8 Tips for Transitioning Back to School
Back to school season can be a tough one. Adjusting to new routines presents a challenge not only for parents but also for students and their brains. Getting back into the routine of school and homework is very difficult tasks for many kids, especially those with attention and learning challenges.
However, there are many things parents can do with their kids that will ease the transition and increase their ability to focus and ultimately yield better homework and study time. Creating these habits at the start of the school year, when the workload is typically lighter, will benefit your child when the workload starts to pile up.
Create a working space for homework. It’s hard to focus on homework in the dining room when siblings are running around, mom is cooking dinner, and the television is on. Be mindful of your child’s needs and try to create a quiet space that can be theirs for homework.
Start preparing helpful snacks. Having sugar before study time is one of the worst ways to prepare our brains for good work. Sugar impairs communication between the brain cells, leads to a sugar crash, and increases anxiety. Anxiety creates discomfort and a desire to run away from the given situation. So giving your child sugar before homework will most likely only have negative effects (and watch out for those granola bars and crackers that boast “natural” or “healthy”…they often contain sugar). Protein is a power snack for the brain. Nuts, plain Greek yogurt, lunch meat, and peanut butter with celery are all great protein options to help prep your child’s brain for better focus and an energized brain.
Practice deep belly breathing. Belly breathing has been proven to lower anxiety and relax the central nervous system, thus lowering any erratic energy levels and instead associating homework or focus time with relaxation. Deep breathing is something that can be done all throughout homework time and as often as needed.
Create a routine for homework each day. Having your child in a routine will help them know what to expect. Routines also provide a feeling of security for children as it limits the chances of unexpected, sometimes stressful situations (as much as you don’t want to be up until all hours helping your child with homework, they don’t want to, either!). Creating a routine, with planned breaks, will help eliminate late or rushed homework and help your child understand what is expected of them each day. If you have a busy schedule with sports or the like, even having a clearly communicated routine with homework always being done in between practices in 30-minute increments will help.
Communicate accurately. Be sure your child knows what you’re expecting. If the task is a large one (like a multi-step homework assignment, for example) break it down into steps and explain to them which steps to do first. If necessary and appropriate for age, sit with them to help walk them through the steps. Once they perform these steps accurately with you, they will build confidence in doing it on their own.
Do some quick brain exercises. These exercises are all effective in promoting communication within the brain and enhancing underlying processing skills. Sometimes kids just need a movement break, so getting the body moving will often make the next 10 minutes of focus time easier.
Do heavy work. If your child is one who fidgets often and can’t sit still in their seat, heavy work may be of more benefit than you think. Heavy work is anything that creates healthy tension in our bodies. Push-ups, pull-ups, carrying heavy boxes, crab crawls—all of these are heavy work activities that provide our brains and bodies with more input and thus create a feeling of security with where we are in space. This can have a calming effect on many fidgety kids.
Do focus activities throughout the day. These can be anywhere from 1-10 or 15-minute activities, depending on what your child can handle. Simple things like staring contests and the quiet game help to build a sense of concentration in children. You can even make your own game, having your child stare at something particular (like a shiny sticker on the wall or a stuffed animal) and time them. Challenge them to try and beat their time every day. This is also a great game for encouraging deep breathing. For older children and teens, practice mindfulness activities, which have been proven to reduce attention problems.
Have you tried any focus activities that have yielded good results? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments.