While the rigors of middle school can be challenging for any child, they can be especially so if his organizational skills are lacking, or if he has trouble working independently. Learning problems — difficulty with reading comprehension, computing, or putting thoughts into words — that might have gone unnoticed now seem glaring, since it’s harder than ever to compensate. Here are simple tips to keep your child on track:
- Nudge her into a nightly homework routine. What worked for you may not work for your child, so resist imposing your own schedule. Remember, too, that there isn't any "right" way of getting homework done. Some kids whip through their assignments in one sitting, others need frequent breaks. Let her experiment: Does she like doing her work right after school, or does she need to eat dinner first? Where does she prefer to work — in her room, or at the kitchen table with other family members around? Some children study well with music playing softly in the background, while others are distracted by any outside noise.
- Help him get organized. Homework help starts before the assignments are handed out. Take a trip to the office supply store so he can select binders or color-coded notebooks with inside pockets for each subject (that way tests and other important papers won’t get lost); a plan book to write down what’s due when; and pencils, pens, and a dictionary and thesaurus so he doesn’t get distracted searching the house for them. Keep a calendar of family events, athletic activities, and doctor’s appointments posted where everyone can see it. Soccer practice twice a week? Orthodontist on Thursday? He needs to schedule study time accordingly.
- Monitor so that assignments are completed and handed in on time — but don’t do the work for her, and don’t play teacher. Not only will you confuse your child (most subjects are taught very differently today), you risk undermining her confidence. She may begin to think she can’t do the work unless you’re at her elbow. Also, resist the urge to correct mistakes. If you do, the teacher won’t be able to see where she needs help. If you just can’t help yourself and feel you need to call her attention to mistakes, put a dot in the margin so that your child knows to check that line for errors.
- Offer support from the sidelines. Listen to an oral book report before he presents it to class, quiz him on verb tenses for his Spanish test, or brainstorm themes for his English paper. If he's doing research for a report, you might show him how to find Web sites covering the topic or point him in the direction of sites that offer general help.
- Stay tuned in. If you sense that your child is struggling in a subject, talk to her teacher or advisor to see what additional help is needed. Perhaps one or two tutoring sessions are all it would take to get her up to speed.