Back to school after virtual learning: 4 strategies for less stress

Strategies For Less Stress After Virtual Learning

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This year, far more than any other year, communication and organization are really important. Kids are anxious about their return to school, especially after almost a year and a half of online learning, and so are parents. By practicing effective communication, we can reduce kids’ fears and ours, as well. Here are four tips to help you make this school year successful:

1. Set up a time to talk

It’s natural for kids to feel nervous at the start of a school year, but this year they may also have fears about COVID, returning to school in-person five days a week, or be worried about a subject that was especially challenging in the virtual classroom (hello math!).

It’s important to give space and time to allow them to open up about their fears. Set up a time to talk before school starts. Schedule an “appointment.”

You might say “Hey, can we talk about school stuff after dinner tonight? How about 7:30?”

Here are some questions to ask:

“How are you feeling about the start of school?”

“What do you think will be different?”

“How do you think others are feeling?” This question is especially helpful because children don’t often realize that others have the same exact worries. Realizing they’re not alone can help to normalize feelings.

When your child expresses fear, be careful not to discount it by saying, “Don’t worry! It’s going to be fine,” or “Worrying doesn’t help at all. Just do your best and it will be OK.”

By discounting kids’ fears, we negate their concerns. Instead, use this time to be a good listener and to empathize. You can do this by saying “I can understand your feelings…,” nodding and allowing your child to share openly.

2. Have a weekly ‘Sunday session’

Set up a casual weekly meeting with your kids.

I like Sundays around dinner time (or even over a meal) since it allows everyone to think about the week ahead without distractions. Planning is really hard for most kiddos, especially those with weak executive function skills (a fancy word for study habits).

During this time, you’re going to chat about the upcoming week. For elementary schoolers you might talk about what’s going on after school. Perhaps you have a calendar on the fridge with their extracurriculars (which is a great idea because younger kids need visuals). By talking through the schedule, you’ll be on the same page as your kids and help them learn the importance of planning in advance.

For older students, you can go a little more in-depth. Talk about the weekly schedule, but also share what you have going on so they can anticipate travel schedules and transportation needs for extracurriculars, like sports practice. You and your child will value these conversations because it reduces the last-minute stress of a situation when someone forgets about a dance practice or violin lesson.

You can also use this time to think ahead about academics.

Here are some examples of questions you can ask to get your child thinking about their assignments:

“What do you have coming up this week?”

“What tests, quizzes or projects are due?”

Setting aside time for kids to open their laptops and see what’s on their calendar is extremely helpful. Without this verbal prompt, many will just show up to school on Monday unprepared, which is not a good way to start the week!

When you ask your kids about their schoolwork, don’t expect a detailed explanation like this one, “Well, gee Mom, let me see. I’ve got a biology test on Friday, an English essay due on Thursday, and oh! I can’t forget that I have to present my group project in history on Wednesday …”

Some of the best sessions I’ve had with kids involves their own self-discovery where I’ve said something like:

“Tell me what you have going on this week. What does your week look like?”

Then I see it click in their mind as they think about various classes and ultimately say, “Oh shoot, I need to order ‘Catcher in the Rye’ on Amazon. I totally forgot I have to read chapter one by Friday.” Or “Ugh … I can’t believe I have two tests on Friday. That’s so unfair!”

Sure, the timing of two tests on Friday isn’t ideal, but without having time set aside to look at the week at a glance, it’s unlikely this student would have thought ahead to study over a few nights instead of cramming the night before. So the exchange doesn’t have to require lots of talking, just a bit of prompting.

During your Sunday Session, do your best to not use judgmental questions or tones.

And if you’ve said some of these things, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. But try to avoid “judgment” statements such as:

“Why didn’t you start that history project yet?”

“OMG! I’m so sick of you procrastinating!”

“You said you already had the supplies for that project, and now you’re asking me to take you to Michael’s at the last minute?”

The time needs to be a “no judgment zone” in order for it to work. Otherwise, kids will tune parents out in two seconds flat.

Our job isn’t to micromanage our kids.

I’ve never found micromanagement to be a successful strategy as a parent or educator. No one likes to be told what to do, especially kids! But what does work is asking kids questions out of curiosity and listening well.

This is easier said than done, so if you’d like a bit of help in this department, I highly recommend the classic book, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.” There’s a reason this book has been a New York Times bestseller and is beloved by parents around the world!

3. Consider the Clean Sweep

Let’s talk about organization! The real trick to help kids stay neat is to set up a recurring system. I call this one “The Clean Sweep.” It’s a weekly appointment to get organized. It can be set up on Sunday evenings either in place of the Sunday Session or in addition to it. Ideally, it’s at the beginning of the week, so Monday may work well, too.

Here’s how to do it:

Choose a time, say 7 — 7:20 p.m., and everyone in your family gets involved. Everyone — not just your disorganized kid — is straightening up their materials and getting organized for the week.

It could be that your kids are organizing their binders and getting their papers in order while you clean out your purse or perhaps organize the junk drawer.

Given that Fairfax County Public Schools has moved away from Blackboard to Schoology, it’s also an excellent time to ask your child to show you how work is assigned and housed in the new system.

