Teaching study skills to kids is essential. It rarely comes naturally. There are a lot of tools we can give our children. You need to be modeling it in your own life, so make it a priority to try and get yourself organized. Try and start young. Great habits start young. However, it is not too late if your kids are older, but it will take a lot more effort and intentionality. I want to give you some ideas and tools today that will help teach study skills, create good habits and learn organizational techniques for school kids of all ages. I want to give you a variety of ideas so you can figure out what works well for you, your family and your kids individually. Remember that each one of your children is unique. What works for one may not work for another. You will want them to have some ownership over their study habits, so you may want to present a variety of ideas and let them choose a direction that makes sense in their mind. As long as you have systems in place and are consistent (often times the hardest part), I believe you will see your own children’s study skills greatly improving. Hopefully, you will find these ideas very helpful. I also want to point you to another resource – Sylvan’s Learning blog called Mom Minded. It has some great resources for you. Sylvan is also going to be giving away, to two lucky winners, the book “The Power of Habit,” by Charles Duhigg. This book will help you learn more about establishing good habits. The school year has just begun, so the resources I give you today, the ones you find on Mom Minded and the book giveaway should more than prepare you to start the year off right with great study skills and organization.
First, it is important for your child to have a clean, organized space to work. This space may be in an office or bedroom. It may be at your dining room table. If it is in a central place, make sure they have easy access to materials they might need. Also, make it a great environment by turning off the television and keeping distractions at a minimum. Some kids will focus just fine with lots of distractions and others will be all over the place. Know your kids and give them the space that will most set them up for success.
The space you create should have all the needs they might have. As you go along, you may realize there are things missing to complete tasks, and you will want to refill immediately. Kids can finish tasks more efficiently if you, as the parent, have a prepared and stocked place to make it all happen.
Creating routine is so important for kids. It is especially critical if you have a child with autism. For them to know the schedule ahead of time and have the security of a routine greatly aids in their personal success. It is great for all kids. I am a fly by the seat of my pants type of person. However, this year I am wanting to establish more of a rhythm in my home. Therefore, I now have a small, simple white (or in this case blue) board where I can create a visual reminder of the daily routine. I wrote in black things that I would like to keep consistent on a daily basis. The pink represents the daily changes. In the routine, I want to create some free choice/free time so we don’t always feel so scheduled. My first grader, Abby, tends to get hyped up by stimulating experiences. Last year, after school time was super challenging. She’d be fine…then hyper…then fall apart. I have seen that when she has a routine and established quiet time as mandatory after school, she does a lot better. Hopefully this schedule will help. I will adjust as needed.
For kids who are starting to have a lot more work to navigate, I recommend having a system in place to look at the daily tasks. I love white boards. Kids love white boards. When I was tutoring, I always had my kids work on white boards because it felt less like work. I don’t know why. What is great is that when they are done they can cross it out. Theoretically they could erase, but there is something very satisfying in seeing what has been established.
I recommend having a system in place to look at the overall week as well. This white board (above) does exactly that. I think getting a weekly overview is very helpful for kids. Do you notice how I color coded? This can be extremely helpful also. Each subject has a different color. What mom needs to do is circled in red. Kids can sit down and fill this out after school on Monday. Then, they can fill in more assignments as needed throughout the week. As they complete tasks, they will be able to erase or cross out. This will help them be able to look ahead to what might be due at the end of the week. You can color code in a variety of ways. Maybe green (go) means work on immediately. Yellow (slow) indicates that you should be working on it a little each day. Red (stop) might mean it is coming up down the road so don’t forget, but there is nothing pressing at the time. Figure out what works for you. I created a very simple printable form of this for those who would like to have something to print rather than spending the money on a white board.
Since my kids are still young, this is how I will be using the weekly white board. This will have our weekly activities outlined for the kids. It will be a visual reminder of the weekly rhythm we have established. I like the idea of having both the daily and weekly visual reminder of expectations.
