5 Excellent Habits to Start When School Does

Think of these as family-wide, extra-early New Year’s resolutions. With no CrossFit commitment.

1

Adopt a “Read and Discuss” Policy.

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Photo by seb_ra/Getty Images

At university, I got into the habit of starting assignments right away, even if they weren’t due for two weeks. That way, I could actually finish the task with the right amount of preparation and work. Now my partner and I have four kids, and the nonprocrastination idea looks more like this: Our oldest child, who is 7, has weekly homework. When she gets an assignment, we spend a few moments the first evening reading and discussing it. It doesn’t feel like work; we’re not “doing” homework, but really, we are. Understanding the task and its purpose is an important part. I’d be more impressed if a child could describe the task she needs to do and why than if she simply completed it. So read and discuss and then let it sit for a night. The next day, the kid will be raring to go. — Chris Ferrie, a physicist and mathematician, is the author of Rocket Science for Babies and other children’s books. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

2

Start One New Thing.

Use that back-to-school feeling to your advantage, even if you aren’t in school anymore. Pursue a new opportunity: If you work in a scientific or technical field, consider working on your communication skills with a writing class or project. Or maybe it’s time to acquire some tech skills. Find an online certificate program in coding or digital graphic design offered by accredited universities. You could also submit your writing or art to an anthology, journal, or juried show. Some professional development programs even include free travel! Remember, only a very small number of people apply for a whole lot of things. They’re the ones who get them. — Michael Wing is a high school science teacher in San Anselmo, California, and the author of Passion Projects for Smart People.

3

Tell Kids to “Figure It Out.”

It’s one of my catchphrases. I teach middle school, where parents can’t be as involved as they were when the kids were in elementary school, and it’s hard. Parents worry, "Will my kid get into college?" Kids worry, “Will I do well in my classes?” Many of my students calculate their GPAs every day! We are all so focused on following a straight line. But we need to be focused on how to struggle. Because everyone does, whether you’re a straight-A or straight-C student. It’s not always about coming out on top; it’s about valuing efforts and mistakes and learning to respond to them. When your kid is stuck, what does he do? We need to teach our kids that we’re all still learning. Life is hard, but you regroup and figure it out. — Jennifer Wolfe is a junior high school teacher in Davis, California. She writes at jenniferwolfe.net.



4

Structure the Snacking.

A few weeks before school starts, our family begins to cut back on frequent, idle snacking. We try to prevent little hands from grabbing whatever they want in the pantry, whenever they want it, out of boredom. We certainly don’t restrict, but just like in school, we establish some ground rules: We set a snack time, and the kids have to ask before taking a snack. That way, when the fall semester begins, they’re used to the structure. — James Kicinski-McCoy is a writer, photographer, and cofounder and editor of Mother magazine. She lives in Nashville.

5

Be Flexible With Reading.

You’ve heard it over and over: Kids need to read every day. But they need to read what they love. As adults, if we don’t like a book, we can put it down and choose something else. We need to give that option to kids, too. In my classroom, I try to have different genres and series available. The goal is to get students to have a positive experience, which builds their confidence and helps them understand that if they’re frustrated, it’s not that they don’t like reading; it’s that they haven’t found the right book. Lately my students have been fired up about any book that has been made into a movie or a television show. Graphic novels, too: Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, is a perennial favorite. And like many other graphic novels, it is based on a traditional one. Often kids will wind up reading that, too. — Sydney Chaffee is a ninth-grade humanities teacher in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She was named the 2017 National Teacher of the Year by The Council of Chief State School Officers.