Back to School 101: Good study habits

It’s back-to-school season. And this week, WTOP News is looking at how kids can get ready for that return. In today’s “Back to School 101” class, education expert Ann Dolin shares some good study habits to form.


Making the best use of time after school can be a struggle, especially for busy families. Your kids just finished sitting in class all day, and the last thing that they want to be thinking about is studying and homework. That’s why this is one of those times when your child can benefit tremendously from setting up a routine, especially if they’re elementary and middle school students.

First, set a regular start time to help avoid the “I’ll do it later” syndrome. This could be:

  • right after school,
  • after a 30-minute break,
  • before dinner,
  • after dinner or
  • right before bedtime.

And consider scheduling in some downtime after school or other activities to give younger students a break. For high schoolers, it’s hard to tell them exactly when they have start, but using one of those “blocks” as a general rule can help curb the late-night stress of realizing it’s time for bed and their homework isn’t done.

Q: Aside from daily homework, how can parents help kids plan ahead for those long-term assignments?

Students often think of Monday as the first day of the week, but to stay on top of assignments and earn great grades, Sunday is the most important day. Using Sundays to look ahead to what’s coming up — such as due dates for tests and projects — is an easy way to stay on top of the workload.

Parents can help by setting aside time, perhaps even after dinner on Sundays, to review upcoming assignments for the week.

You can ask, for instance, “What is coming up in class that you might need to start working on?” If your child says “I have a test on Friday” or “I have a science project due in two weeks,” you can then take the opportunity to help them talk through some forward planning.

Ask, “What might you do to break down that project into smaller tasks?” And then have them outline the steps they need to take.

Q: Are there any special materials or tools that can be helpful?

I love whiteboards, especially when they’re strategically placed in the student’s study area. They’re not flashy or tech-savvy, but they still work wonders with elementary, middle and high schoolers.

They can be used in two ways. The easiest is for a daily “to-do” list, in which the day’s assignments are simply listed in the order in which they’ll get done. A step beyond that is to plan for the week, not just for the day. Early in the week — on Sunday or Monday — have your child write out the days of the week on their whiteboard, then jot down important due dates that will fall on each day. (Think tests, quizzes, projects and homework assignments.)

Once the week is filled in, your child will be ready to create daily to-do lists. With that list right in front of them, kids are more likely to accomplish every task — and wipe each one away with a sense of pride and satisfaction!

Q: How can parents help their kids with initiative, so that they can be independent and responsible?

We can ask powerful questions instead of telling kids what to do. After all, if your kids are like mine, they don’t like to be told what to do. For example, when kids get home from school, parents often ask, “Do you have homework?” It’s a question that requires a yes-or-no answer and virtually no thinking involved.

Instead, ask a question that helps kids think ahead, such as “What are your priorities tonight?”

In a perfect world, your son or daughter might say, “Well, Mom, I need to study for my history test tonight and finish that science lab, because I have a soccer game tomorrow and want to get a head start.” But in reality, your child might not give you a list of what he is going to do first, second or third, but the question will spark him to think of his priorities.

And ultimately, that’s what you want to do: Get kids thinking for themselves.

Ann Dolin is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring and the author of “Homework Made Simple.”


Back to School 101

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