Whether or not you agree that the year-end school holidays are too long, it’s likely that you will feel a twinge of sadness, or even anxiety, when the holiday season finally draws to a close. What’s the best way to combat the negativity? Make sure you’ve got a game plan for the new year!
Here are some expert suggestions for supporting your child’s learning and growth when school reopens.
Use January to get basic routines & rules in place
A teacher tip is to use the first week of school to set the tone for the rest of the year, and one of your priorities should be bedtime. Many school-going kids in Singapore have 8.30 to 9.00pm bedtimes to ensure that they clock in about 10 hours of rest. If you find yourself always having to nag at your children before bedtime, consider putting nightly tasks on a checklist instead, and giving your children about 20 minutes (or more if needed) to get ready for bed.
If you’ve been relaxed about screen time during the school holidays, you should have a discussion with your kids about how things will change during the school term. Should there be daily screen time, and for how long? You could have designated days for Netflix and gaming, or set a daily time limit for device use, such as 15 minutes or half an hour. Give your children the opportunity to negotiate the terms with you, as well as the responsibility of tracking their own screen time, by setting a timer. (Find out why parents who work in technology have stricter screen-time rules.)
Learn to communicate better with teachers
Although you may only meet face-to-face with teachers once or twice during the school year, it’s now exceedingly easy to reach them via apps like ClassDojo. Yet, parents tend to only reach out when there is a problem, laments a local secondary school teacher. “When a teacher is perceived to have made a mistake, parents may go to the extent of contacting the department heads and the principal,” he says. “But when a teacher does well, praise tends to remain private, perhaps among a small group of parents, and it may not even be communicated to the teacher. I think teachers would appreciate hearing positive feedback once in a while.”
When seeking a teacher’s advice, aim to make your questions as specific as possible, so that a teacher is clear on how best to assist you. For instance, you can ask questions such as, “How much time should a child be spending on this piece of work?” or “My child is unsure about how to revise for the upcoming test — do you have some suggestions that she could follow?” If you are responsible for tutoring your child, you can seek the teacher’s advice on the methods and materials that you are using. Teachers will be quick to let you know if your sources contain inaccurate information, or deviate from what the school is teaching.
If your child needs encouragement in school, don’t hesitate to let his or her teachers know. Struggling students especially will benefit from positive feedback as well as other forms of validation. (Find out more about the questions that will elicit useful responses from teachers.)
Teach your child study hacks
Have you heard about “immersion reading?” That’s just a fancy term for listening to an audiobook while reading the printed text at the same time. It’s recommended for second language learners, but it can also benefit struggling readers, as well as students who need to read texts that they may find boring or challenging, such as Shakespeare. This is just one of many study hacks that your child can use to transform the learning experience.
Other tried-and-tested hacks include playing instrumental music to help with concentration, watching a compelling documentary to bring a textbook topic to life, and limiting study sessions to 30 minutes to maximise retention and combat fatigue. (Read about the study strategies that every student should know, as well as last-minute revision strategies that work.)
A parent’s initiative can go a long way
In his bestselling book “Outliers: The Story Of Success,” Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell debunks the myth that success is entirely driven by individual merit — people tend to believe that successful individuals achieve excellence primarily because of their exceptional ability. Instead, he suggests that success results from a “predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities.” In other words, one’s upbringing has a lot to do with one’s success potential, and according to Gladwell, parents can play a pivotal role in their children’s success through “concerted cultivation,” where they actively build on their children’s strengths and interests. (The opposite would be a parent who believes that children should be left to their own devices to develop naturally.)
Gladwell uses a hockey player analogy to illustrate how this might work:
“Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage.’ The professional hockey player starts out a little bit better than his peers. And that little difference leads to an opportunity that makes that difference a bit bigger, and that edge in turn leads to another opportunity, which makes the initially small difference bigger still — and on and on until the hockey player is a genuine outlier. But he didn’t start out an outlier. He started out just a little bit better.”
What does this mean in the school context? Here’s an example: students representing their school in a sport or an activity will definitely get more practice and have access to better coaching, compared to those who aren’t. This matters if your child has recently developed an interest that he or she is keen to pursue. If an external coach has been hired by the school, it doesn’t hurt to make contact and seek advice on what your child can do next.
Similarly, some students may be keen on exposure opportunities that are not offered by their school, such as Model United Nations. This is where you can plug the gap, by looking for an event that your child can join, and helping him or her with the registration process.
Be open to connecting with other parents
You’ve probably heard the horror stories about school WhatsApp chatgroups, and it’s become a trend to mock or turn up one’s nose at them. However, close the door to these groups and you may be missing out on valuable opportunities for community building and friendship. If you are new to a school, other parents can provide reassuring advice or assistance, especially at the start of the year. If your child is interested in a particular sport or activity, an experienced parent can give you the insider’s scoop on co-curricular activities, coaching, and any apparatus or gear that you might need to purchase. If you have a shy or introverted child, bringing him or her along to class-organised gatherings — invites are usually posted on the chats — may help to foster a sense of familiarity, if not closeness. (Read our article on making class WhatsApp groups work for you.)