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How to Balance School + Extracurriculars

January 15, 2015

By Noralba Martinez

How to Balance School + Extracurriculars | A boy throws his arms up excitedly in front of an illustrated green background with alarm clocks.

My mother always tells me that life seems faster nowadays and that we are all too busy. I want my children to be busy enough to be involved in our community, learn, be fit, and stay out of trouble. However, I do not want them to be so busy that they lack time in their day to study, be creative, relax, and be kids. My daughter is 12 years old and my son is 14 years old. You can imagine how many school activities we have in one month, but then add to that soccer practice and games, Bible youth group, and church volunteering. We have at least six extracurricular activities after school in one week. It’s important to know when to decrease or increase the amount of activities your child is involved in. The key is keeping a healthy balance. Here are some simple ways to keep that balance.

Keep a visual calendar of all activities to avoid scheduling too many in one day and to allow your child time to study or prepare for another event. Mark the calendar with important dates like special events, test days, and presentations.

Make a contract with your child before he or she joins an extracurricular activity. Set realistic expectations, talk about the rules of the activity, and discuss consequences if the activity affects your child’s academic progress.

Check Grades
A big trigger to look for when you are worried that your child is doing too much is a decline in his or her grades. Check your child’s grades at least twice a week. If your see a drop in the grades, talk to your child about how to best help him or her. Remember to value school and make academics a priority over activities. Many schools have the “no pass, no play” rule, which does not allow a student athlete to play a sport unless he or she is passing all classes.

Power of Choice
Allow your child to choose the extracurricular activities and sports that he or she wants to be involved in. This choice will increase the motivation and effort your child devotes to that activity.

Extracurricular activities are great. Enjoy them with your child. They will help him or her learn valuable life lessons like team work and will help build a well-rounded child. For more information on extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities, contact your school district and your city’s park and recreation department.


How can we help our daughter understand that college grades take priority over her boyfriend?

January 9, 2015

By YOU Program Facilitator

How can we help our daughter understand that college grades take priority over her boyfriend? | A college-aged female tries to study at the library while her boyfriend sleeps on a stack of books and she looks at him with frustration.

Question: Our only child went to a nearby college this year on a scholarship, but her grades were very bad her first semester. She’s had a long-time boyfriend, who is the same age but is not in school. We think her grades are suffering because her boyfriend is always at her dorm, so when she’s out of class, she’s spending time with him instead of doing homework and balancing academic with social time. 

What can we do, if anything, at this point to help her understand that school needs to come first and she needs to find a balance between social/relationship time and study time?

Answer: One of the topics discussed frequently in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books is showing your child the value of an education. Your daughter is an adult now, so your role as a parent must shift to accommodate this phase of her life. Here are some suggestions discussed in our books:

Earning Income
Discuss the career options she will have with only a high school degree (see Through High School and Beyond), and what the corresponding salary would be. Be transparent with your daughter about your own household expenses and help her create a budget with the salary you discussed. Being open to the reality of living costs can be very eye opening for a young adult. 

Financing College
With your daughter, review the requirements to keep her scholarship. When grades are poor, it will be difficult—if even possible—to get another scholarship later. Explain to your daughter that the longer she waits to finish college, the more difficult it will be to get financial assistance. She may struggle to pay for college out of her own pocket. 

Encourage a Supportive Relationship
Reach out to the boyfriend and help him understand you want to be on the same team for the success of your daughter. Explain that you are not against their relationship, but rather you just want your daughter to earn a college degree so that she can be successful later in life. If the boyfriend truly cares about her, then he should be equally supportive of her academic success.

Encourage him to enroll in that school so they can help each other be successful. You can even help your daughter budget her time with classes, study time, and social time. Teaching her that there is room to manage academics and a social life will continue to be a useful skill later in life. 

Identify a Positive Environment
Encourage your daughter to make friends at her school. Having friends with the same goals for finishing college will influence her in a positive way. Find out what social activities are at the dorms or encourage her to enroll in a club.

As a parent, your role is to teach your daughter to value obtaining a college degree, and then you must trust that you have provided her the life skills necessary to make the best decision and live a productive and responsible life.


4 Steps to Support Learning at Home

November 5, 2014

By Dr. Bruce Marchiafava

4 Steps to Support Learning at Home | A mother helps her daughter with her homework.

Most parents today have limited free time, but still want to help their children succeed in school. National Parent Engagement Month is a great opportunity to evaluate how you support learning at home.

Whether we choose to or not, our children will learn from us. Basic learning begins at birth and continues right up to kindergarten. During these years, children acquire an amazing amount of knowledge. They learn to walk, run, and play games and sports. They acquire a language or two, they learn to read, and they develop social skills. They explore their world, starting with what they see in their cribs and continuing through their home and neighborhood.

This is quite a curriculum. Fortunately, parents can seek help with teaching these skills to their children from social agencies, formal and informal groups of parents, family members, books, and educational videos.

