Start off the school year on the right foot

August 08, 2005|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

The back-to-school advertisements are everywhere, selling everything from crayons to clothes to dorm room refrigerators. Getting back into the school groove means more than a trip to the mall. You can prepare your kids, from kindergarten to college, by thinking ahead as the summer winds down.

One way to start the school year right is to create a good place to study. Whether it's a desk in a bedroom or at the kitchen table, a study area should be a place where students can concentrate with few interruptions. When my kids were in grade school, we bought second-hand desks and bookcases to set up in their bedrooms. But we ended up gathering at the kitchen table every night for "homework time" after dinner. My husband and I joined in too, by bringing something home from the office to work on, or just paying bills or reading the paper. This allowed us to be an arm's length away if they had any questions.


Communication is important, too. Talk to students about what you expect, go over their successes from the past year, and talk to them about what they could work on and what you are willing to do to help. A co-worker of mine talks to her son about what she expects for grades and homework, and tells him what the consequences will be if he doesn't follow the guidelines.

Before classes begin, make sure students review their schedules for the coming year. Are there special supplies they'll need for any classes? Did they finish their summer reading list for English class? It's a good idea to use part of the summer to prepare for the fall, so they're a step ahead when the school doors open again.

High school students can use the time before school begins to make a plan for investigating and applying to colleges. ACT research shows that most students say their parents are very important in the college-planning process, so get involved. Help your teenager map out a plan for going to college as early as middle school.

High school juniors and seniors need to know what's in store for them as far as test and application deadlines, teacher recommendations and other paperwork. Create a "college calendar" for the year to keep them on track. (You can find information to help you make a calendar at

The older students get, the more important time management becomes. I've heard from college students that one of their biggest problems during their first year was managing their schedule and finding time for everything. Have your teenager create a school schedule, allowing time for everything from sports practice to homework-and some down time as well. The rule in our house was no TV until homework was completed. My daughter is in grad school now and says she still uses this rule for herself to keep up with her studies.

Finally, don't forget that teens need time to kick back and let off a little steam both in the summer and during the school year. If you plan for school ahead of time, allow some flexibility so your teen not only has a good year, but also has a fun year. You'll all benefit.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to

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