Friday, August 28, 2009

10 Tips to Start the School Year off Right

We always tell our kids to start the school year off right. We give them tips on how to impress teachers, how to be prepared, how to get organized, etc. But, we need to think about how we can start the school year off right, too.

Here are 10 of my tips:

1. Don’t over schedule your children this school year. Benefits: you save money, get more time at home as a family and are generally less stressed out when you’re not driving your kids around after school running from one activity to the next.

2. Don’t sign your child up for academic tutoring unless he/she is in jeopardy of failing a class. (Don’t pay for a tutor to boost a “C” or “B” to an “A”.) Benefits: same as in #1 and you are sending the message to your child that he/she is fine the way he/she is. You will trust the teachers to do their jobs. They will get a better indication of your child’s ability if your child isn’t getting extra outside help (this includes helps from you, too).

3. Don’t ask your kids about grades, test scores or homework. Instead, focus on the content of the subject. (Instead of “What did you get on the test?” say, “What are you learning in science?” If you are connected to some school communication tool (like Schoolloop) you can look at homework assignments and grades privately. Benefits: you are teaching them to take ownership of their own schedules. You are letting them manage their own time. You are taking the focus off scores and putting it on learning. You are alleviating stress in their lives.

4. Give your kids at least an hour of down time after school. Benefits: they will be more cooperative and happy if they can de-stress and “chill-ax” after spending 7 hours at school.

5. Have your child do daily or weekly chores – lawn mowing, sweeping, cleaning toilets, vacuuming, taking care of the family pets, etc. Plan, prepare, cook and cleanup meals with your child. Benefits: you will be less stressed because you will have more help around the house, your child will learn about the responsibility of being part of a family. You will be spending more time with your child.

6. Don’t yell at your kids during homework time; you are not the homework enforcer. If they spend more that 10 minutes a night per grade level, email or talk to the teacher. (ie., 10 minutes/night in 1st grade, 40 minutes/night in 4th grade, etc.) Benefits: you will get along with your kids better. Your kids will see that you value family time over work time. Your kids will have more balance in their lives.

7. Don’t go to every scheduled sports game or extracurricular activity of your child’s. Benefits: your child will be participating for the love of the game or of the activity, not to earn your approval.

8. Encourage unstructured outside neighborhood activities after school - a walk, a bike ride, hide-n-seek, skateboarding, picking flowers, building something, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, etc. Benefits: your child will get exercise and use his/her imagination. Your child might meet friends in the neighborhood. You will be less stressed because you won’t be driving him/her somewhere. You will use less gas and that’s good for the environment!

9. Don’t use rewards and punishments with regard to school and sports. Benefits: the focus shifts from seeing our children as performers to seeing them as themselves.

10. Let your children fail. Benefits: they will make discoveries.


  1. These are great tips and the benefits I think for following many of them are greater than the sum. These practices will help to make a child successful in all areas of their adult life.

  2. I was interested in your comment on the New York Times article about summer homework: "Most of it seems to be about how well kids can follow the teacher’s directions, instead of how well kids can think for themselves." Speaking as a teacher, I believe that the student's learning how to follow directions is of CRITICAL IMPORTANCE. I am constantly shocked by my students (university) who cannot follow directions, who cannot work within specified guidelines, who just do what they "felt like doing" for a specific assignment. If they do this for a client or an employer, they will be FIRED, on the spot in many cases. I remind them, if they have a better idea, that they should still do the assignment as specified, and then do the better idea as well. Presenting both shows competence and an understanding of the client's needs, as well as innovative thinking. Unfortunately, I sincerely believe most students do not have the reading and analyzing skills necessary to correctly respond to direction, and many are also just too lazy to bother making the effort. When this kind of accountability isn't expected in K-12, how are we supposed to instill it in college in time to make them functional members of society?

  3. Kerry,

    I love your perspective! Much needed.

    Just one thought on point number two, above. You make a great point: most parents who seek private tutoring to boost a B to an A are indeed making multiple simultaneous mistakes (teaching the importance of a grade over learning; contributing to overscheduling; and spending money unnecessarily).

    However, there are a few students out there who are so advanced in a subject area (usually simply because they find it fascinating, and consequently spend extra time and effort learning about it) that their regular class winds up being a chore because it's so easy.

    This is a case in which working with a bona-fide enrichment specialist can work the opposite way: turning educational drudgery back into full engagement with the material, as it should be.

    Looking forward to looking back through your old posts, and following along in the future!

    All best,

  4. I'd like to respond to the comment from Anonymous. "I am constantly shocked by my students (university) who cannot follow directions, who cannot work within specified guidelines, who just do what they "felt like doing" for a specific assignment."

    Going to a university is a privilege and a gift. No one is mandated to go to college in the US. Those who go should be there because they want to learn, not because anyone forced them to go. If college students show no motivation, they will fail and will need to find something else to do, like get a job. And that is fine, not everyone is cut out for college.

    Second, "When this kind of accountability isn't expected in K-12, how are we supposed to instill it in college in time to make them functional members of society?" I believe it's NOT the professor's job to make students functional members of society. The professor's job is to teach his/her assigned subject matter. It is the job of the parents (with hopefully a little help from the schools) to make sure their children are functional members of society by the time they reach college age.

  5. Found you from the "Stop Homework" blog ( Awesome post! Sharing around.

  6. Great list! We instituted some homework policies last year that seem to work well. My son is burned out when he gets home (he just started 2nd grade, he is in an immersion program and gets 2x the homework) and he gets to relax on the couch with as much snack as he needs and watch one 1/2 hour show. I give him a quiet space at the table and keep his little sister out of his hair. We still have bad days, but things are better than when he immediately tackled homework and felt pressured to finish before he could wind down.
    He only participates in one after school activity (chess club, which was his choice) and those are always the most difficult homework days for him. I can't imagine doing tons of activities!
    Anyway, thank you!

  7. Is the school year crammed and full of homework because the summer vacation is so long? I have lived in the US on and off for 11 years and my children are 11 and 12. It's a disgrace that parents and children are driven to near panic at the thought of the school year beginning, dreading the onslaught of hour after hour of homework and week and week of school, until the first break comes at Thanksgiving! Then there's an unrealistic break of three weeks, and the winter vacation. I'm sure you know the rest of the story! Coming from Europe, the school year feels like a journey of discovery rather than a race against the clock. As for overscheduled kids - that's a moden day middle class disease, driven by too much money and not enough time and the constant presure to compete! The notion that kids need constant stimulation and homework adds fuel to the fire! Power to all those parents who maintain a common sense approach and can provide a secure and loving home. If you can follow the 10 tips, you're on the right path. Keep spreading the word! Thanks to all for sharing thoughts and caring enough to comment.

  8. As a teacher, I tell students to learn difficult lessons by going over them many times. Now, I also suggested to them, these flashcards to try out. Its quite simple to create these flashcards even for a technology newbie like me!

  9. I fully agree - and you've brought up some points I wouldn't have thought of. Great post!

  10. I suggest trying something different this school year. Maybe using more technology to help your student do better on tests and help with their homework. Online flashcards from funnelbrain are very useful, you can check them out at and see for yourself how helpful they can be this school year.