Conversation and preparation: Supporting your child in the school year ahead

  • Alice Giarrusso is the Academic Coach at Bishop Brady High School in Concord. Courtesy

Published: 8/17/2020 3:31:54 PM

With the new school year fast approaching, or perhaps already here, many parents and caregivers are wondering how to best support their children through the uncertainty of the school year ahead. As schools are grappling with the big decisions of how they will deliver an education; be it face-to-face, remotely, a blend of the two, or a changing model depending on circumstances, one thing is for sure, we need to prepare our children differently for this school year than we have in the past. The good news is, our circumstances are no longer new. We have had time to absorb the shocking changes that have occurred and can move on to thoughtful action.

So how can you best support your child so that this school year becomes one that is worthwhile, lays a strong foundation for the school years to come, and perhaps even surpasses expectations? Today we will address three things you can do to help your child’s school year get started on the right track.

Start with a conversation

The school year begins every year, literally like clock-work. It is so ingrained in our lives that we often don’t pause to think about how this year could be different, and what exactly we would like to gain in exchange for our valuable time. Pausing at the beginning of the school year for conversation encourages children to think about their education; the value it can provide, the things they can learn, their hopes and dreams for the year, and the contributing role they have in their own success. Conversation, and the ensuing reflection, lead the way to thoughtful action. Some ideas to help get the conversation started are:

■ Chat with your child about things that worked well last year. The things, that if they continue to do them, will help lead to success.

■ Ask your child what they hope to learn this school year? What’s important to them?

■ Ask your child to picture having a great school year, and to describe it to you.

■ Ask your child how they think the school year might unfold? How they might change what they do, to match changing educational formats; face-to-face instruction, hybrid instruction, remote instruction.

■ Ask your child what they think they will need in order to be successful this year and if they have any ideas how you can be of help.

■ Ask your child if they have any particular thoughts or concerns about the year ahead that they would like to discuss.

Continue with preparation

You’ll have to establish a work area. A specific work area is even more important this year, as it might not only be the site for homework, but for school itself. Giving thought to, and then choosing a suitable work area with your child will be a vital part of developing good work habits and ensuring success. A special workspace should say to your child, “This is where you do important work.” The age and independence level of your child will determine just how involved you need to be in this process, with the tone being one of value and enthusiasm, both for the site and for the work that will be done there.

Start by asking your child what they think they need in order to be successful. It is best if the site meets certain criteria:

■ Has a table or desk and a chair.

■ Is outfitted and replenished with necessary supplies.

■ Is free from distractions during the work periods.

■ Is organized and free of clutter.

■ Is comfortable, welcoming, and a place your child wants to be.

■ Can be monitored often or occasionally by you, depending on need.

Establish a routine

Routines are beneficial for numerous reasons including; reducing stress levels, increasing focus and productivity, creating good habits and developing effective time management skills. Establishing routines early serves to send the message that the work your child is doing is meaningful, important and valued by you. While routines provide structure, they must also be flexible to match changing conditions; whether it be for daily schedule changes that accommodate sports and other activities, or the larger changes required if and when schools shift between in-school teaching to a remote-learning or hybrid model.

When establishing a routine for remote learning or after school homework, consider:

■ Setting a consistent time to begin work.

■ Establishing blocks of time for working.

■ Limiting breaks to about five minutes within a block – being sure not to begin anything during the break that will be hard to pull away from.

■ Previewing assignments; identifying work as “high intensity” (requiring increased concentration and effort) and “lower intensity” (easier to do and of shorter duration). It is helpful to do high-intensity work when fresh, and to separate high-intensity tasks with lower-intensity tasks.

■ Doing the same subject at the same time of day.

■ Filling in a schedule template of what you will do and when you will do it, so you can see the day/week at a glance.

Helping our children start the school year well is just one of the many ways we can assist them in their quest for school success. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me through my website,, if I can be of any assistance during the course of the school year.

Alice Giarrusso is the Academic Coach at Bishop Brady High School is Concord. She is the author of “The Learning Curve: Navigating the Road to High School Success.”

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