Get off to a great start

My favorite toy as a child was my race car set.  It had a race track with a groove down the middle of each lane.  Once you learned how to keep your car in that groove, those little cars would fly around that track.  The secret to winning was to get the car properly in the groove at the start of the race and keep it there.  If you were sloppy about getting your car in that groove, it didn’t make it around the first turn without flying off the track.
The same is true for the start of a school year. The long summer sets too many students up to fall out of their groove … and it’s not easy to get back on.  Our summers are too long for most students to remember their school routines.  I’m a big proponent of year-round schooling.  I would arrange for the same number of school days, but instead of twelve weeks off at one time, four shorter vacations of three weeks each season.  This would help our kids not to forget how to be students.
With that not yet being the case, parents must take into account that their students have fallen out of their academic groove.  My wife Rosemary spent ten years as a public school teacher and has talked about having to spend the first month of school reviewing the things that were taught the previous year.  Some students even forgot their times tables or how to read.  They just got out of the school groove.
As we end this long summer, at the top of a parent’s list needs to be getting off to a good start for this school year.  It’s not just the teacher’s responsibility.  As parents, we must do more than get our children their school supplies. We need to prepare them to succeed.
My race car set had different cars.  Some cars could stay in the groves when going around corners, but there were other cars that did better in the straight-aways. The same is true for our students.  All children are different, and you need to think about where they will need the most help when it comes to getting back into the school groove. 
For some children, getting out of bed and getting rolling was a challenge last year.  This habit can and should be conquered within the first few weeks.  Otherwise, you will spend an entire year coping with bad moods and arguments and the parent/child relationship will deteriorate early.  Get a plan together to put the morning “get out of bed and get rolling” responsibility directly on the child’s shoulders.  Establish a consequence such as going to bed early that night for not getting up in time and getting everything done that needs to be done.  Then get out of the way.  Don’t nag, just enforce.  Get your children into a get-up groove at the beginning of the school year rather than battling the routine the entire school year.
Other students need help getting in the homework groove.   Start them off with a designated homework time and a homework location.  Be firm about it for a period of time. Then let them know as they succeed at getting in the homework groove without being reminded, that they will be given more freedom to pick their own time and place.  Once they are in the groove, they will be permitted ? even expected ? to be totally responsible for their own homework.
Unless this is your child’s first year of school, you will already have experience with these difficulties in years past.  Look back and think about where your students have fallen off the road in the past.  As parents, we ourselves need to be students of our students’ needs.
Using the race car analogy, the first week of school is like the start of the race.  Just as it’s easier to get the car in the groove at the beginning of the race, it is also easier to start your child off in the right direction rather than getting him or her back on the track later on in the school year.  Wait until later on, after the first interims, and you’ll wish you had. Do it now and you’ll be glad you did!

Dr. Robert Barnes is the president of Sheridan House Family Ministries. He and his wife, Rosemary, are authors and speakers on marriage and family issues.

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