The Christmas cookies all have been eaten, the decorations are stored in the attic, and the tree needles have been swept off the floor. While a touch of holiday hangover may linger, by now most of us have returned to our usual routines.
But this transition back to normal is especially difficult for many of the students we work with at Reading Success Plus. Their struggles in school make their return to the classroom truly painful.
“Some students are kind of angry about going back,” says Lawrence Kloth, co-founder of Reading Success Plus. “A couple of my kids are counting down to break right now.
“I was one of those kids, too.”
Lawrence, who struggled throughout school, has been diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, and dysgraphia, and has had difficulties with math. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only after years of various therapies. He recalls the dread that accompanied the end of holiday break.
“It was especially tough in January, February, and March, when, after a couple weeks of freedom and fun, you go back to a job that you really dislike doing,”
To help make that return to school easier, Lawrence and his mother, Anne Kloth, the other co-founder of Reading Success Plus, offer these suggestions. These are based on their experiences both as tutors and as a parent and child who went through all of this themselves.
Re-establish a routine
Following a routine is crucial to the success of most Reading Success Plus students, Lawrence says.
“Most kids need a routine,” he says, “but it’s especially important for our kids. “If they don’t have that routine, they can’t function at their best.”
- It establishes expectations, eliminating daily power struggles.
- Routine reduces stress and uncertainty for the child and the household. Even in difficult times, the child has something to fall back on.
- A successful routine builds confidence and self-reliance.
- A routine guides parents as well, helping them keep their expectations consistent. As stated in an article from Zero to Thrive, an early childhood website from Michigan Medicine, “Children don’t need perfect parents to thrive, but they do need predictable parents.”
Establishing consistent homework practices is crucial to all students, but especially for those who have difficulty academically. Most of the students at Reading Success Plus struggle with school work, and they have to spend more time on it than many of their peers. Some teachers will reduce the amount of homework for students with learning disabilities as part of their accommodations, but many kids have to carry the whole load. Either way, it’s wise to have a plan.
“Some schools don’t give a lot of homework, especially to younger elementary students, and kudos to them,” Lawrence said. “But there are schools that believe in giving a lot of homework. And that might cause long nights, especially for older students.”
Again, establishing a routine is vital. When kids get home from school, give them time to unwind, play, maybe even grab a nap.
“And make sure you give them food, too,” Anne says. “We think about it for teenagers, but younger kids need it after school, too. I see it all the time, when a child comes in for lessons tired and dragging, and they pep right up with a little snack.”
Create a consistent time for homework. For younger kids, it may be shortly after school. Older kids face more challenges, though. Their homework loads typically are heavier, and they have more competing for their after-school time – sports, music, dance, church groups, and the need to hang out with friends.
“That might cause some late nights for them,” Lawrence says. “But they need that routine. When the other activities are done, it’s time for work. And make sure the expectations are clear, that the child knows there is a time for fun but there also is a time for work.”
Get enough sleep
When kids are coming off an break from school, the hardest-fought battles can be over the return to a bedtime schedule. No youngster wants to give up that extra time with toys, screens or friends that they were allowed over vacation. However, sleep is crucial to their success.
“With many kids, if they don’t get to bed at a specific hour, they’re wiped out the next day,” Lawrence notes. “They fall behind in school, don’t get their homework done, and it all snowballs. If you can avoid that by sticking to a regular sleep schedule, they will do better in class and get their homework done.”
Nemours Kids Health offers several tips for helping kids get to sleep and to have a more restful sleep. They include having a regular bedtime, eliminating screen time before bed, and avoiding drinks with caffeine, especially from late afternoon on. Look here for more about the importance of sleep, written from a child’s perspective.
Make certain school is back on track, too
January is a good time to check in and make sure the school and student are meeting expectations. If you have a student with an IEP or 504 plan, make sure the school is using the agreed-upon accommodations and get an update on the student’s progress. Because the holiday break either coincides with or is near the end of the first semester, it’s a good time to take stock.
“Make sure accommodations are set,” Lawrence says. “Meet with your teachers. Try to get that 504 meeting or IEP meeting set up. Make sure that second semester starts strong.”
College students especially need to take the initiative to make sure their needs are being met by their schools.
“If you’re in college, you’re totally on your own to get the accommodations you need,” he says. “Make sure you have your ducks in a row, everything lined up. And if you need to change anything, talk to the people you have to talk to. Meet with your professors. Make sure everybody’s on the same page in the new semester.”
Anne points out that colleges have academic support systems to help students with learning disabilities. However, it’s up to the student to advocate for themselves and take advantage of those resources.
For parents of younger students, especially those without IEPs or 504 plans, it’s a good time to talk to teachers and work on strengthening that relationship.
“Make sure you open up a good, positive dialogue,” Lawrence says. “Establishing that line of communication is huge.”
For high schoolers, Lawrence says more of the burden for communication falls on the student.
“The parents could be a kind of support system, and of course, they should get involved if things don’t go well. But there’s more responsibility for high schoolers to build those relations with teachers.
“It’s hard for a freshman to do that, and maybe parents could go in there and help them out. But for older high school students, it’s more on them to build relationships. Plus, they have to build those skills for college, because parents won’t be able to help you out there. If you want accommodations or academic support in college, it’s incumbent on you to advocate for yourself.”
Get in the flow
So, parents and students, here’s your January goal: go back to work. Re-establish homework routines, get to bed on time and get enough sleep, and reinforce positive communication with teachers and school administrators. Your lives soon will be back to normal, and students will successfully return to the lifelong process of learning.