It doesn’t really matter what the task is, but the idea is to have that standing appointment to maintain neatness on a weekly basis. And to make it light, crank up your child’s favorite music. Kids are more likely to participate if the session is not arduous, but is easy and productive instead.

4. Use a ‘Launchpad’ to make mornings easier

The Sunday Session and Clean Sweep are great ways to get ready for the week ahead, and a Launchpad can help you get ready for the next day.

School mornings can be rushed and stressful, especially after a year of mostly virtual learning. You can eliminate the stress by setting up a “launchpad” by your front door (or by the door from which your child exits each morning) before the school year begins. This can be a basket, box, even an old dish pan! Really any container that can hold the items that need to go to school the next day (think backpacks, lunchboxes, sports gear …)

Cue your kids to get everything in the launchpad the night before to ensure your morning is organized and stress-free! This will allow the entire family to launch into each day confident, prepared, and ready for success.

The evening is also an ideal time for kids to lay out the clothes they’re going to wear the next day or to begin packing their lunches. The key is to get the things that cause stress in the morning taken care of the night before.

Back to school is typically a stressful time for families until they settle into a routine. Nothing has been routine the past year, so now, more than ever, it’s important to practice communicating effectively with our kids and implement activities that create good habits. By demonstrating patience and a willingness to listen, we can help them achieve all they’re capable of academically and beyond.

Here’s How to Prepare for College After a Crazy School Year

Prepare for College After Covid

2020 was hard. It presented challenges for every person. But, it’s difficult to wrap our heads around the obstacles students faced. Schools completely closed, some re-opened, others were virtual, and many operated in a hybrid environment. Many changed their learning platform multiple times. 

Nearly all of the activities that kids expect to participate in were heavily modified or postponed altogether. It will likely be years before we truly understand the impact the pandemic had on learning. 

Despite all of the problems, students and teachers pushed forward. Now, as the world re-opens, many kids are preparing for their final year of high school or gearing up for the first semester of their freshman year in the fall. 

Schools are returning to “normal” class schedules and activities, but COVID has left a permanent mark on the college experience. 

Colleges and universities are waving standardized test requirements, which have been a staple of the admissions process for decades. 

Last year, when many colleges moved to online learning, a significant number of students decided to take a gap year. Now, many of them are planning to enroll, creating a more competitive environment. 

Preparation for college is as important as it has ever been. More emphasis is placed on essay writing. And mock testing is still a major part of getting ready for college, especially if a child can score well on exams. 

There’s a lot to think about for your child’s college future. We’re here to walk you through some of the most important things to keep in mind. 

Mapping Out the Road to College 

Simply preparing for college is a lot of work. You have application deadlines, scholarship requirements to meet, campus visits, and interviews.  

On top of everything, you’re still working, and your kids most likely have many other activities outside of school (which is a good thing for the college application!). 

Even if you have experience applying for college and scholarships, it can be challenging to help your child navigate college preparation. 

Our team understands the college admissions process. We know what it takes to get your child’s application noticed. And we can help you walk through the journey by managing deadlines, keeping track of applications, and submitting information at the right time. 

We can map out the college prep journey for you. That’s one less thing you and your child have to worry about. 

Why Mock Test Prep is Still Important 

Many schools have moved to test-optional applications, meaning they will not require a standardized test score on an application. 

This trend began before the pandemic but is accelerated by many students’ difficult learning environment. Now, some of the top universities in the country are waving test requirements. 

Recently, the University of North Carolina voted to extend their test-optional requirements into 2022, so it appears schools will keep this policy in place, at least temporarily. 

Many students are likely celebrating the fact that they don’t need to take these hours-long tests, but it’s not time to dismiss the mock exams just yet. 

Despite the shift away from testing, your child will still find value in taking mock tests. 

A mock test can determine whether they should take the SAT or ACT. Even if a school is test-optional, you should still submit good scores to enhance the application. 

Mock tests can also be a simulation for college testing environments. Most high school kids do not sit through a timed test in the classroom. Putting them through a timed scenario will better equip them for test-taking at a higher level. 

College Prep Is Not a Solo Journey 

College applications are challenging during normal times and even more so after a school year like we just experienced. Many kids are re-thinking what they want out of a college experience. 

The busyness of life prevents many kids and parents from sitting down and mapping out the college prep experience. 

While there is some great info online (and some not-so-great information), using Google as a guide is not the most reliable method to plan for college.  

Sending your child to school is an investment. It costs time, money, and energy for you and your child. By working together, we can take much of the stress from your plate while setting up your kids for success during their college experience. 

What you do leading up to their first year can be a major determinant in their path as they go through school. 

So reach out to us. Let’s talk about your child’s goals and needs. And if we can help take some of the burdens off your shoulders, we’ll be glad to work on your college road map. 

Back to School After COVID-19: 3 Tips for Hybrid Learning

It’s been twelve months since COVID-19 shut down our schools and pushed us all to virtual learning. After a very, very long year, it looks like Fairfax County Public Schools are finally heading back to school this month! Students are excited to see their friends, interact with their teachers face-to-face, and reclaim some sense of normalcy. While we’re all looking forward to this big step in that direction, hybrid learning will in many ways represent another “new normal” with its own set of challenges.

