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School Focus Time

September, 2006
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It was the start of a new school year and Sam was excited. This was the year he was going to do really well and his parents were going to be so proud.

“I’m going to get my best marks ever,” he thought.

During the first few weeks of school he seemed on track to attain his goal. In school, Sam gave his best effort and his teacher was happy with his work ethic. However, although he was working hard at school, his routine when he got home was the same as it had always been. He would come home, grab a snack and then play outside (or on the computer) until dinner time. After dinner Sam would watch some television and then maybe race through his homework (or not fully complete it) before bed. If Sam did not have any assigned homework, he would not even open his school bag. This was the pattern to which he had grown accustomed.

A few more weeks passed and Sam was becoming overwhelmed with the workload from school. Why did it seem like he was getting so much homework now? How could he ever get all the work done? On top of that, because he rushed through assignments and was having difficulties remembering the new concepts being taught, he was not maintaining his initial success at school. Why was it so difficult to remember all the concepts or information being taught now? Sam’s initial enthusiasm and optimistic attitude toward school had disappeared, and he had again settled into his usual role of “the boy who lags behind”.

The above scenario is actually quite common. Every student begins the year with a blank slate, enthusiastic and with visions of having their most successful school year. Unfortunately, many are not aware of how to organize themselves to ensure they attain the goals to which they aspire. Before some even realize it, they are faced with a seemingly insurmountable mountain of homework and have a difficult time catching up. Overwhelmed, they slip back into their old routine and become complacent.

(subhed)Parents’ role is vital to success

In order to break this negative pattern, Sam’s parents should have been more active in helping him organize and plan for the new school year. Parents in general, and Sam’s parents in particular, need to highlight the importance of adopting a new routine at home in order for children to succeed in school. For example, Sam’s parents should work with Sam to create a schedule for daily school focus time (SFT). SFT is a specific period of time dedicated to completing school assignments (homework), studying, reviewing daily work, reading, writing and/or practicing at home the concepts learned in school. SFT will empower children like Sam to complete daily assignments and it will give them greater opportunities to practice, remember and master the school curriculum. Even if Sam has no homework, SFT will help him gain greater mastery of skills, concepts and information taught in school. When getting started, Sam’s parents should emphasize the correlation between school focus time and future success at school. After awhile, Sam will come to understand SFT as a time to “help me achieve school success” rather than just tedious homework time.

After Sam’s parents have discussed the benefits of school focus time with him and he has agreed to commit to it, what next? Sam and his parents need to work collaboratively to create a manageable yet consistent schedule for SFT. They should agree on the length of each session (i.e. about 45 minutes for Grade 3, up to 90 minutes for Grade 7, etc.) and when and where it will occur. Creating a specific and consistent schedule will enable Sam to be properly prepared for each session and will actually expedite the time it takes for SFT to become a pleasant routine for him.

Implement SFT as early as possible to set a tone for success at school, preferably the first day of school. Remember, even when Sam has no homework he can still review, practice and just get acquainted with the process of SFT.

The schedule for SFT should be recorded on a calendar or in a student diary. This will help Sam and his parents not only to remember when they have SFT, but it will also help Sam get mentally prepared for each session.

SFT time needs to be reasonable and not conflict with other activities (i.e., sports, music lessons, after school activities, favorite television show, dinner, etc.). ‘Fun’ activities are important for Sam and SFT should not be seen as a penalty that limits his freedom to participate in these activities.

If possible, Sam’s parents should schedule SFT for shortly after Sam returns home from school and has had a snack. This is a particularly good time because Sam is still mentally sharp and is not as tired as when he is closer to bedtime. Also, by completing SFT early, Sam has the rest of the evening free. This can be seen as a reward for his hard work.

Include a short 5-10 minute break during SFT and be sure to include this in the schedule. Sam will be assured a short reprieve from work at a specified time. If he is given unlimited breaks, it will be hard for him to focus.

SFT should always take place in the same space. This space should provide ample room, and be well lit, free of distractions and quiet. The idea is to create a specific SFT environment that Sam will eventually associate with school-related activities (just as we unconsciously associate the bedroom with sleep).

Sam will need time to adapt to his new routine. Research has shown that it takes 21 days for a new habit to become a routine or fully incorporated into one’s life. Therefore, initially, parents will likely have to take on a greater responsibility for ensuring that Sam is committing himself to SFT and putting in a good effort. However, as SFT becomes a routine it will be Sam, and not his parents, who will take on greater responsibility.

Initially, Sam parents should get him to share, show, and review or demonstrate what they have done together during each SFT. This is beneficial because Sam will understand that his parents are interested in and supportive of his efforts. In addition, it will give Sam the opportunity to show off his efforts.

Praise, praise, praise! Everyone, especially Sam, enjoys receiving praise. Praise, however, needs to be specific and genuine. For example, “You chose some very powerful and interesting words in your writing like…(give examples),” is much more effective and genuine praise than just “Good job” or “Nice story”.

Colin_Brown Sam’s parents should celebrate Sam’s dedication to school focus time with weekly or bi-weekly rewards for his efforts. Many parents will be surprised to learn that meaningful rewards for children often include having one-on-one time with Mum and/or Dad, doing any number of things..

It is vital that Sam’s parents commit to the reward agreed upon. Just as Sam commits to SFT, so do parents need to commit to the agreed upon reward. By doing so, Sam’s parents model the importance of sticking to commitments and they also re-affirm their appreciation of the Sam’s efforts.

Many children just like Sam begin a new school year with unbridled enthusiasm and determination to be successful. Unfortunately, many of them don’t know how to achieve their goals and their passion quickly wanes. Parents can play a crucial role in changing this pattern by helping their child understand the value of, and implementing, SFT. Sbchool focus time better equips children to reach their full potential in school.

By Colin Brown
the elementary OLC coordinator at Beijing BISS International School. An educator for 10 years, Brown’s diversified teaching background includes classroom teacher (grades 4-7), physical education specialist, special education teacher and behaviour resource specialist.

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  1. REAL MOM of 4
    January 3rd, 2012 at 18:09 | #1

    Forcing a kid to do homework when he doesnt have any.? annnd expecting him to be enthusiastic about it.???aaaannnnd tired parents are expected to do this with them and enforce it.WHAT PLANET ARE YOU ON.?? DO YOU EVEN HAVE KIDS IN SCHOOL.??? Sorry but kids spend enough time in school,they shouldnt have any homework,ever.!Theyre children,not mini adults.You sound like youre quoting a book written by someone with no kids.

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