Spring fever and summer vacation have a pesky habit of interrupting kids’ academics. But skills students learn at the end of the school year form the foundation for future knowledge – and give them a leg-up on the next school year. Encourage your kids’ learning right up to the final bell. Here’s how.
1. Reassess the requirements
Consult the online grade book or meet with the teacher to see what work remains to be done. And don’t just look ahead on the calendar. This is the time to evaluate progress made since September and think about areas for improvement, says Alexandra Mayzler, author of Tutor in a Book and SAT DeMystified. Clear up confusion over missing grades and complete past-due work, even if there’s a penalty. Later learning builds on early lessons, and all course concepts may be covered on final exams.
Large projects and papers may require a series of steps. If your child skimped on initial steps – like research – or received poor grades for his work, he may need to redo it now. Add remedial work to the academic to-do list. It may take extra effort to complete a project and earn a good grade, but it may be impossible for kids to finish end-of-school assignments without filling in gaps.
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Even if students can’t recoup grade points, they shouldn’t ignore past failures, says Ned Johnson, self-proclaimed tutor-geek and president of PrepMatters, a Washington, D.C.-based test preparation company. “A student’s job is not just to learn, but to learn how to learn better,” says Johnson. “Study what went wrong with previous assignments or exams and help kids reengineer their approach.” Ask a teacher or tutor for a study-skills tune up. He may suggest learning strategies you hadn’t considered.
2. Make a plan
Headed into the home stretch, check kids’ books and binders to make sure they can go the distance, says Mayzler. Reorganize. Put notes in order. Get a bigger notebook if needed. Stock up on paper and printer ink. You don’t want to run out the night before a class project is due.
Break term papers, projects and study sessions into doable chunks and write test prep, project milestones and deadlines on a large desk calendar. Experts recommend students focus on a subject for no more than 45 minutes before taking a break – younger learners need even shorter sessions. Downtime allows the brain to consolidate learning and reenergize.
Kids’ schedules can get crowded with end-of-year events and spring sports. Make time for fun and friends. The transition between the school year and summer vacation can be emotional. All work and no play isn’t smart.
3. Ease anxiety
Late-night studying may leave kids too tired to concentrate. Maintain a healthy sleep schedule and sustain energy with nutritious food. Start kids off with a protein-packed breakfast and plan healthy snacks every two or three hours throughout the day. Brainwork burns fuel.
Kids may over-focus on failures in an effort to improve. Remind them of their strengths. Star students use their academic talents to overcome (or compensate for) weaknesses. Use teacher-provided study guides, or create your own using past homework, quizzes and exams. Study guides keep students from skipping over concepts accidentally and do double duty as at-home practice tests.
If your child has to make an oral presentation to the class, encourage her to rehearse in front of siblings or friends first, says Johnson. “It’ll be a little awkward, which is exactly the point.” Confronting jitters in a low-threat situation builds confidence and shows kids what to improve.
4. Learn what they don’t know
Children and teens tend to focus on what they know because it makes them feel accomplished, but it is important to learn what they don’t know, says Dr. Jane Stewart, founder of Optiminds tutoring and cognitive learning center.
“They need to look at the old tests and list what they need to learn,” Stewart says.
She says students should study six days a week, take a mental break on Friday after school, and then continue to go back and review what was learned over the week and semester as they near finals.
5. Keep a routine
“Life is like making cookies,” says Stewart. “You find a recipe or formula that works, and you stick to it.”
The more methodical people are, the more successful they are, which is why finding a method of studying and keeping it consistent is important for kids. They need to learn how to learn, says Stewart.
It is also important for kids to exercise every day to get some oxygen to their brain and keep them healthy, in addition to eating healthier.
“The brain likes carbs and proteins,” says Stewart. “They should start avoiding sugary and fried foods if they haven’t been already.”
Parents can also help by making sure students don’t over-schedule themselves and are well rested.
6. Encourage – don’t do.
It is important for parents to be the cheerleader for their students. If they are creating the study program and giving their children the answers, it is not helping them learn.
“They’re not making them independent,” says Stewart. “They have to practice studying on their own, just like they may practice sports.”
Parents should also avoid lecturing, because it makes the kids want to defy their parents – only hurting themselves. Stewart believes all talk in the house should be positive and encouraging.
The kids also need to understand the importance of getting good grades, which is why positive reinforcement is so important instead of lecturing about past failures.
This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for 2016.