Those lazy days of summer holidays are becoming distant memories already. Long, carefree days without clocks or chores - and late night television - are hard habits to break. The children are now out of swimmers and thongs and into uniforms, shoes and socks just in time for February’s heat and humidity. There’s the challenge of finding healthy but tempting morsels for the daily lunchboxes and the round of after school activities, with Mum or Dad’s taxi in full employment.
While we remember the luxury of time and relaxation that holidays bring, we also realise that the school year swings quickly into top gear and children and parents need to be ready to embrace the academic challenges. The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and the Higher School Certificate are the official faces of academic success at school, but real success is reflected in happy children who show pride in purposeful learning. I’m sure you, like me, want 2013 to be a positive learning experience for students and teachers. A good start to the year at school can be a big help in achieving a great finish. So, let’s begin the year with some helpful hints gleaned from the experts – those parents who have ‘been there and done that’.
One of the most important ways to begin the year - and one of the hardest things - is getting into routine.
Late night television and computer screens aren’t a problem when you can sleep in, but teachers quickly recognise those students whose late nights begin to catch up in afternoon classes. School is much harder and much more “boring” to a sleepy child. Difficult as it is, the best way for young children to attain restful sleep is a regular bed time and a predictable bedtime routine.
Remember the quiet minutes with your toddler before gently putting them into bed? These are special times for parents and children. Well, the ten year old may consider him or herself too old for all that, but in fact researchers show that a routine helps young and old to fall asleep quickly, and to sleep soundly. Science proves what parents already knew. Of course, researchers have also shown that screens before bed have the opposite effect on sleep patterns, so phones and games are best left out of the bedroom at night.
Getting teenagers to bed can be challenging and again, science has answers. There are actual hormonal explanations for the changes in teenage sleep patterns – though no-one has been able to find the explanation for the state of their rooms! However, teenagers still have to meet the day at the same time as their parents and siblings. They have to concentrate all day and into the night, with after school jobs and homework. Adolescents apparently need between nine and ten hours of sleep every night. Regularly not getting enough sleep can affect teenagers’ academic and sporting performance and may increase their risk of emotional problems such as depression. So, routines are even more important for older children, possibly with the addition of music and books to help them relax.
Of course, books at bedtime should be the rule for everyone. There’s no better way to put aside the cares of the day than to escape into a good story and, while television does provide good stories, it doesn’t let us control them like a good writer does. Children who are read to every night are much more ready for schooland achieve much better than those without this advantage.
Often, parents think that once their child ‘can read’ they don’t need to worry about that any more. Not so. Reading is a skill that continues to develop for ever. Year 7 students who have stopped reading every day can become Year 8 students who struggle in HSIE (Human Society and its Environment), Science and other information- rich subjects, as well as English.
Regular, shared dinner time is another important routine. It is the time for conversation, a skill recognised as valuable in every type of employment, as well as a means for parents to ‘keep up’ with the daily happenings. Our children are using their oral skills all the time in class and the primary and secondary public speaking and debating competitions reflect the excellent standards achieved. Regular practice in speaking is a great help from an early age. Another place for conversation is the car. On the way to training there are all sorts of topics for discussion, from the funny new billboard to the cute dog on the long lead; the news about the latest Knights/Jets controversy to serious concerns with family and friends.
The after school routine is also very important. Make sure the bag is emptied every night and repacked. There are few things worse than finding the rotting banana when you put your hand into the bottom of the bag. In high school, especially, it’s important to unpack the day’s books, check the diary and repack for the next day, before bed. This enables the emergency washing of the PE uniform for that last minute change of practical lesson, the quick rescue of newspapers from the recycling bin on the footpath for English research and the conversation about that note from the Maths teacher about unfinished homework, before they become causes for anxiety. These nightly routines help to establish good practice with time management so assignments and projects are less likely to be rushed midnight tasks and more likely to reflect your child’s learning.
The most important gift we can give our children as we send them off to a new school year is the confidence and resilience to persevere with assigned tasks and develop the skills they need to become contributing citizens of their world. The routines will certainly help, as will the loving relationships they build with their families, their friends and their God.
Mother of three and grandmother of one.
Studies Co-ordinator - English
St Peter’s Campus, All Saints College, Maitland