Holiday season is just about in full swing, and between family gatherings, holiday parties in and out of school, and all of the excitement that comes with this 'most wonderful time of the year,' it can also introduce added stress and distractions to kids. Of course, we want our kids to enjoy the season and all of its celebrations, but to also keep their attention on schoolwork and studies — particularly older kids — and make positive choices to stay healthy in mind and body. Scott Doty, founder and CEO of BrainStorm Tutoring, shares some simple tips for kids and their parents for staying focused during a hectic season, so they can have fun while continuing to make school a priority.
Set Goals With the Family
The holiday season brings plenty of festive celebrations, which can equate to academic slacking. Doty recommends helping students avoid losing the momentum that they've built at the beginning of the year. "I recommend a full family conference, to lay out goals and expectations for the coming few weeks," says Doty. And remember, it's all about balance. "Get buy-in from the crew on the goals of striking a balance between eggnog and math equations." Set a framework for achieving this balance, such as designating 3 pm–6 pm for school and 6 pm–9 pm for baking and Mariah Carey, or establish "sacred" days focused just one one or the other.
Create a Study-Friendly Atmosphere
"Remember that their setting or environment is critical," says Doty. "If your child is trying to memorize his Spanish verbs while smelling pumpkin bread, it will be tough to succeed." Doty suggests creating a study-friendly zone of the house that is well lit and organized to eliminate clutter and other distractions. If total silence isn't realistic, add white noise or instrumental music to create an ambiance for focusing. "Get the team on board to organize your space and your time."
Lean Into Their Teachers
It's OK to reach out to your child's teacher for support. Doty suggests sending a quick check-in note every few weeks to establish a positive relationship with the teacher and gain insight into the class assignments and topics. Post-COVID, many teachers now also have their own easily accessible online pages within the school's website with this information, too. Students can also get extra help during breaks and after school when needed. "This remains a tried and true method for demonstrating effort and building rapport with the teacher," says Doty. It can help the student "get on the good side" of the teacher, even if they spend just 30 minutes with them every other week. If this is not an option, consider partnering with an effective local tutor like those at BrainStorm Tutoring to help pick up the slack.
Get Them Moving
Staying focused doesn't just mean hunkering down in front of your homework and books every day. Particularly at the elementary school age, physical movement at more frequent intervals is essential. Focus on the basic concepts of movement, color, sound, and food satiation. "Using different colored ink, speaking out loud to memorize things, and working with a bit of food in the stomach are all well-proven techniques to help younger students," says Doty. These easy tips translate to proven success for middle and high school students as well.
Be sure to incorporate fun mini-breaks into the study routine, too. Doty recommends 8-minute breaks for every 45 minutes of study time to let kids move, be silly, do jumping jacks, or have a dance party. While it sounds silly — and it should! — this will help to keep good energy flowing through their body.
Put Them to the Test
Keep in mind that the end of the second marking period for middle and high school students is typically in late January, so it's crucial that they don't slack off from mid-November until after the New Year. Get a head start on studying to avoid falling behind. For high school juniors, there are also SAT/ACT exams in December and again in February or March. "Holidays are an ideal time of year to crank on test prep because there are many more days off from school, and sometimes lighter homework," says Doty. If students spend time doing the work now, the payoff will be greater at test time.