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Beat the Brain Drain

The symptoms of a school slump are easy to spot. Your child trudges home with a sagging backpack after school, and discards it by the door until the next morning. Any questions you ask about school are met with an eye roll and/or a shrug. The process of getting your child out of bed in the morning is growing longer and more painful with each passing day. You know something is wrong, but what should you do? Luckily, slumps like these are not permanent. All most kids need is a little energy boost, and a couple of teacher’s tricks of the trade. Read on to find out how you can help your child bust out of the slump.

Slump Buster #1: Retool the workspace.

You remember all those pencils, folders and notebooks you got during the back-to-school frenzy? Well, chances are they’ve been used up, misplaced or fallen apart. While there’s no need to replace every school supply that’s not up to snuff, sometimes some cool new tools - mechanical pencils, fresh erasers, a thumb drive can motivate kids to get back on top of the workload.

If you have time, dedicate an afternoon to laying out your child’s homework space. Teachers are always rearranging desks and reassigning seats. It gives students a new, refreshed perspective for learning. So do the same at home. In fact, as a teacher, my first assignment of the school year is having my students draw their homework space. Visualizing where they’ll accomplish work helps kids actually want to do it.

Help your child organize their desk, or set aside space in your kitchen for supplies. Ask your child for input on how to arrange the space to give them some ownership. You can even call the area their “office” so they know you take it seriously!

Slump Buster #2: Know what’s up.

Parents have a lot on their plates, and teachers know this. They try to keep you up-to-date in the easiest possible way. Many teachers have a website or monthly newsletter. Read these; they are written for parents. If you notice a big assignment or unit of study that might be the source of your child’s slump, talk to them about it. Ask what you can do to help.

Remember, the most important source of knowing what’s going on at school is your child. Be like the best teachers, and ask open-ended questions. Things like, “What did you do in science?” will elicit a better response than, “How was your day?” You’ll quickly learn what your child’s interests are, and they are more likely to share if you continue to ask.

Slump Buster #3: Break it up.

Contrary to popular belief, teachers don’t give homework to punish students (or their parents). Most of the time, it’s an opportunity for independent practice, or to apply skills learned in class. Be positive about the homework process. Schedule movement breaks for younger children to help them express their energy and refocus (this is why schools have recess).

Maybe after they read for 10 minutes, they get to go outside for a bit, or help you make a snack. For older kids, split study sessions into chunks according to subject. Making the task more manageable will help your child see that even less-than-desirable tasks can be done without pain.

And whatever you do, don’t bash the homework, teacher or class. This just fuels kids’ resistance to something they don’t want to do, and makes the days ahead more of a chore.

Slump Buster #4: Feed their minds (and bodies).

School-day schedules are rigorous for kids of all ages. In many cases, kids have lunch early in the day, sometimes before 11 o’clock. By the time they get home, all they can think about is eating. If your child seems low on energy when they get home, have a healthy snack available. If you aren’t around when your child gets home, make sure there are options available for them, such as a small sandwich, fruit salad or veggies and dip. Low-sugar cereals are also an easy, healthy option.

But don’t stop with snacks. Keep in mind that eating breakfast is a crucial part of your child’s day. Kids need food in the morning like grown-ups need coffee. It provides an energy boost and, well, they just don’t function well without it. If your child refuses to eat at home, look into having them eat a hot breakfast at school, or pack a cereal bar and a piece of fruit.

Slump Buster #5: Show up.

Make a point to attend events at your child’s school, such as Open Houses, concerts or academic fairs and exhibitions. Events like these allow you to show your support and celebrate kids’ accomplishments. Parent-teacher conferences and meetings are important too, but you don’t want to send the message that you only go to school when there is a problem or concern. Besides, it’s always nice when your kids get to see you in their environment - it gives them a chance to show off!

Also keep in mind that, like you, teachers are very busy. Helpful parent volunteers can be a huge asset to a classroom. Ask your son or daughter’s teacher how you can help support the classroom and offer some ideas, such as organizing the classroom library, or copying handouts. It’s great if you can be in the classroom from time to time, but there are other ways to participate too.

If you’re unavailable during school hours, brainstorm things you can do from home, like compiling photos from the class field trip. You learn what’s happening in class, and if your child sees you making an effort to be involved, they may want to make an extra effort too.

You don’t have to be a teacher to help kids overcome the school-day doldrums, you just need these sure-to-stimulate strategies. Now get slump-busting!

Beth is a freelance writer and mother of two. As a teacher, she enjoyed helping elementary and middle school students bust out of many mid-term slumps!

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