Family & Education

5 Ways to Help Your Children in School and Life

How to build character and good habits
BY Jeff Minick TIMEAugust 9, 2022 PRINT

Off we go again!

For students and parents, this is a time for “Back to School Specials,” hunting down composition books, pens and pencils, lunch boxes, clothes or uniforms, backpacks, and other necessities for the classroom.

And now is also the perfect time for parents or guardians to pause and ask themselves: What do I want for my child’s education? If Johnny and Sarah are going to spend thousands of hours over the next nine months riding a bus, sitting in a classroom, and staying after school for clubs and team sports, how can I help them gain from all that time and effort?

Here are some tips that should not only ease some of the stress of school, but will build character and good habits in the bargain.

‘Be Prepared’

Practice that Boy Scout motto right from the start.

Because of our different work situations, for years, I rather than my wife was the principal teacher of our homeschooled children. When they were quite small, we’d often spend the first 10 or 15 minutes of the school day rounding up textbooks, readers, and notebooks. Finally, I bought a bunch of storage bins, assigned one to each child, and made those the receptacles for their school supplies. With this simple solution, we ended the frustration and wasted time of searching all over the house for missing items.

Kids can learn this skill at an early age. Every night before bed, have that first-grader lay out his clothing for the next day. (Don’t forget the shoes. How do young children manage to misplace shoes so often?) Set that backpack by the front door, packed and ready to go for the morning. Make the older children responsible for setting an alarm and getting themselves out of bed. Explain that when they enter “the real world,” Mommy won’t be there to roll them out of the sheets in the morning.

‘Stop, Look, and Listen’

For years, I taught history, literature, composition, and Latin to seminars of homeschoolers. With the exception of Latin, I gave out a hard copy syllabus to every student, detailing for the semester the weekly reading and assignments. At the end of each class period, we went over the syllabus for the following week. Yet, in the larger seminars, particularly among students new to me, there were always some who arrived in class missing a composition or having forgotten at home their copy of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Here again, parents can take a hand. Beginning with their elementary school gang, they can inquire every day whether their students came home with any school work. Shrugs, rolling the eyes, and vague answers won’t do here. Once they begin to answer in specifics, it means they are thinking in specifics. The idea is to develop in them the habit of knowing when they leave the classroom what the assignments are for the next day.

Two special notes here. One, if your son has forgotten to get the homework, don’t call the teacher. Have him call a friend instead. And have him make the call. Older students especially need to take responsibility for calling coaches or other mentors. Two, homeschoolers also need to be aware of the next day’s assignments. Many of them used packaged curriculums, which include a daily syllabus. Having talked to several academic counselors at a large home education outfit here in Front Royal, Virginia, I’m told that parents and students sometimes fail to get tests and papers back on time for grading, in part because they’ve misread, or didn’t read at all, the instructions.

Neatness Counts

Often as a teacher, when I collected essays or homework from a class, one or two of the students would rummage through their backpacks and finally pull out a wrinkled or torn sad-looking piece of paper. Not only were they disorganized, they were also messy.

Teach your children that, like a great meal in a nice restaurant, presentation counts. The teacher who must spend extra time deciphering the smudged answers to questions from the U.S. history text or the all-over-the-page algebra problems won’t be a happy diner.

For more help in this department, read and use Ana Homayoun’s “That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Distracted and Disorganized Boys Succeed in School and Life.” Don’t be put off by the title; Homayoun’s ideas work just as well for disorganized girls.

Make Them Responsible

You get a call from the school or your child. Michael has left his lunch on the kitchen counter or Elizabeth has forgotten to bring that essay on “The Scarlet Letter” that is due today. Do you go into the delivery business or do you let them take the consequences? It’s your call, but sooner or later—and hopefully, sooner—the kids need to suck it up, suffer some consequences, and assume responsibility for their actions.

Responsibility means assuming ownership of who we are and what we do, and is a foundation stone for maturity and freedom of choice. School can help teach that lesson to our young people.

Home Life

Whatever sort of school your children attend, you need to know that their education doesn’t come to a halt when the bell rings at the end of class or they close that chemistry book. Their real education is taking place every day, summer or winter, in the home that you provide for them. You can enhance their knowledge by reading stories to them, discussing politics and history at the supper table, or taking them on nature walks.

These are all good and noble endeavors, but the truth is, they are learning from you every minute they spend in your company: the difference between right and wrong, the practice of courage and patience in the face of hardship and setbacks, and the meaning of justice.

The home and the family, even when that home may be a one-bedroom apartment and that family may be a single mom or dad, is the birthplace and incubator of character and virtue. The tips mentioned above, aimed at success in school, are just a small part of the map we can give children for making their way in life’s journey.

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick lives and writes in Front Royal, Virginia. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.”
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