In this blog, I want to help you set your family up for success with hybrid schooling. Check out these three tips to go “back to school” the right way, then share this blog with a fellow parent who is counting down the days until that first school drop-off!

#1: Review Your Systems

No matter how your child learns—in-person, virtual, or hybrid—there are always due dates, assignments, and resources to keep organized. For many of us, the switch from in-person to virtual schooling last year required new systems for keeping things straight. The transition to hybrid learning will likely require further adjustments to your routine.

Take some time now to review your child’s systems for keeping track of assignments and due dates. When information is communicated both in-person and online, students will need a plan for keeping everything organized. Tools like Google Calendar, the DayBoard app, or even an old-school whiteboard can help your child track assignments and due dates in this new season. Once hybrid schooling begins, you may make additional tweaks as you figure out what works for your child and family, but go ahead and get some sort of systems in place as a starting point now.

#2: Have a Launching Pad

Before we went to online learning, we often recommended families create a “launching pad” for each child. This is a place, often a basket or cubby by the front door, where kids can put everything they need for school. The night before school, your child can place their school supplies, sports gear, and musical instruments in their launching pad. This cuts down on those early-morning frantic searches and the inevitable texts about forgotten “must-haves” as soon as you get to work.

When families stopped leaving the house for school (or much of anything else, really), there wasn’t as much need for a launching pad. With the move to hybrid schooling, however, it’s time to bring this routine back! Each night, encourage your child to gather everything they’ll need for the next day and put it in a designated “launching pad.” Doing this daily, regardless of whether the next day is virtual or in-person, will help your child stay organized and cut down on the back-and-forth confusion of a hybrid schedule.

#3: Work Ahead of Due Dates

Working ahead of due dates is a good practice no matter what, but it’s especially wise if your child is on block scheduling for hybrid school. We recommend students start assignments the day they’re assigned rather than the night before they’re due. That way, if there’s a question, your child has time to ask it in-person at school—especially if they only see their teacher in person once a week!

Working ahead like this can cut down on late-night homework stress, last-minute emails to the teacher, and incomplete or incorrect assignments. But we know this is easier said than done, especially if your child is a procrastinator by nature! Remember, we’re here to help.

Extra Support with Hybrid Schooling

Hybrid schooling requires strong executive functioning skills like time management and organization. These skills are critical to succeeding in school and life, but they must be learned! Of course, many students push back at their parents’ attempts to help in this key area. That’s where our expert coaches come in.

Our Executive Functioning coaches can help your child work independently and master those important skills. Click here to learn more and take our simple yes/no quiz to see if this program is right for your family!

Register Now!

Back to school 101: Simple steps for getting organized

At the beginning of the year, every student starts the year off organized. They have brand-new folders, a tidy binder and a clean backpack

But for many, maintaining neatness can be a real struggle. There are ways, though, that parents can help their kids get — and stay — organized.

Q: It’s one thing to be organized on the first day of school, but how can kids keep it up?

The real trick to helping kids stay somewhat neat is to set up a reoccurring system. I call this one “The Clean Sweep.” It’s a weekly appointment to get organized.

For example, you can use Sundays from 7:00 to 7:20 p.m., and everyone in your family is in on it. Everyone — not just your disorganized kid — is straightening up their materials and getting organized for the week.

It could be that your kids are organizing their binders and getting their papers ready for the upcoming week while you clean out your purse or perhaps organize the junk drawer.

It doesn’t really matter what it is, but the idea is to have that standing appointment to maintain neatness on a weekly basis.

Q: For some families, it’s the mornings that can be the most hectic. Any ideas?

A lot of the family energy during the school week is spent on mornings, making sure that everybody is ready to go and out the door on time.

But as they say, a truly productive morning starts the night before.

So instead of leaving everything until the morning of, a great way to stay organized is to do things like packing backpacks the night before, making sure that all assignments are in there and ready to go, and making lunches the night before.

You can even put it all together into a basket or in a specific spot next to the door each time — something we call “The Launching Pad.” It can be a bin, for example, or a box. But it goes by the door from which the child is going to exit in the morning.

So the night before, the idea is that kids get all of their things together — their backpack, their binders, their soccer gear, etc. — and they put that into the launchpad. So the next morning, they’re good to go, and they’re launching into a new day in an organized fashion.

Q: When it comes to actually starting homework, how do you ensure your kids are organized and ready to go?

First, I always encourage kids to make a plan before they start anything.

I’ll tell kids: “When you get home from school, don’t start with a subject. Don’t start with science, or English, or math, or history! You want to start with organization — and the first step you can take is to make a very simple to-do list.”

This to-do list could be as small as a few things needed to complete for homework each night.

When you make a list, it helps to visualize the tasks at hand. So, as parents, when our kids get home from school, instead of saying, “What do you have for homework?” ask, “What are your priorities tonight?”

It gets kids thinking about what they’re going to do first, second and third.

Q: Kids seem so overscheduled these days. What’s the best way to better manage time?

