students and teacher

by Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed.

The ritual of back to school time is here once again. Some parents can’t wait to get their kids out the door, while others don’t want those lazy summer days to end.

Regardless of how parents feel about a transition to a new school year, they all have one thing in common – a universal desire to see their children succeed.

The start of the school year is make it or break it time. If a student falls behind early in the year, it can be extremely difficult for him to catch up. Setting up a system for completing assignments is critical. Read on to find out how you can make this school year the best ever.

Establish a Start Time

So much of success in school depends on how well kids perform after the school bell rings. That’s right: homework. If you’re the parent of a child with the “I’ll do it later” syndrome, setting a time in which homework starts is key.

There are essentially five times to start homework:

*    right after school

*    after a 30 minute break

*    before dinner

*    after dinner

*    right before bedtime.

The latter two options are not nearly as productive as the first three, but determining when your child should start homework depends on age.

Elementary students often need down time after school or when they return from their extra-curricular activities; about 30 minutes is usually sufficient. This is when homework should start. Although each day might be different due to sports, lessons and other activities, the routine of starting 30 minutes after returning should not change.

It’s much harder to dictate an exact starting time to an adolescent. For older students, consider having the family policy that homework starts before dinner. This step in itself will greatly reduce late night stress when homework still isn’t complete.

Allow a Variety of Homework Spaces

Throw away the old idea that homework needs to be done in the same place each day. New research finds that it’s far more productive to vary the location. One day homework might be done in the dining room, another day the home office area, etc.

Keep in mind that regardless of where homework is completed, some kids function better when they can lie on the floor, sit on the sofa, or even pace the room while studying for a test.

In addition, the traditional notion that people need complete silence and a sterile environment in order to concentrate has recently come under fire. Various studies have shown that distractible students can actually attend better when they are given something to hold or touch.

If you find that your child tends to fidget by touching objects around her, tapping her feet, or rocking in her chair, it’s likely that she’s craving sensory input.  Many children need this type of stimulation, especially when tasks are tedious or boring. Consider allowing your child to hold a stress ball or another fidget toy such as the Tangle Jr.

Create a Clean Sweep

Organization is a major component of school success. In the beginning of the year nearly every student starts off being organized, but has a hard time maintaining this initial effort.

You can help your child by establishing a 20 minute pre-arranged weekly maintenance session called the “Clean Sweep.” During this time, your child will be responsible for organizing anything related to school, which includes cleaning out binders, folders, and backpack.

Program this time into your smart phone and have your children do the same if they own a cell phone. Many families find that Sunday evening is an ideal time to prepare for the week ahead.

About the Author:

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc., a comprehensive provider of educational services in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at

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Jennifer Cummings

Ms. Cummings, author, and editor of the Education and School Section, she has a psychology and an M.Ed. in special education from Framingham State College in Massachusetts. She was an elementary teacher in Massachusetts serving both regular education and special education students. She has taught grades 1,4, and 5.

"I believe that families' involvement in their child's education is one of the key ingredients to creating a successful school experience for children. Keeping parents informed about school-related issues helps parents and teachers work together for the best possible outcomes for their children. Learning together makes learning fun - for everyone!" - Jennifer Cummings.

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