Once the child enters school, parents’ roles in learning shift to two major responsibilities: supporting the child in understanding what is taught at school and advocating for the child with the school.

Support your child’s learning at home with these four steps:

A healthy child is better prepared to perform well in school. Ensure good health by seeing that your child eats properly and sleeps enough, by making sure his or her backpack has the required books, pencils, and assignments due, etc.

Learning Environment
This environment can be a room or a desk in a corner or the kitchen table. It must be free from TV, music, phones, and other distractions. Multitasking rarely works for studying. See our article on creating an ideal DIY study room for kids for more ideas.

Parents should guide and supervise a child’s homework but not do it for them. Know the assignment and the due date and check to see what grade the teacher gives. Look for opportunities to praise your child for a job well done as well as for improvement on future assignments.

Speak with the teacher on a regular basis, not just when there’s a problem. Remember, teachers are your partners in helping your child succeed in school.

By practicing these simple parent engagement tips, you can help your child continue to learn and succeed once he or she has started a formal education.


Should Your Teen Have an After-School Job?

October 22, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

Should Your Teen Have an After-School Job? | A teen wearing a uniform smiles behind the counter at work.

When your teenager reaches the legal working age, he or she may be eager to get a job. The decision to start working is mostly likely economically driven. Teenagers tend to love money and they love to spend money even more. As a parent, perhaps you would welcome the additional income to the household. But should your teen have an after-school job? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Are you and your teen ready for the extra responsibility?

There are many advantages to a teen working an after-school job, beyond earning a few extra dollars for either him or herself or for the household. Working during the school year would allow your teen to learn to balance responsibility, socialize with others in and/or outside of the community, and learn a new skill or task while building his or her college résumé. It is also an opportunity to learn financial responsibility and the value of saving. All of these advantages can serve to empower your teen, helping him or her grow and demonstrate what “real life” will look like one day.

While working during the school year could be advantageous for your teen, there are a few considerations to ensure he or she makes the correct decision and succeeds in this endeavor.

  • Is your teen aware of the employer’s expectations for the job itself, dress code, and code of conduct? 
  • Will the amount of time at the job take away from the expectation of school deadlines, studying, and projects? 
  • Will his or her grades suffer? 
  • Will his or her home life and household responsibilities suffer? 
  • Will your teen need to give up extracurricular activities in order to meet the expectations of a job? 
  • Is your child physically ready for the additional responsibilities of an extended day? 

As you have from the beginning of your child’s life, you can continue to support him or her with this choice. Helping your teen weigh the pros and cons of his or her decision before accepting a job will ensure that he or she feels successful, empowered, and supported.


7 Ways to Maximize Your Parent-Teacher Conferences

September 22, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

7 Ways to Maximize Your Parent-Teacher Conferences | A teacher stands in front of his chalkboard full of algebraic equations.

In my 15-year teaching career, I have had countless parent conferences. Here are seven tips for parents to make the most out of this time with teachers.

  1. Block off time to attend. Schools book time for parent-teacher conferences months in advance. Find information on this date on the school’s website or call the main office. Knowing early can help reduce conflicts with your work schedule.
  2. Ask about the format of the conference. Some schools, due to their size, hold group conferences with parents. This is great if you just want to meet your child’s teachers and know what they are teaching, but one-on-one time for individual student concerns may not be available. You may have to make an appointment to have a one-on-one chat.
  3. Attend. Even if you are very happy with your student’s academic progress, teachers, and school, make it a priority to attend parent-teacher conference night. It is very reassuring for teachers to know that parents are active participants in their student’s education and attending sends a message to your child that what happens at school is important.
  4. Review your child’s grades with him or her prior to the conference. Use the report cards that the school sends home or log in to your school’s grading system. Ask your student to explain the grade he or she is receiving in each course. Write down any questions you may have.
  5. Have a game plan. Time is usually scarce at parent-teacher conferences so prioritize which teachers you would like to see and have your questions ready. If you need help communicating, schools usually have a volunteer group or staff members willing to translate. Do not be afraid to ask; the most important thing is for you to get your questions answered. Sometimes important items are lost in translation if you rely on your student to mediate.
  6. Remember that the teacher is your partner and a trained expert in educating children. You are both working hard to make sure your student is as successful as he or she can be. Be open to the teacher’s suggestions and how he or she is teaching your child. Teaching strategies evolve and how you were taught a particular subject might be different from what the current research tells us about how children learn best.
  7. Commit to an action plan to help your student improve. This plan might include checking over homework for the overall level of understanding or completion, or requesting that the teacher send email updates on behavior or missing assignment completion.

Parent-teacher conferences are a very important time for you to get feedback on your student’s academic and social progress. By attending and being prepared to maximize this opportunity, you will demonstrate support for your child, the teacher(s), and the school.

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