Sometimes, students think they need lengthy, dedicated time in which to study. And if they don’t have the perfect time and are not in the ideal mood, they won’t do it.

In fact, they can use any chunk of time to get studying done. I call these “weird windows.”

An example of a ”weird window” is the 15 minutes he or she’s waiting at a doctor’s office or that 20 minutes right before lacrosse practice starts. Those are weird windows, and you can chunk time for studying by getting a lot done in short periods of time.

Middle School: Help Them Ease Back Into Their Habits

Next up in our top tutor series: Middle Schoolers!

(Read about Elementary Students Here and High School Students Here) 

We asked one of our top tutors, Jan Rowe to share her thoughts on working with middle schoolers as we kick off 2019.

What’s so hard for middle school kids about January?

Jan: January can be a little difficult for kids coming off of the holiday break because before the break, they have worked so hard at establishing good habits for the first few months of the school year. But then during the holidays, they get out of their habits and sleep in, stay up late, things like that.

Whenever January comes around, it’s a little difficult for them to get right back into those habits that they had formed at the beginning of the school year. So not only are students forgetting some of the information that they learned, they also have to establish those habits again.


How do you approach this with your students?

Jan: It’s family by family, but what I have taught is this. Whenever I start working with kids in January, it can be somewhat frustrating for them because they’re a little overwhelmed, thinking: “Oh my goodness! I’ve forgotten this, I’ve forgotten that. What do I do?”

So instead what we started doing is having a conversation about what’s coming up to get them mentally prepared: “Alright. What do you see that’s going to happen right away now that you’re back in school?”

Is there anything else parents can do to help?

Jan: Another big thing, especially with middle schoolers, is over the holidays they have free rein to stay up as late as they want. It is very difficult for them to get back to going to sleep at a reasonable time during January.

So the quicker they can start going back to sleep at the same time that they did during the school year, the easier the transition is to getting enough rest for the first week back.

Our Educational Coaches strike just the right balance of positive support, while also challenging students to be responsible and accountable for their schoolwork: the perfect formula for getting your son or daughter’s school habits back on track.

Click the link below if you think they could benefit from some extra help to get back on track.

Get Help with your Middle Schooler's Habits

Do Retakes Help or Hurt Our Kids?

Along with the test grades your child’s teachers have passed back over the last few weeks, may have come the following opportunity:

To retake those tests and try to improve the second time around.

On the face of it, this seems like an excellent policy.

It gives kids who might not be the best test takers the opportunity to accurately demonstrate what they know.

And to the extent that retakes serve that purpose, I’m all for them.

In practice though, I believe retakes have had negative consequences on both our student’s study skills and their preparedness for standardized tests.

First, they inflate grades… and our student’s perception of how well they know the material they’ve learned.

The most awarded grade in high school and in college continues to hold steady at an “A,” three times more common than it was in 1960.

Image Source: USA Today

This on its own wouldn’t be a problem, if we also saw the same trend with SAT scores. Unfortunately, that’s not the case (average SAT scores fell over the last decade).

While retake policies vary, most allow an averaging of the first and second test scores, with some allowing a complete replacement.

That means kids who would originally have received a 60 (and maybe take a hard look at their study routine) can retake and end up with a B or an A.

Second, they affect our student’s ability to take standardized tests.

We receive calls from parents almost every day with stories of students who have amazing grades (sometimes well above a 4.0 with advanced credits), yet unexpectedly low SAT or ACT scores.

These are diligent, hard working kids who care deeply about their grades.

They’re doing the homework, they’re participating in class, they’re working hard on group projects, but they’re not always doing well on tests.

So they retake the test and bring up their grades, but don’t address the core problem: they weren’t ready when the test was given.

As the author of this Washington Post piece puts it:

“When my son told me he’d just retake his math test if he did poorly, we had a long discussion about what it means to be organized… If he studies and does poorly, that is one thing. But falling back on a retake… isn’t going to cut it.”

So is the answer abolishing the retake policy?

No, but I do think we have to make sure we’re preparing kids in the first place with the study skills they need.

12 School Organizing Tips To Start The Year Strong (For All Ages)

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There’s that famous quote that holds true in almost every area in life: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

For our purposes though, let’s amend it slightly:

Eighty percent of school success is showing up AND staying organized.

I’ve worked with tremendously gifted students for whom learning came easy, but their performance in school did not reflect their true abilities. I’ve also worked with many students over the years who struggled to pick new things up, but managed to keep at it, stay motivated, and achieve success.

Surprisingly, it’s organization that usually makes or breaks students’ level of success in school, because it’s one of those “cornerstone” habits that impacts almost ever other area in their academic lives.

So whether your child is:

  • In elementary school and just starting to get the school routine down
  • In middle school and figuring out how to manage the increased workload in their classes
  • Or in high school and getting prepared for upper-level courses, SATs, and college applications

Below you’ll find a list of 12 school organizing tips for you to use to start off the year strong.

1. Set up a regular school “check in” time

First up is a common cliche in parenting: get involved.

Unfortunately, just “getting involved” in your child’s schoolwork isn’t quite the right approach, because more is not always better, and sometimes you can create even an even bigger issue than you started off with in the first place by being nitpicky or overbearing.

