Winter break is a gift to students and families, but it can also pose a challenge. After a long time off from school, it can be difficult to get back into the groove and reestablish routines and strategies that were second-nature before the long vacation. Here are some strategies to help you and your children start 2015 off on a good note:
Reinstate your daily routines
Routines provide stability and security. During vacation, you may have gotten used to going to sleep late and waking up whenever your biological clock woke you. But now that school has started, it’s important to reinstate a regular bedtime, schedule homework time and institute regular meal times. Set an alarm on your phone for ten minutes prior to bedtime or other evening transitions to remind yourself to get ready to switch gears.
Eat a good breakfast
It’s tempting to stay in bed for a little longer and roll out of bed just in time to walk out the door. But a filling and healthy breakfast fortifies you for an entire morning. If you don’t have time to make breakfast in the morning, find something you can grab on the run or prepare something the night before. If you are able to spare a few more minutes in the morning, do some stretches or even some actual exercise to get yourself in the game. Although a recent study of Breakfast in the Classroom programs, which provide nourishing morning meals to students, showed inconsistent performance, the research and anecdotes of Ivy Prep students and their parents speak to the benefit of taking some time to eat, whether at home or en route to school by Via, prior to starting a busy day of physical and mental activity.
Get to class early and get organized
Lack of organization can make it difficult to concentrate and take proper notes. Come to class a few minutes early and take out the correct books and notebook. Check that you have writing materials and paper. Put only what you need on your desk and leave the rest in your backpack so it doesn’t distract you. If you have a choice of seats, choose a location that will allow you to see the board as well as the teacher, and stay away from students who are distracting. Refer to your planner or app to determine which materials you need during breaks so that you can collect appropriate materials from your locker.
Getting to school and class two minutes before the late bell enables you to get out the necessary books, work sheets and pens. It also prepares you to be ready when the instructor begins (as well as making you stand out as a student who is ready to learn). Come merely 1 minute after the bell and you label yourself as an unstructured, unconcerned and unprepared student: Do you really need that 3 extra minutes in the hall? Is the immediate gratification of playing around worth what you are giving up in learning and getting ahead in your work?
Create a study plan
As soon as papers, tests and assignments are scheduled, put them in a calendar (paper – or electronic, such as Google Calendar) and break down study tasks in advance. Plan to do a small task each day so you don’t end up stressed before deadlines. Develop reinforcements to insure that your plan will work (for example; decide not to use the phone unless history note cards are completed). You need to replace immediate (and fleeting) rewards and satisfactions with meaningful rewards in the future (for example; decide not to watch a tv show with the goal of being able to go to a movie/party/out for a bite after you have completed work). Exercising self-control enables you make better use of your time. By using strategies you create to complete your assignment you will be in control of the work you face and practice the techniques that enable you to get to the finish line. This approach, which strengthens a person’s ability to delay gratification and increase mental control, is an example of the frontal ‘executive functions’ discussed in my earlier blogs. This PBS interview about New Years Resolutions with psychologist Dr. Walter Mischel provides a 2015 reminder about the lessons of his famous ‘Marshmallow Experiments’ conducted with preschoolers in the 1970s. As Mischel and behavioral economists note in this video, some people find it much easier than others to delay control toward longer-term goals. But the more children and adults practice consciously delaying gratification toward goals by using plans or otherwise substituting smaller rewards, the more they develop the muscle memory and capacity to stay the course.
Schedule in some recreation
Going back to school isn’t all about studying. It’s also about getting back into school social life. To avoid the going-back-to-school blues, arrange some fun activities with your friends in between tests. Plan to go out and have fun after you have finished school-related tasks, so you will have a reward to look forward to.
File and paper management – neverending but negotiable
Take ten minutes twice a week to sort through papers at home while listening to your favorite music downloads so that you can more efficiently access the ones you need in class. Similarly, when you need to take a break from heavy-duty reading or writing, set the timer on your iPhone for ten minutes and organize your files into proper desktop or download folders and sync the computer to your other devices.
Plan for the next day, but not too much!
Before you head to sleep, take a few minutes to tee up for tomorrow and to them permit yourself to unwind. As my earlier posts about metacognition and time management mention, the practice of breaking down tasks into manageable units is a skill just like hitting a baseball or juggling. Use the Evernote app (which has a cloud-based component for easy access across devices), the voice memo function on your electronic device, or a paper post-it note to list key to-do’s for tomorrow. This way, you will be able to remind yourself in the morning of key tasks and can reassure a restless mind that well-deserved rest is in order.