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11 Teacher-Approved Tricks for Helping Your Child Get Ahead This School Year

You have the loose-leaf paper and the pencils—but is your child really ready to hit the books? Teachers shared their best tips for ensuring that your child's ready to hit the ground running this fall.

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Set up a homework station

“Having a designated homework spot is great,” says Kelsey Flynn, a fourth and fifth grade teacher at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Make sure it’s stocked with supplies—markers, glue, construction paper, loose leaf, whatever they need.” Good task lighting is essential, and keep in mind that it doesn’t have to necessarily be a hard chair and table setup—a lap desk and a comfy beanbag chair could be an enticing place to get work done. Check out some more teacher-approved homework tips. But if math anxiety causes homework time to be an issue, the problem could be more serious than you think.

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Sign your kids up for extracurriculars

How could soccer practice or violin lessons help your child score better grades? Teachers swear that time away from the books, interacting with others, can help boost academic performance. “Successful students are often empathetic and active,” says Ian Wienclawski, an English teacher at Pioneer High School in Yorkshire, New York. “This often has to do with them having developed healthy social skills from seeing them modeled at home, playing sports, practicing an instrument or by being active readers.” A bonus: It also gives them a healthy outlet for reducing stress.

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Get them on a good sleep schedule

Bedtimes and wakeup times may have become pretty lax over the course of the summer. Spend the last week or two before school re-adjusting them to that early wakeup call, and making sure they get enough rest. “It’s important to get them back on a sleep schedule because all kids—especially middle schoolers and high schoolers—are sleep-deprived,” says Susan Eckert, a biology teacher at Montclair High School in Montclair, NJ.

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Encourage them to read—anything

While getting your child to dig into a juicy classic or a big fat non-fiction tome may be the ultimate goal, what’s more important is encouraging them to love reading in general. “I consider reading one of the best things students can do to prepare, and this is true for any grade level,” says Sarah Layden, lecturer of English at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “Read anything and everything: books, magazines and newspapers, comics, cereal boxes, road signs.” For pre-readers and early readers, a set story time with you is wonderful incentive to get them excited about reading.

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Give your kids chores (really)

Putting your kids to work helps them learn time management, responsibility, and organizational skills that can carry over to their academics. Here’s a guide to age-appropriate chores for your little ones. “Keeping assignments and due dates recorded is part of it, but just as important is developing strategies to get the work done,” Wienclawski says. “Learning intermittent reinforcement—studying a little bit each day, rather than cramming, is an example.”

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Get school supplies they really love

Sometimes, it’s the little things (literally) that can get your child excited about school. If getting animal-shaped erasers or glittery folders makes your child more excited about school, it may be worth a few extra dollars to splurge. Keep in mind that you don’t have to break the bank on character-themed school supplies: A few packs of Star Wars stickers can jazz up a plain lunch box—and be traded out for the next passion, should your child’s passion for a galaxy far, far away wane.

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Become regulars at the library

Free books and DVDs, amazing educational programs—what’s not to love at the library? Head to the library regularly to keep the passion for learning alive. “Encourage them to follow their natural interests and curiosity, which will lead them to different shelves they may not have discovered otherwise,” Layden says. “Maybe they’ll fall in love with a subject and have a major in mind when they head to college. And even if that doesn’t happen, they’ll still be reading and engaging with words, ideas and arguments. They’ll be developing the critical thinking skills we want them to refine once they get to college.” Learn even more about the library: Here are 13 things librarians won’t reveal, but every reader should know.

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Give your child some independence

Helicoptering over your child while he’s doing homework won’t encourage better grades—and you’ll make your child’s future success more dependent upon you pushing him. Be available for help and guidance, but every year, put your kids a little more in charge of their own education. “Fourth and fifth grade is a great time to stop checking the book bag every night, and let them deal with the consequences of unfinished work or forgotten projects,” Flynn says.

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Have extra supplies ready to go

“We have markers and glue sticks galore in August and they’ve disappeared by October,” Flynn says. Replenish supplies as needed—or just plan on sending in a new eraser, glue stick, and pencils every couple of months. “I have an ‘oops I forgot’ stash for students to borrow, but I cannot afford to provide supplies for every student halfway through the year.”

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Let kids be kids

Play time and down time are important for mental health—and for learning essential social and emotional skills, and creativity as well. “Give them time to play—unstructured, non-screen, barefoot in the yard time to play,” Flynn says.

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Show your excitement about education

A love of learning is contagious—and if you’re modeling great learning behaviors by reading and learning yourself, your kids will follow suit. (Need some inspiration? Check out these amazing quotes about teaching.) And if your kids start to express dread as the first day of school nears, make sure you accentuate the positive. “It’s really important to get them excited about school,” Eckert says. “I don’t want my kids to start with dread and be in a negative mindset. I tell them about how they’ll see all of their friends, meet new ones, get to know new teachers and learn how fascinating the world is.” Who wouldn’t be excited about that?