So before you jump in, spend a little time to think and determine what level of involvement you’re going to have with homework, grades, and other aspects of their academics. This way you have a good idea of what you need to discuss with them before you start.

Then, set up a regular meeting time with your son or daughter to talk each week about assignments, what’s going on in class, upcoming tests, and any other concerns they might have.

This shouldn’t be a lecture, so frame it as a conversation: “Can we set aside a few minutes to talk each week about school?” And leave it open for them to discuss how they’re feeling and what they would like to see you do better.

2. Don’t nag

Now that you’ve established a line of communication with your child, it’s extremely important to then give them the space they need to get organized and figure out how to manage their schoolwork in a way that works for them.

Kids may not immediately see the benefits of staying organized, but constant reminders are the last thing they want to hear. So when you are helping them get organized this year, make it clear that you don’t want to nag, you just want to set them up for success.

Then because you have a regular meeting time set up to discuss school together, use that time to suggest changes, voice your concerns, and make sure that they’re staying on track.

3. Set up a homework routine

Making the best use of time after school can be a BIG struggle, especially for busy families. Your kids just finished sitting in class all day, and the last thing that they want to be thinking about is studying and homework.

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That’s why this is one of those times that can benefit tremendously from setting up a routine that you hold to, especially for elementary and middle school students.

First, set a regular start time to help avoid the “I’ll do it later” syndrome. This could be:

  • Right after school
  • After 30 min break
  • Before dinner
  • After dinner
  • Right before bedtime

And consider scheduling in some downtime after school or other activities to give younger students a break.

For high schoolers it’s hard to tell them exactly when they have start, but using one of those “blocks” as a general rule can help curb the late-night stress of realizing it’s time for bed and they’re homework isn’t done.

4. Keep homework contained (but mobile)

Another problem that crops up during homework time is the seeming explosion of papers and books and binders all across the house.

Now interestingly, studies are now showing the kids are more productive when they vary where they do their homework. But that being said, it can be hard to stay organized when they’re constantly shifting spots.

So first off, make sure you’ve designated at least three spots that homework can be completed and try to stick to them. This will help eliminate some of the clutter if you have a space cleared off already.

Then, for younger students, you can try putting together a mobile organizer for all their school supplies that they can take with them from spot to spot. For older students in middle or high school, you can try helping to set up their backpack so that it permanently holds all of the supplies they’ll need to do their homework on a regular basis. This will also allow them to do homework during study hall, breaks, at the library, after practice, etc.

5. Get everything ready the night before

Now a lot of the family energy during the school week is spent on mornings, making sure that everybody is ready to go and out the door on time. But as they say, a truly productive morning starts the night before.

So instead of leaving everything until the morning of, a great way to stay organized is to do things like packing backpacks the night before the, making sure that all assignments are in there and ready to go, and making lunches the night before.

You can even put it all together into a basket or in a specific spot next to the door each time, something we call “The Launching Pad.”

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You can even have them set aside outfits for the next day. Say hello to less stressful more smooth school day mornings… just make sure to do it all early enough that everyone still gets to bed on time.

6. Improve the sleep schedule

A big part of staying organized is actually having enough focus during the day to make sure that you remember assignments, that papers go in the right places, and you have the ability to sit down without distraction and study or do homework on time.

And probably the number one contributing factor to that is getting enough sleep at night.

So making sure your child is getting to bed at the same time consistently will help improve their level of focus throughout the day. A great way to do this is to set an electronics curfew and enforce an hour of quiet time before bed for winding down.

This may not be a popular decision especially if you have kids who are older and in high school but they’ll thank you when they’re not dragging when they get out of bed the next morning.

7. Use color coding

A great way to make organization fun, especially for younger kids, is to use color coding. Now that’s not to say it can’t be helpful for older students as well, because the research does shows that it can help with visual memory. But figuring out how to get your kids engaged in the organizing process can be difficult, and this is one way to let them have some say over how they want to do it.

You can have them organize their notebooks and binders by color (e.g. math is green, science is red, etc.), or even go as far as using specific colored pens and pencils for either different types of assignments or different subjects.

And let’s face it who doesn’t love going to Target or Walmart to pick out some new stuff!

8. Label and organize binders and notebooks

Then once you have some initial color coding in place, you can further organize all of your notebooks and binders by adding in some labeling.

So not only can you have a binder for a specific subject or subjects but you can also designate certain sections within them for notes, homework assignments, study materials for tests etc. You can also create labels for things like papers that need to be signed and returned to the teacher, returned assignments that are already graded, and any longer-term homework or projects that aren’t due right away.

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Again this is a great way to get your child engaged in the process by allowing them to figure out what organization method would work best and to run with it, so put out the suggestion, and the let them determine how to get it implemented.

9. Schedule a weekly “Clean Sweep”

Even the most organized among us tend to build up clutter over time, no matter how hard we try.

So a great way to combat this is to schedule a 20 minute pre-arranged session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean and get organized.

Not only will this help your kids stay on track with their school organization efforts, but will also help foster a sense of family involvement so that it’s not just that your child is being singled out. They can see you and other members of the family doing the same.

