At this stage of the year our shops are full of Back to School adverts endeavouring to persuade parents to buy a wide range of products to support their child’s education in the forthcoming year. Whilst some of these are of dubious benefit there are clearly some essentials of equipment and uniform that will need to be refreshed.
However, I do think that there are some other things that can be done to make the transition back into school much smoother for any secondary aged child. In reviewing reports over many years I believe that it is possible to identify some of the basic organisational skills that every pupil returning to school in September can work on.
One of the first things I do when reviewing a report with a child is to check that they have actually read it and can remember what it says at the start of the new year. Teachers will have given plenty of helpful advice at the end of the previous term so encourage your child to go back through their report and make a note of this advice. Make sure that they have followed up on any specifics and talk to them as to how they will go about tackling any remaining issues. Review this again after the first month of the new term. Try to put in place at home the support they need to tackle these areas of relative weakness, encourage your child to speak to their new teacher for help. This does not have to be done in front of the whole class but quietly in a break-time.
Another feature of disorganised students is the state of their school bags. Many return in September having at least cleared out the junk that inevitably accumulates (and many return with new bags) but here I feel that parents can help students to establish good habits. The most helpful tip is for them to have some sort of folder for each subject so that their exercise and text books can be quickly found in advance of a lesson and so that they always have with them what they need to learn effectively. If they work primarily on file paper encourage them to only carry around with them the past month’s work and keep the rest at home. There is nothing worse than a lost file part way through the year. Encourage them to keep an index of each file. Make sure that any worksheets are filed at the end of each week rather than being left to accumulate in a school bag. Similarly ensure that your child has somewhere where they can effectively write down any homework so that they remember it once home. Once homework is completed it should be put in the brightest coloured file they can find so that when they open their bag the next day it can be easily found and handed in. There are many electronic list apps which can be downloaded on to their phones, my favourite is one called Wunderlist. However, they record their homework it should be done consistently and as parents you can support this effort by checking that it is always completed.
Another task for the start of the new term is to ensure that they have somewhere they can effectively do any homework. This does not have to be in their own room but wherever the space is it does need to be clear of clutter. I have no issues with students listening to music as they work but it is clearly better if potential distractions are kept to a minimum. Parents could also usefully sit down with their children to work out how best to fit any homework into their weekly schedules. We all know from learning to drive that habitual practice of basic skills eventually allows us to undertake a task with ease and the same is true with school work. Establish good habits early and these will stay with them for life. Remember though as parents that children will not always work in the way that you did when you were at school.
So as children go back to school this year look beyond the Back to School offers and instead ensure that you have helped your child with some of the basics which cost very little but which will go a long way to laying strong foundations for future success. One final plea though on behalf of schools everywhere do please ensure that all your child’s belongings and uniform have their name on – so much lost property just can’t be returned simply because it is not named and this is just such a waste of money for all parents.