Here’s how to help your kids have a successful second semester

Come the end of winter break, your kids have gotten used to late wake-ups, hot chocolate-induced sugar rushes and daily hangouts with friends. It’s time to get them back in the swing of things, and we’re here to help.

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From the Publishers of Northern Virginia Magazine // Written by Jess Feldman and Jennifer Zeleski

The holiday break is a great time for kids to relax with their family, either at home or under a warm sun on vacation, following a semester of hard work in the classroom. And while one to three weeks away may not seem like a very long time, it is just long enough for young children and teens alike to sway from their typical academic routines.

Plus, the celebrations have officially diminished and the reality of a new year is setting in, leaving kids both excited and nervous for what lies ahead. Whether you’re hoping to ignite your child’s motivation or are interested in maintaining healthy habits as an entire family, here’s everything you need to know before leading your kids into 2020.

How to Avoid the Second-Semester Slump

From setting reading goals to finishing up those final few college applications, here are a handful of ways to keep your kids motivated for the rest of the school year.

Goal setting is an essential part of academic success. Students of all ages can benefit from learning the importance of focusing, measuring progress and sticking to deadlines. Here are some essential tools to help you set realistic goals with your kids of all ages.

Elementary School

Ages 4 to 7
Maybe your growing child has already learned how to read more than a few pages at a time, or is impressing family members with their extensive vocabulary. Maybe they’ve even exceeded expectations on progress reports, and gone further than counting their fingers.

Whatever they might have accomplished this year, there is still more to to learn during the remainder of the school year, and to prepare for the next grade ahead.

Pre-K through first grade can be a real transition period for your child. There are lots of big changes happening, from adjusting their half-day kindergarten schedules to full-day first grade, to getting them used to hopping on and off the bus.

To keep young students engaged in laying the foundation of their educational journey, be sure to check in with a few of the following:

    • What are the goals their teacher(s) are hoping they will accomplish prior to the end of the year?
    • Is your child continuing to practice their reading and writing skills each day?
    • Is your child getting enough physical exercise and playtime?

The first will ensure that your child is keeping up with the pace of their daily subjects and engaging in their activities. Setting simple goals, such as drawing, coloring or writing for 10 to 15 minutes each day after dinner, or setting a reading goal each month (say, one book per day), can help your child retain lessons through memory and practice.

When it comes to physical activity goals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a minimum of one hour of physical activity for children. Not only will setting this physical goal help your child understand how to move, adapt and control their body, it will also continue to teach them the importance of playing, communicating and spending time away from electronic devices.

Elementary and Middle School

Ages 8 to 13
Late elementary school lessons and early middle school classes are yet another time of transition for your child, but with a higher emphasis on curriculum and challenging coursework. Goals should become bigger, but still attainable.

To continue to keep your child engaged, check in with the following:

    • Are they continuing to grow at the desired pace of the teacher, without feeling overwhelmed?
    • How are their personal goals adapting over time?
    • Do they have other interests that could benefit from goal setting?

For late elementary-aged students, focus on setting goals such as reading one book per genre in their school’s library, or making and sticking to a plan to stay organized (Let’s not lose those glasses again!). Remember to establish small goals that help create better habits.Setting bigger goals, such as spending time volunteering or joining a school club, and maintaining that commitment, should be introduced to encourage and teach them how to serve others, as well as how lessons can reach beyond the classroom.

It is also important to note that goals should take place in sports and extracurricular activities as well. As your child grows within their sport or activity, help them identify goals that aren’t simply “winning a game” or “attending practice.”

Aside from a potential boost on their report card, setting goals for your child’s extracurricular activites will help them develop a broader perspective of how their behavior and motivation affect their overall development.

High School

Ages 14 to 18
It’s important to remember that with high school classes and schedules, your child’s goals will probably look quite different, but they are even more important now than they have been before.

Although your influence on your child’s goal setting is now a bit more hands-off, check in with the following:

    • What bigger goals can your child work on to benefit them in the future of their educational journey?
    • Are they obtaining their goals in a healthy, realistic manner?
    • What’s next? College? A gap year? Vocational training?

Bigger goals, such as maintaining high grades can be stressful, but are still attainable. Help your child break the bigger goals into smaller pieces by setting aside a dedicated amount of time each day for them to study or practice a certain subject, assisting them in seeking extra help when they need it, and keeping the lines of communication open about potential challenges or obstacles along the way.

Other goals should include maintaining a regular sleep schedule to ensure proper rest, having time set aside to hang out with friends and thinking about their college plans.
If your child is in the process of applying for college, be sure to set realistic goals on submitting applications on time, getting recommendation letters and doing extra research on the schools they are interested in attending.

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By the Numbers

  • About 56.6 million students are currently enrolled in elementary, middle and high schools across the United States, according to National Center for Education Statistics. (5.8 million students in private school, of that number)
  • 3.7 million students are expected to graduate from high school during the 2019-2020 school year, including 300,000 from private schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • According to a 2015 study by psychologist Gail Matthews, those who wrote down their goals were 33% more likely to be successful in achieving them than those who formulate outcomes in their heads.

3 Ways to Increase Motivation

By inspiring ideas in the home, you’ll inspire results in the classroom too.

Set Goals
Teaching goal setting when kids are young impacts general learning and self-evaluation. When children have the chance to set parameters for themselves, they feel a sense of responsibility to that desired ambition, whatever it may be. This year, make an effort to write down personal goals with your child on a regular basis.

Develop Your Child’s Strengths
While teachers work to develop all essential learning skills, it’s important to take the time to encourage your child to practice whatever subject they enjoy the most at home. Even if they didn’t ace that science test, they may have written a poem that received a standing ovation in English class. In addition to that assigned practice test, get them a notebook and set aside time to write, ultimately developing their interest into a passion outside of school.

Have Consistent, Meaningful Conversations
If becoming intrinsically motivated is practiced from a young age, then the general completion of tasks throughout one’s life becomes a lot easier. Studies show that having meaningful, one-on-one conversations with your child can be crucial for tapping into intrinsic motivation. By asking children how a certain event made them feel, you are encouraging them to think deeper and, in turn, care more, both at home with your family and in the classroom with their peers.

This post originally appeared in our January 2020 issue. Want more education news, tips and profiles? Subscribe to our Education e-newsletter.

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