Academic Spring Fever? Here’s Help

shutterstock_148535669With the warm spring weather arriving, daylight savings time in effect, and only a few months of school remaining, it’s not uncommon for kids to lose motivation.  What should you do if your child has a bad case of academic spring fever?

I’ve put together a quick Q&A of questions parents commonly ask during my school presentations that I hope will help you figure out how to best help your child.

My child doesn’t seem to care nearly as much as he did at the beginning of the year. What is the first step in battling spring fever?

It’s important to realize that motivation will ebb and flow during the school year, and this is a time when students are more focused in counting the days until summer than studying; parents are losing steam as well.

One thing you can do is re-establish old routines that may have worked well at the beginning of the school year.  For example, maybe you had a set bedtime for your child or a time at which she started homework. If routines have gone by the wayside, it’s not too late to put them back in place. They foster a sense of order and can greatly reduce procrastination.

How do you get your child to actually follow through?

I’m a big fan of putting things in writing. A visual cue is almost always superior to a verbal one. This could be as simple as a checklist by the door or an evening routine posted on the refrigerator. Visual reminders reduce the chance that what you say goes in one ear and out the other.

Just yesterday, I had a parent say to me, “I felt like I was nagging my son too much, so I put our agreement in writing.  We agreed that after dinner, his backpack has to be ready by the door for the next day, and then he get gets to play video games for an hour. The TV has to be off by 8.”  She said, “Just posting that information on the refrigerator has taken the emotion out of the request. Things have been a lot better the last few weeks.”

My daughter has a number of upcoming exams. How do I motivate her to study?

This time of year, kids are more distracted than ever and they have a lot going on, from spring sports to end-of-the-year banquets. They’re also more likely to be distracted by social media.

When it comes time to studying, you really have to limit their choices. There needs to be a time in the evening when they don’t have to decide between the lure of an electronic screen and studying. Set up a routine for a block of time, say 8:00 pm to 8:45 pm, where social media is turned off and everyone in the family is device free. This allows uninterrupted time to study.

What about those end-of-year, long-term projects, research papers, and book reports?

I like to ask students two main questions: what do you have that’s coming due, and when will you do it? You can phrase it as, “If I see you have a plan, that will make me feel better and I will know that you have it under control.” Then ask, “When should we check in with each other?” This technique puts it on the child and provides accountability.

It seems like no matter how much I try to help, my kids and I end up in a battle, especially when it comes to math.

When your child is stuck, you really have three choices. You can:

  • Tell him to buck up
  • Show him how to do the problem
  • Say to your child “Do you have notes on this? Where do you think you can find the information? Have you done a problem similar to this?”

The latter is the best approach because it enables the child to become an independent learner, a skill that’s not just for this year, but for many years to come.

My child is consistently inconsistent. Sometimes he does the work and he’s on top of things, and other times when I don’t check up on him, everything falls apart.

No parent wants the role of “homework police,” but when your child has many missing assignments, you must get involved.

First, take time to email the teachers in the classes your child isn’t turning in work. Find out if there’s an opportunity for the assignments to be written down at the end of class. So often, kids don’t record their work and simply cannot remember everything that needs to be done. Also, determine how the teacher reports homework. If he or she religiously posts to Blackboard or your school’s homework portal, that’s a huge plus. There is a small cohort of students who will never use their assignment book, no matter how much they’re encouraged. If not, recording homework on their phone (photos of the assignment work great) or using the homework portal is the next best thing.

Our tutors often tell their students that they actually shouldn’t start off doing homework such as math, English, science, or any other subject. Their first subject should be “organization.” That means, make a list of all the work that has to be done that day. Spending five minutes organizing a “to do” list can actually save lots of time.

If your child doesn’t clearly understand what needs to be done, you will need to step in. Have him or her list the assignments and then begin tackling the first one. Be sure your child knows what to do—maybe even watch him do the first problem or question, and then walk away. Check in from time to time, but allow your child to be independent while doing homework. A little upfront oversight in creating the “to do” list can go a long way with consistently inconsistent kids.