Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I’m sharing steps to help your kids succeed in school.

Help Your Kids Succeed in SchoolA great teacher can be transformational in a child’s life, but those with the greatest influence for helping children succeed at school this year won’t be employees of School Boards. They’ll be parents.

What can we do to launch our children well, and help them to succeed in school this year? Here are a few thoughts.

1. Sleep Helps Kids Succeed

First, get them ready to learn, and that means that they have to be well-rested. Too many kids do not get enough sleep. In fact, lack of sleep has been heavily linked to ADD and a host of other learning difficulties. Children under the age of thirteen need, on average, 10-11 hours of sleep a night. Teens need more than we think, too–up to nine hours.

To make teens sleep, turn off the wifi at 10:30 every night, and put all phones on the charger in a central place. To help younger kids sleep, enforce a bedtime, which means enforcing a bedtime routine. Start getting kids ready for bed much earlier than they need to be asleep. Read them a story. Give them a bath. Help them to relax.

One reason so many kids don’t sleep well is because they’ve overscheduled. If kids are in activities until 8:00 several nights a week, it’s hard to get a decent night’s sleep. Parents’ work schedules often impede sleep, too. If a parent isn’t home until 7:30 or 8, chances are that parent wants to spend time with the kids before they turn in. Resist the urge to keep kids up, and find ways to connect with them at other times of day.

2. Encourage Imaginative Play to Help Train their Brains

Here’s a second thought to help kids get ready to learn: encourage imaginative play. Most kids today play primarily with technology–on devices and phones, on video games, or on computers. Yet these are largely passive modes of entertainment. Even video games, which arguably are more interactive, don’t require imagination in the same way as traditional play did. Take some time after dinner everyday and turn all devices off.

Then limit the kids’ toys. Kids don’t need a lot to play with: they can build forts with blankets; they can construct things out of pots and pans; they can create homes for dolls out of towels. Boredom is the mother of invention. Encourage more hands-on toys, too, like Lego or puzzles or that teach spatial ability.

3. Reading = Success in School

Third, make reading a central part of your home. Read every night to the kids before they go to bed. For long car trips listen to books on CD or iPod. Enforce a strict bedtime–but tell kids they can stay up half an hour longer if they’re reading or looking at books. Kids may even get in the habit of always needing a good book to help them get to sleep!

4. Make Learning a Natural Part of Life

Finally, if you want to help your kids succeed in school, make learning a natural part of a child’s life. When you’re in the grocery store, tell them “we’re going on a hunt for the letter B”, and find all the things that start with the B-uh sound. (Broccoli? Bread? Beans? What about Pancake Mix? See if they can tell the difference!). You can do this with numbers, too. When you’re at Tim Horton’s, ask them to figure out the change. If that would take too long, just start explaining yourself. “I need thirty-five cents. That means a quarter and a dime, because a quarter is twenty-five cents and a dime is ten cents!”

Kids are born to be little sponges. They take everything in, and they love learning, because it helps them make sense of the world. So talk about everything you’re doing. Show them patterns. And then give them time to absorb all of that with some down time to play and some down time to sleep. Do that, and chances are your kids will do very well in school this year.

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