updated September 24, 2019
Cherie Melancon Franz, a Lakeview resident and mom to Ethan, 11, and Anabelle, 15, had to help her son through a big transition last year when he began fourth grade at Edward Hynes Charter School. Ethan’s math assignments became more difficult, his chapter books were longer and the amount of material he needed to know for his exams seemed to double. “This is downright overwhelming,” Cherie remembers thinking as she emailed Ethan’s teacher for help.
But, over the school year, Cherie and her family developed a few study habits to help Ethan, who is on the autism spectrum, prepare for tests and excel in the classroom. “He ended the school year with the A/B honor roll,” says Cherie. “It was a tough year.”
Tips and Tricks
While every child is different, education experts across NOLA have shared a few tips on how students can start off the school year on the right foot and reduce their school-related stress and anxiety. That goes for parents as well. “Parents, try and keep your cool because your kids feed off that energy,” says Allison Asher, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist with Pelts, Kirkhart & Associates.
Time to relax directly after school is important for Ethan, says Cherie. He decompresses with a snack for at least an hour before he starts any homework. Cherie, her husband, Arthur Franz IV, and sometimes Anabelle also take turns helping Ethan with homework, she says. A tip Cherie learned from other parents is to copy school worksheets to use as study guides for tests and future assignments.
Cherie also creates funny vocabulary quizzes and, while she ensures Ethan is prepared for upcoming tests, she doesn’t tell him the exact date because of the anxiety it causes him, she says. If Ethan gets a good grade, the family applauds him, but he if receives a less than stellar grade, they merely say he’ll do better next time without letting him know the exact grade, she says.
Let the Child Take Control
Adela Baker, the founder of Mind Coach Nola, has a few techniques to help ensure students understand the assignment. Baker works primarily with children with ADHD to help them develop executive function skills including time management, memory, self-motivation and sustaining attention. Many children with ADHD have trouble with these skills that many neurotypical kids learn more easily, she says.
Baker suggests having the child explain the assignment to you as if they’re teaching it to you or to a friend who has missed class. But finding the assignment, many of which are now located in online portals or websites, can be challenging, she says. Students can also practice explaining where to find the assignment, Baker says. “It’s not just a matter of what is the assignment, but where can I find all the materials I need for this assignment?” says Baker. Baker also recommends giving the student a choice in the study schedule – Would they rather study science or do math homework first?
Be Involved at Your Child’s School
Whitney Drennan, Lower School Head at Louise S. McGehee School, says it is important for parents to attend school orientation meetings or parents’ nights because they will receive important information about the school year. Parents can ask teachers questions about class requirements and the expected workload which will, in turn, help students worry less, she says. “The more you know as parents, the easier it is to reduce any anxiety or fears of homework your child may or may not be exhibiting,” says Drennan.
Continue Being Attentive
Several experts say writing down assignments in a planner is key. Even if a class calendar is listed online, the student should be writing down structured study times and due dates in a planner, says Baker. Writing down assignments in a planner helps prioritize what the student should be studying, says Sylvan Regional Director Kris Cusanza.
Even if students assume they don’t have homework, Cusanza says students should be studying each subject for as little as five minutes each day just to ensure they are “fluent with their materials.” Cusanza also recommends reaching out early to teachers if a student feels overwhelmed or lost in school. “Don’t wait ’til the last minute because it will make it that much harder for you to complete your assignments,” Cusanza says.
Have a Designated Workspace
Jesse Nolan, Club Z! Tutoring Area Director, says on many of his home visits there isn’t a designated, quiet place for the student to study or a structured plan from the parent to help the child work. “It’s just no wonder the kid’s not really learning or doing well because there’s noise,” Nolan says. Many of the parents don’t have these time management or study skills either, he says. Nolan recommends a quiet space with a desk, a comfortable chair and a bulletin board on the wall the student can view as a “visual reference,” he says.
The home should have access to the Internet since so many school assignments are now accessed online, he says. “It’s really about organization and routine and time on task,” says Nolan. The student needs some kind of support, whether it’s a parent or sibling or another family member to review their work and ensure they are on track, he says.
Limiting screen time has also worked wonders for Ethan who found it hard to turn off electronics and settle down to do homework, Cherie says. “We’re learning as we go and each kid is completely different,” says Cherie. “Just because something worked for one of them doesn’t mean it will work for both.”