10. Archive old assignments

Along those same lines, your kids are also going to have a buildup of old papers and assignments that aren’t necessarily relevant to what they’re doing in school right now.

Archiving and properly treating (i.e. not throwing them out too soon) all assignments should be a regular part of your organization routine.

A great rule of thumb is to make sure that you’re keeping old tests and quizzes and then tossing everything else. That way if there are any cumulative test throughout the year, your child will be able to reference back to previous questions to study, and will know which areas they need to work on where they may have gotten marked off previously.

11. Use an agenda book

It’s incredible the impact just getting something down on paper can have.

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So for students in middle and high school, an agenda book (or something like it) should be the official holding place of all things important. So encourage your child to fill it out with what homework is due, what tests are coming up, projects or after school activities, and anything else that’s important to remember each day.

Then once it’s down on paper it’s going to be easier for your son or daughter to figure out how to schedule time to complete their assignments based on when they’re due and how important they are.

12. Create a calendar for extracurricular activities

Finally creating a calendar for extracurricular activities is a great way to get the entire family on the same page.

Maybe you have a swim team practice on the schedule twice a week from 4:00 – 7:00. Maybe there’s band practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5:00 – 6:00. Maybe there’s a big quarterly science project due at the end of the month. Whatever it is, getting it on a calendar the whole family can see will help everyone stay informed and on the same page.

You can even take a step further and give every person a different color to stay even more organized!

Time to get organized this school year!

Although these are just a few organization techniques that you can apply to your kids’ schoolwork and other activities, they can have a huge impact if used regularly.

That being said, there are a virtually unlimited number of organization ideas you can try, so don’t feel limited to just this list. Use it as a starting point that experiment and customize for what makes sense for your family.

Then, if you come up with something that works great, or if you have something that you want to share that’s not included in this list, go ahead and leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear what works best for you!

The School Routine: 8 Painless Ways To Start Easing Back In

school routine image1Every summer has a rhythm to it…

In June, the whole family is excited! Your kids are “free at last,” and you’ve finally earned yourself a well-deserved break from the before and after school routine.

Then July rolls around. Prime vacation time. It’s the middle of summer and everyone is ready to get away… whether that’s to the beach, to visit family, or just for a road trip or two.

Some pro-active families are keeping up with reading and maybe some practice assignments here and there… but for most, schoolwork couldn’t seem further away.

Then there’s August… the “wind-down” month. Maybe you’re getting in some last minute vacation time, but everyone has the first day of school in the back of their minds, whether they care to admit it or not.

And although summer should be enjoyed, the problem is: if you’re not careful, August is gone, and the first day of school hits the whole family like a ton of bricks.

Your kids are…

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Image credit: JON_CF

…trying to scramble last minute to get their summer reading done so that they’re not left behind in class.

…now having to sacrifice most of their previously free time to do homework and study – something they haven’t done in months.

…waking up WAY earlier.

And you’re having to manage them through that whole process, not to mention adjusting your schedule to pack lunches, get them to school on time, and make sure they’re actually getting their assignments done.

But, there is an alternative…

In today’s post, we’ll cover 8 things we recommend you start now, so that you can slowly ease the family back into the school routine without it being such a shock to the system.

Not only will this be more comfortable for everyone involved, it’ll also set the stage for a more successful school year once the end of August does finally hit. Getting off on the right foot sets a great tone for the rest of the year and leave the whole family better off in the process.

1.Get the ball rolling on summer reading or other assignments

school routine image3First, make sure you set aside some time to address any required assignments or a reading list that may have been provided by your child’s school.

If you can catch it now, and then plan out time to work on those assignments, you can avoid that last-minute scramble to finish up books, math packets, and other summer assignments during the days leading up to the start of school.

A great way to get summer reading done, especially if your child finds it a bit daunting, is to set aside time for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). This works best when everyone is getting in on the “DEAR” action… so come up with a time as a family (after lunch, after dinner, etc.) where everyone in the house puts down what they’re doing, turns off all electronics, and sits down to read.

2. Start the sleep schedule shift

If you’re looking for a recipe for disaster, spend 3 months getting your kids used to staying up late with a lazy 10am wake-up, and then abruptly force them out of bed at 6am to head off to learn for 6 hours straight.

Well without realizing it, this is exactly what happens to most of our families in the lead up to the start of school. Whoops!

Now of course we’d never intentionally send our kids off to school in a zombie-like sleep deprived state, but it is important to keep in mind that study after study shows that loss of sleep for kids can negatively impact not only their performance in school, but also their physical and mental health.

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Image credit: Adrian Sampson

So that being said, it’s a good idea to address the summer vs. school year sleep schedule difference at least one week before school starts to get your kids (and you) adjusted before the first day.

First, schedule a family meeting to sit down and establish what that schedule is going to look like. What time are you going to wake up? And what time to does bedtime need to be in order to get enough sleep each night?

