I don’t know about you, but I always start the school year with the best of intentions – we will be organized, I will never lose a permission slip, homework will be done as soon as the kids come home from school, and we will always cook healthy dinners. I want to set my children up for success and ensure as best I can that they have a good school year. A few weeks into the school year, and reality sets in: homework is a battle, I can’t find any permission forms (but know there is some event or another that I need to fill one out for), and I wish I could have all dinners delivered…
We all want to set our kids up for success, and there are some tried and true (and scientifically tested) things all families can do to put their children on the path to success.
One of the biggest factors in mental fitness is actually physical fitness. Children who participate in physical activity are more likely to succeed in school, with better attention spans and cognitive skills. Team sports also help cultivate useful social skills. Parents who model this behaviour are more likely to have children who are physically active. So get out and get moving. If nothing else, exercise is a good stress buster.
Speaking of stress, in a world where half of the households have two parents who work outside the home, stress can be a big issue. This school year, make reducing stress a goal for your children – and for you – as stress impairs our neural pathways and cognitive abilities. How do you do this, you ask? Good question! Interestingly, one of the easiest ways to bust stress, if you are not in the middle of a big city, is to get into nature. The effects of nature on stress hormones is so pronounced that running machines now regularly have a feature where you can watch a video of a nature trail while you run – and it actually helps.
As I mentioned, we all want our children to succeed, and putting pressure on them can be a good thing. However, there can be too much of a good thing – intensive parenting and helicopter parenting leads to stressed out and insecure children. Setting expectations are good, so long as they are achievable and do not push the child beyond their capacity. If we aim at nothing, we are sure to hit our target. Similarly, if parents set goals and focus on the success, not failure, children will rise to the occasion.
Have you ever tried setting goals as a family? Goal setting can also be a whole family affair. Parents should set goals for themselves and for the family, and not just stick to them, but track them. These goals can be easy and fun, like family meals together (which is an amazing way to spend some quality time with your children), going to sports events, reading stories together, or having regular games or movie night. Basically, the idea is making time together as a family a priority. I do realize how difficult this can be – with busy lives, working parents, possibly a parent who is away a lot – it can be hard to carve out family time. Since my husband is often travelling for work, and I have full-time work, we decided that hiring a cleaner was worth the money as it freed up time to spend time with our children (I highly recommend it if you are able). These goals and this time together has a direct impact on children’s sense of security, belonging and confidence, all of which impact their schooling.
If your child has a disability, getting in touch with the teacher at the earliest opportunity can also help ensure a smooth start to the year. Even if your child does not have a disability, being actively involved in their schooling can make a huge difference. Reaching out to the teacher to discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their progress, can help you keep on top of challenges they may be having. It can also give the teacher the information needed to tailor things to your child’s needs, and work with them rather than seeing them as a problem. More than this, parents who play an active role in their children’s homework and their school community tend to have more engaged children.
Coming back to physical health,, nutrition and sleep are two challenges in most North American households. Our children learn better when they have had a sufficient amount of sleep, and they require healthy meals to process and store information – in short, to learn. This can be challenging (really, really challenging) with the busy days of sports and music practice in the evenings and lengthy homework assignments. One way I work around that involves my freezer and my slow cooker on those days I know will be extra busy. (See page for meal planning tips) There are many amazing meals that can be prepared then frozen. You just pull it out in the morning and pop into the slow cooker, and you will have a healthy meal waiting at dinner. As dull as it sounds, creating a weekly meal plan can be a huge time saver, and take the stress out of dinner time.
Homework can be a big challenge – how do you prevent it from becoming a battle? While there is still some debate on the value of homework in early grades, most schools look to give 10 minutes per year – or, to put it another way, children would have 60 minutes in Grade 6. This seems like a lot, and it can be overwhelming if the child is forced to do it in one sitting. Since children have attention spans that are shorter than the amount of time needed for their homework, try breaking it up with some fun activities, snacks, or a meal. This can help lead to success and avoid the inevitable evening fight over the homework.
So, this fall, when life is feeling a little crazy (or even before you get there), take a minute, make a plan, and remember – you are not alone. Life can be crazy, and that’s okay.