By PATRICK MCNAMARA
Are you dealing with tears at homework time? Again? Middle school can be a difficult time, full of changes for students — bigger schools, bigger workloads. Parents tell us that simply asking, “Do you have any homework tonight?” can be enough to trigger a meltdown in their kids.
There is hope. Middle school is a great time to develop study habits that will help them through their academic career well beyond middle school. This is an age where their brains are ready to absorb and act as a sponge.
Homework may not be at the top of your child’s priority list, particularly when middle school offers new activities, athletics or social opportunities. Sometimes it will be simple and fun, but most of the time homework is just another task a kid must get done instead of playing video games or hanging out with friends. It’s up to Mom and Dad to help their child set up the structure to get it all done.
Here are six smart study skill tips for middle schoolers:
1. Rate the subjects — and build in breaks. Talk with your child about which subjects are easiest and which are most difficult, says Kimberly Ewing, a middle school academic skills instructor. Once they know how they’re going to attack the work ahead of them, make a checklist. Begin with the hardest. This will get it out of the way. Have them set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes and then offer a break. After that move on to a less difficult subject.
2. Keep them in their seats — with incentives. Allow students some fun at their desk or offer an incentive to push them forward on their studies. Maybe it’s a bottle of polish to paint a nail or two as they complete assignments or a fidget spinner. Maybe allow time playing video games, or on their phone once they finish math.
3. Create fun study guides. Have students use questions from text books or homework as prompts. Parents can help kids make their own study guides on subjects where they need an extra boost. Websites like Quizlet or Kahoot also make it easy for parents and students to customize online games that are both relevant to their own school work — and fun. Make it a game, and a fun way to review.
4. Highlight. Teach students to highlight key points on a subject. In the early stages they may need to read first, and then go back and re-read to see what those key points are. But over time they’ll understand what key points are important. The goal is to hone in on the critical details.
5. Use a planner. Research says, that the processing of using your hand to write something down helps kids remember it. A good old fashion planner is ideal, but some may prefer to download an organizational app to keep all their assignments and deadlines in order. To encourage a paper planner make it fun for them, let them shop around for something they think looks cool. Have them manage their own homework assignments, extracurricular activities, project due dates, and even their friend’s birthday.
6. Assess, then look ahead. At the end of each week, take some time to talk to your child about how things went at school and what’s coming up. Ask them what their plan is to stay ahead and if they need help offer some advice.
The goal, of course, is to get the best study skills you can with the least amount of drama and nagging. Sometimes that means outside help. Homework battles can wreak havoc on an entire family. While we all want to be there for our kids and help them through difficult situations, taking emotions out of the equation can make all the difference.
Instead of fighting with your child each night about finishing a project or stressing about not understanding the math homework, academic coaches and tutors can provide outside support. By acting as a neutral third party, parents can support their child in a more effective way while the student learns skills they can use for the rest of their lives.
Patrick McNamara is the Executive Director of Sylvan Learning of Albany and Clifton Park, which provides tutoring services and academic coaching (www.SylvanLearning.com).