Then, each day leading up to school, set the alarm clock a little bit earlier so that by the final day of that week, they’ll be getting up at almost the same time they need to get up in order to be ready for school. So if that’s 6am, the schedule might look like this

Day 1 – 9:00 am wake-up
Day 2 – 8:30 am wake-up
Day 3 – 8:00 am wake-up
Day 4 – 7:30 am wake-up
Day 5 – 7:00 am wake-up
Day 6 – 6:30 am wake-up
Day 7 – 6:00 am wake-up

But waking up is actually only half of the equation, because is your child isn’t also starting to wind back bedtime, it’s going to be harder and harder for them to stick to the schedule and they’ll start losing sleep before school even starts! Not good.

So the second part of this trick is to also set a bedtime alarm that follows a similar adjustment schedule. There may be some moaning and groaning, but if you make sure to explain and set the expectations up front, it will help your son or daughter understand why they’re doing it. Plus they’ll (hopefully) be tired enough by waking up earlier that this isn’t too much of a “task.”

Execute this plan, and you can help smooth out one of the biggest “shocks to the system” when starting school again.

3. Start the morning routine

Now the “waking up” piece of the puzzle is taken care of, your family is getting ready to wake up on time for school. But then what do they do after that?

That might seem like a silly question, but having a morning routine established that makes sure your son or daughter are off to school in the morning with everything they need each day is another key component of reducing stress and disorganization during the school week for the whole family.

Because there generally isn’t a structured routine in the morning during the summer, all too often, even if everyone is up on time, mornings during the first week of school turn into a mad dash of collecting backpacks, school supplies, lunches and breakfast before ushering everyone out the door.

So when you have that family meeting to establish the new wake-up schedule, also take some time to discuss what needs to happen each morning. Talk it through so that the expectations are clear, and include some “night-before” preparation as well to make mornings easier.

Then, to take it a step further, actually turn it into a fun visual checklist for them to follow that you can post on the fridge or front door.

During the lead up to school, practice waking up at the set time and then slowly adding in steps of the new routine – whether that’s getting dressed and brushing their teeth, getting their backpack ready (try the Launching Pad!), or making sure to be at the table ready for breakfast…

And before you know it, the first day is here and they’re off to school with everything they need.

4. Plan out lunches ahead of time

Okay ready for another one we usually don’t think about until the first week of school?

Packing. Lunches.

This is definitely one of those things where if you get off to a good start with some healthy habits, they can be pretty easy to maintain. But if you get off to a rocky start (e.g. sending them to school with a few bucks, which if we’re honest are probably spent on snacks…) it can be hard to change those habits mid-stream.

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Image credit: Melissa

So let’s get the routine down now. Again, have a sit down with your kids and brainstorm a few different easy lunch ideas that they’d like to eat, but will also be healthy enough to keep their energy levels up throughout the school day (and avoid the post-lunch crash).

A good formula for this is (more details here):

  • A fruit and veggie
  • Protein
  • A drink
  • A small dessert
  • Whatever else rounds out the meal

The week before (the magic time window) is a great time to go shopping and start making lunches again so that the whole family gets back into the swing of it before the big day.

5. Organize the homework space and gather up school supplies

Now it’s time to take stock of what needs to happen after the school day – primarily, where homework and studying gets done!

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Identify a few places your child can do homework this year (the bedroom isn’t a great idea) and give the spots you’ve select a once-over to determine what you might need. Then make a list and plan a trip to the local office supply store to get what you need.

Now, if your son or daughter is on the younger side, many schools provide a list of materials you’ll need for the start of school (and sometimes teachers will make modifications), so it’s probably a good idea to plan your school supply run after you’ve been to the open house…

6. Attend the open house

Most schools have an open house. Make the commitment to go, even if you’ve heard it all before. Here’s why:

When school starts up again, parents tend to most worried about… you guessed it… academics.

What are the requirements?

When are the tests?

What does my son or daughter need to know in order to perform well and learn what they need to?

Now’s the time to start engaging with the process and answering those questions for yourself so that you know what the expectations are going into the new year.

For your kids though? It’s the two F’s: friends and fitting in.

This is especially true during a transition year, either to middle school or high school, when they’re going to be encountering what seems like a whole new world of people, teachers, and routines.

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Thankfully, the open house will help with all of these things. As parents we can get a sense of the requirements being put on our kids, and our kids can start the process of getting comfortable in their new environment by:

(1) Working their locker. Have them do a trial run 3 times with their locker combination to make sure they’re confident they can get in and out when they need to.

(2) Walking the path from class to class. Again, do this with them 3 times during the open house so that they know where they’re going, and feel comfortable during the day.

Although simple, these small details my a surprisingly large difference in how kids feel about starting school again. So the more you can help them build up their new routine, the smoother the first week will be.

7. Make a checklist

Now having family meetings and going to the open house are all well and good… But it’s easy enough to get caught up in trying to squeeze the most out of the end of summer and forget to tackle your school lead-up preparation until it’s too late.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, after the open house, make a checklist of what you need to have ready for the start of school. Make sure everyone in the family has something to do so that the burden isn’t only on you.

Then, pick a regular time each week (or day if you’re close to the start of school) to go over what’s left as a family. You don’t have to be a taskmaster, but you do have to set some accountabilities for the family so that everyone is better off when the school year hits.

