Does your child begin the school year excited and determined to do his best, but lose steam by this time of the year? Are you frustrated that your half way through the year already and your child still doesn’t seem to know what’s going on in school or how to be successful?
Don’t be dismayed. It’s easy for students to fall into a slump at this point in the school year. Adults too can struggle to get back into the swing of things after all the schedule changes that, let’s face it, have wreaked havoc on all of our schedules since Thanksgiving!
There are many reasons your child may be struggling in school right now. Outlined below are a few of the primary culprits together with some suggestions for how to help.
Culprit #1: The Work Is Tougher
Teachers don’t always admit it to students and parents, but the curriculum does get more complex as the year goes on. There is an assumption that basic skills have been covered and that good study habits have been formed.
For a child with anxiety, attention, or other learning disabilities, or for a student who has missed a lot of school, this may not be the case. He or she might be struggling with gaps in knowledge and/or deficient skills. Included in the latter could be problems with speed of performance. When this gap lowers his performance level, or causes missed deadlines, things get even more challenging.
Suggestion #1: Fill the Gaps
You need to know what knowledge or
skills your child is missing in order to help him acquire them.
Processes. Are there basic processes to a task or assignment (research project, book report) that are obvious to most students, but not to your child?
Content. Is the curriculum too hard? Are there difficult abstract ideas and details your child isn’t grasping? If so, your child should revisit concepts until they’re clear.
Stress Mastery over Proficiency. If your child moves on without gaining mastery of a skill, he'll need to relearn or review it every time she has to perform related tasks. Use flash cards to build or retain math facts or vocabulary words. Remember, the goal is learning and understanding, not just passing the test and forgetting. These materials all build on one another.
Culprit #2: He's Bored
The students who need repetition to crystallize new ideas or skills are usually the same ones who crave novelty and change, as most children with attention or other learning challenges do. Boredom lowers the levels of dopamine in the brain and can impair the ability to attend to detail and perform work.
Solution #2: Do Things Differently
If boredom is your child’s problem, change things up. It’s not realistic to find a new teacher or class for your child, but changing the way your child does things can make a difference. Can he or she do homework in a new setting, like the dining room or a library? Or with a friend or study group? Is there a new twist you can add to a repetitive assignment? Is there a new activity your child can try after school or on weekends? Learning to change things up is a powerful tool for students with attention and other learning challenges, but can benefit any student at this point in the year.
Culprit #3: Forgot Your Book, Assignment, or Lunch…. Again?
We all know the expression…practice makes perfect, but poor practice creates a big mess. If your child is struggling, it might be time to check on those good habits that were set at the beginning of the school year. Is he still using his planner, or does it sit at the bottom of his backpack? Does your child still study for small quizzes, or does he obsess about larger tests? Have homework routines fallen by the way side?
Solution #3: Get Back to Routines
Establishing or re-establishing good habits and routines—planner use, homework structure, or breaking down large assignments into smaller ones—makes things easier. It’s not just that things become second nature, it’s what happens in the brain when they do. Sticking with good habits and routines allows you to do tasks without having to tap into working memory. When things are on autopilot, your brain is freed up to engage in higher-level thinking and speed and performance are favorably impacted. Essentially, you work smarter, not harder!
Culprit #4: He's Feeling Brain Drained
School can wear down students, especially those with learning challenges. Imagine having to show up for track practice fives a week, eight hours a day…with a bad ankle. Then go home and have more running for homework. That would be tough. It’s the same feeling for those with learning problems who are in an intense learning situation. To teachers and parents, burnout looks like lethargy, irritability, or work avoidance. Over time, a student’s frustration can lead to behavioral or motivational problems.
Fix #4: Recharge His Batteries
To combat your child’s feeling of being burnt out, encourage him to step outside. It’ll help replenish his attention and boost his creative energy and problem solving skills. Seriously! According to a 2008 study at the University of Michigan, entitled “The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature”, even 20 minutes of exposure to nature “resets” our attention and helps us to refocus. Nature replenishes the brain permitting better executive function and self- regulation. Even better news? This effect seems to last well beyond the time spent in nature. The caveat? It doesn’t work as well in urban environments where even outside there is significant stimulation that grabs attention and depletes, rather than restores, the brain.
Run, Don’t Walk and Whatever You Don’t Wait
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” So, take a moment and decide on which one or two of these challenges is most impacting your child. If you want to create positive change, begin today. It’s not easy, but if you create a plan and establish good habits now, your child will be in better shape for the transition to summer.
If you’ve tried all these things and your child is still struggling in school or if you simply want to make learning faster and easier, consider getting to the root cause of the problem. Get your child’s cognitive skills tested so you can target and train the specific attention, executive function and/or other weaknesses that are making school (and life) more difficult. Call LeaningRx Warren to learn more about how we can help. Mention the code “Beat the Winter Blues” and receive $100 off the testing and consultation package. (Normally $299, elsewhere $600-$1500 and up). You’ll be glad you did. It’s a great value and the first step toward finishing the school year the way you wish it had been all along!