the link for free printables and tons of other organizing ideas}

3. Set up a homework spot for your child.

You know your child best. Does he thrive in a quiet, calm environment, free from household distractions like the cat jumping into his lap, smaller children playing, or dad cooking dinner? Or is he able to tune out the noise and activities around him and get lost in his schoolwork? Depending on your child’s preferences, help him choose a good study spot and stock it with everything he needs to do his work, from scissors and glue to a protractor and a thesaurus. It might even be helpful for him to do some homework, like math, science, or spelling in a place where you can help if needed, then move to his room for reading, writing, and language assignments.

If you aren’t sure what your child prefers, try one way (quiet workplace away from the rest of the family) one week and another way (work in the family room or at the kitchen counter amid the hustle and bustle) the next, then talk to him about what worked best. The most important thing is that your child feels empowered to complete school tasks on his own and confident that you are available to help when he needs it.

image: Living with Little People

image: fooyoh

image: Hoosier Homemade

{click to read about what she put in the box}

4. This is the hard part: once your child is comfortable with the routine and can implement it with minimal guidance, she is accountable for maintaining it.

If your child is supposed to do her spelling homework and put it in her backpack, she has to face the consequences at school if she fails to do so. Resist the urge to step in and fix it for her! You don’t have to be an ogre about it – extenuating circumstances do arise (the flashcards got packed in the move and no one knows which box they’re in; little brother fell and broke is arm, and the family was at the hospital till 10:00). Any reasonable teacher will understand that things come up over which you and your child have no control and should (in my opinion) be understanding and flexible. (By the way, don’t stay up till 2:00 baking cookies for the class party – it’s perfectly all right to send store-bought cookies!)

The new year is the perfect time to evaluate the way your family manages the school day. Are you happy with the flow on most days? Is your child usually able to complete homework without you or your spouse nagging, pleading, or threatening? What could you tweak to ensure your child’s self-sufficiency with schoolwork and keep the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth to a minimum?

Tell me your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to know how you support your children’s success in school and preserve your sanity in the process!

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