8. Get involved from the start (and put yourself in their shoes)

And finally, if nothing else make sure you’re setting the tone for the school year right at the start by making the commitment to be involved.

Be sure to discuss not only where homework will be done but at about what time it should start. Discuss these logistics with your child and get their input. And then apply that same process to each important aspect of their school lives.

Being involved doesn’t mean micro-managing their schedule and how they accomplish their schoolwork… but it does mean having the discussion with them about it.

Perhaps most importantly, when you’re doing this, put yourself in their shoes:

  • What are they thinking about?
  • What things are they worried about that you might take for granted?
  • And what can you do to help (in a way that gives them the autonomy they need to feel in control)?

Ask these questions on a regular basis, and for the most part, it’ll be hard to go wrong.

So that’s it! Eight ways you can re-start the engines on the school routine now

…so that when that first day of school hits, you, your kids, and the whole family will be ready for smooth sailing this year.

And if you have any other suggestions for how to make this school year the best one yet, just leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

3 Habits To Try Now for a Successful School Year

It’s the start of a new year, and if you’re like many parents across our area, you’re looking for new ways to help your kids develop strong habits at home and school. Last Thursday, I spoke with WTOP on ideas to make a positive change for the new year.


Q: How can parents help to create better habits, both at school and at home?

With the start of the new year, it’s common for parents to want to help their kids do a lot of things — and at the top of the list is to be more organized. However, a parent’s definition of “organized” can be completely different than their kid’s! To maintain organization throughout the year, it’s important to include organization into your routine.  If it’s your child’s study area, help her get it neat and tidy to start the new year, and then snap a picture of it. A photo gives kids a point of reference to look at down the line. This idea works great for kids’ rooms, too.


Q: What about procrastination? That seems to be a big issue for kids.

Procrastination is incredibly common, especially when it comes to work that requires planning ahead. For example, if there’s a book report due in three weeks, expecting your elementary schooler to break down such a big task into smaller chunks might be unrealistic. Kids often need parental help because time feels vague and intangible. You can make time feel more concrete by tying it to something they love. Let’s say your son is passionate about baseball. If you’re feeling creative, take a pack of baseball cards and divide them evenly into four piles and each time he completes one of the small tasks leading to completion, give him those cards as a reward. You’re not bribing; you’re rewarding him for getting his work done.


Q: Focus and attention to detail are things that parents may also want to improve. What can we doStudent Teacher Prepping for New SAT?

We all want our kids to pay attention, especially when it comes to the quality of their assignments. So we say things like, “Don’t forget to check your work!” but that rarely helps. I often think of task completion like the bell curve. When you’re getting started, you’re climbing that hill. When you’ve finished, you’re sliding down the back side, just wanting to be done, thinking about the next thing. To kids, asking them to muster up the effort to go back and review every last question and climb back up the hill usually doesn’t have a good outcome. Instead, say, “As you do that math worksheet, circle the hardest ones, and just go back and check those” or “Just review three of the ten math problems.” By making a difficult task feel easier, kids are much more likely to complete it.


Help! My Child Isn’t Excited About The New School Year!

parent-teacher-conferenceA new school year brings new classes, schedules, and after-school activities full of excitement. But for some, a new year means a new set of nerves and anxiety. If you’ve noticed your child is avoiding school supply shopping or hasn’t checked to see what friends are in their classes, they may be nervous for the year to start. Many kids wonder, “Who will my new teacher be?” “What if I don’t remember anything from last year?” “Do my friends have the same lunch I do?”

As a parent, it’s normal to want to protect your child from all the things they think are scary. The good news is, these fears are completely normal, and they can be overcome. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to reduce the “Back to School” nerves.

Let them know what to expect

I recommend sitting down with your child a couple nights this month and talk about what school will be like. If your daughter is going into middle school, let her know how block scheduling works. If your son is going into 3rd grade, talk to him about the subjects he may be learning. For high schoolers, talk to them about parking at school on time and getting to their locker. Having open discussions allows your children to feel more comfortable about what may be keeping them from being excited. Remind them that you too were a student once and their fears are normal!

Do a practice run of the first day of school

Take a day and practice waking up early, getting dressed, and waiting for the bus stop! It may seem silly, but when the first day of school comes around, your child will be less nervous because they will have already done it once before. Most schools have open houses in the summer, so you can also visit the classroom, playground, or cafeteria. For middle and high schoolers, take locker day to walk around the school and find the classrooms. Work on getting their locker combination memorized and that they can actually open their locker! Do as many practice runs as it takes to get your child comfortable.

Pack and organize materials the night before

Pack the backpacks up the night before and place them next to the door. Make lunch (stay away from sugary snacks – research shows sugary snacks increase anxiety) and keep it fresh in the refrigerator. Set out a new “first day of school” outfit and make sure your child is getting as much sleep as possible before the first day.

Don’t drag out the goodbyes

For some students, dragging out a goodbye brings more anxiety than necessary. You don’t have to show tough love, but try to keep the tears in until you are out of their sight. Tell them how excited they’ll be when they come home to tell you how great their first day was!

You can find more tips on back to school on our blog post! What kind of tips do you do with your kids to ease “First Day of School” nerves?