The next idea is an idea to have a pocket folder for your child. For younger children, this would probably just be one folder. For older children, it might be a pocket folder (like a peechee) for each subject. I established this idea when I was tutoring, and it was simple and worked really well for some kids. The main idea was that one pocket indicated things to work on. Pull the sheet out of there. Once it is completed, it goes in the “to turn in” pocket. You also may need to have a blank sheet of paper in the front of the “to work on” pocket to write down assignments and page numbers that aren’t given on a worksheet. This solution is very good for the child who has things go missing. So many parents would say to me, “I don’t know where the paper went. We worked on it together, so I know he did it.” Some kids can’t seem to get the paper from their desk to the teacher’s hands. To have a “turn in” section, your child will know right where to go for assignments or papers that need to be returned to school.
The next solution works well for older kids (I would say Jr. High and up, but younger kids might like it too). This is a “pocket” calendar/organizers. It gives both a monthly and weekly overview. It is the same idea as the white boards shown above, but something that kids can keep with them in the school bag to pull out in every class. This is a personal choice as to the look and design. I like to keep it simple, like the one pictured above. Size is personal too, but I like the one above, which is 9 inches x 6 inches
Color coding really inspires kids…especially girls who like things bright and pretty. I think it can be extremely helpful for boys as well. Colors are a quick visual reminder. As a parent, it is great to have colors that are assigned to you. For example, the green and the blue (above) require parent involvement. As they are highlighting their upcoming workload and assignments, a quick glance will show you where you need to step into the equation. The orange “project” highlighter will help you ask the right questions. Do you need special supplies for this? How are we preparing ahead for this so all the work doesn’t fall on the night before? These highlighters can work in some of the calendars shown above. If you are using a white board, the different color of pens can always have special meaning. Try and keep the color meanings consistent and maybe post a reminder of what the colors mean in their study area until this is really established well
My final tip for the day involves preparing your child for test taking and memorization. Two words: index cards. This method of studying is what got me successfully through school. On one side of the card will be a word. On the other side, a definition. Above, you will notice the definition for “corrosion” on top. The next vocabulary word is absorption, and the definition for that would be on the back. This is perfect for studying vocabulary. However, it can help in any type of memorizing. It may have names of math equations on one hand the the equation on the back. It might have “The Seven Steps of the Scientific Process” on one side and those steps written out on the other side. How I work index cards is I encourage kids to be making these cards throughout the year as they come across vocabulary, formulas or ideas in textbook reading, lecture or study guides. Then, when it is test time, you don’t need to be writing them all out at the last minute (although I have had my fair share of doing that too). You can even encourage the studying of these words and ideas daily, so that it is engrained by the time the test comes. That’s the A+ student for you. Your kids will have a big stack of index cards to study from for any upcoming test. That can feel overwhelming with a big stack. What I do is study a small handful (5-10 at a time) and only move on when I know those well. I add on new ones and put them in the mix. I continue adding on a few at a time and only adding once the others are known well. As the stack gets bigger, I might have some that have escaped my memory. I start creating piles of “I know this well” and “still working on it.” As studying continues, I can add more and more to the “I know this well” pile. I always return back to that pile before the test to assure it really is in my brain. You can have these index cards in rubber banded stacks or on rings (as shown above). I don’t love the rings (even though that is what is pictured) because of the method I described above of adding a bit at a time and making piles. Once the test is over, label the pile of cards and keep them! They’ll come in handy during finals time. Make games out of the cards. Practice reading the definition and saying the word as well as reading the word and saying the definition. This will really establish the ideas in your brain. Practice with your kids. Let them practice alone. This becomes a real self-check situation for your child.
Finally, to keep you organized with kid’s artwork and school work coming back after graded, I would encourage you to check out my posts on storing children’s work.
I want to encourage you to start out he school year right be establishing healthy habits. As I said, this is not only a group of tips, it is a giveaway. You’ll be inspired by the book “The Power of Habit,” by Charles Duhigg, and I get to give 2…count it…2 of them away. Thanks, Sylvan. Don’t forget to check out Mom Minded for more ideas.