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Five key skills for academic success

It's never too early or too late to help your child develop the skills for academic success. Learn how to build these skills and stay on track all year long.

By GreatSchools Staff

It takes a combination of skills — organization, time management, prioritization, concentration and motivation — to achieve academic success. Here are some tips to help get your child on the right track.

Talk to your child.

To find out which of these skills your child has and which he can develop further, start a simple conversation that focuses on his goals. Ask him about his favorite subjects, classes he dreads and whether he's satisfied with his latest progress report.

Listen for clues.

Incorporate your own observations with your child's self-assessment. Is your child overwhelmed by assignments? She may have trouble organizing time. Does your child have difficulty completing her work? She may get distracted too easily. Is your child simply not interested in school? She may need help getting motivated.

Identify problem areas.

Start here to help your child identify which of the five skill areas are trouble spots.

1. Organization

Whether it's keeping track of research materials or remembering to bring home a lunch box, children need to be organized to succeed in school. For many students, academic challenges are related more to a lack of organization than to a lack of intellectual ability.

Tips to help your child get organized:

  • Make a checklist of things your child needs to bring to and from school every day. Put a copy by the door at home and one in his backpack. Try to check with him each day to see if he remembers the items on the list.
  • Find out how your child keeps track of his homework and how he organizes his notebooks. Then work together to develop a system he will want to use.
  • Shop with your child for tools that will help him stay organized, such as binders, folders or an assignment book.

 

2. Time Management

Learning to schedule enough time to complete an assignment may be difficult for your student. Even when students have a week to do a project, many won't start until the night before it's due. Learning to organize time into productive blocks takes practice and experience.

Tips to help your child manage time:

  • Track assignments on a monthly calendar. Work backward from the due date of larger assignments and break them into nightly tasks.
  • Help your child record how much time she spends on homework each week so she can figure out how to divide this time into manageable chunks.
  • Together, designate a time for nightly homework and help your child stick to this schedule.
  • If evenings aren't enough, help your child find other times for schoolwork, such as early mornings, study halls or weekends.

3. Prioritization

Sometimes children fall behind in school and fail to hand in assignments because they simply don't know where to begin. Prioritizing tasks is a skill your child will need throughout life, so it's never too soon to get started.

Tips to help your child prioritize:

  • Ask your child to write down all the things he needs to do, including non-school-related activities.
  • Ask him to label each task from 1 to 3, with 1 being most important.
  • Ask about each task, so that you understand your child's priorities. If he labels all his social activities as 1, then you know where his attention is focused.
  • Help your child change some of the labels to better prioritize for academic success. Then suggest he rewrite the list so all the 1s are at the top.
  • Check in frequently to see how the list is evolving and how your child is prioritizing new tasks.

 

4. Concentration

Whether your child is practicing her second-grade spelling words or studying for a trigonometry test, it's important that she works on schoolwork in an area with limited distractions and interruptions.

Tips to help your child concentrate:

  • Turn off access to email and games when your child works on the computer.
  • Declare the phone and TV off-limits during homework time.
  • Find space that fits the assignment. If your child is working on a science project, she may need lots of space; if she's studying for a Spanish test, she will need a well-lit desk.
  • Help your child concentrate during homework time by separating her from her siblings.

 

5. Motivation

Most children say they want to do well in school, yet many still fail to complete the level of work necessary to succeed academically. The reason is often motivation. Tapping into your child's interests is a great way to get him geared to do well in school.

Tips to help motivate your child:

  • Link school lessons to your child's life. If he's learning percentages, ask him to figure out the price of a discounted item next time you shop.
  • Link your child's interests to academics. If he's passionate about music, give him books about musicians and show how music and foreign languages are connected.
  • Give your child control and choices. With guidance, let him determine his study hours, organizing system or school project topics.
  • Encourage your child to share his expertise. Regularly ask him about what he's learning in school.
  • Congratulate your child, encourage him and celebrate all his successes.

Often what holds children back from trying is the fear of failure or the memory of a time they didn't do well. You can help break this cycle by celebrating your child's successes, no matter how small, and by giving him opportunities to succeed academically.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

09/3/2010:
"The tips are reasonable if indeed one can sacrifice to execute them with our children."
05/10/2010:
"Academic success is the most important aspect of individual life because very body whises the best for his or herself overtime.there are some qualities that leand the individual to success in area of specialisation or area of interest 1. honesty 2. determination 3. motivation 4. postive assistance from the family and educational institution 5.acceptability of roles and total committment towards positive and social development. Actually there are other enduring qualities that create room for success in academics or at place of work but it is important that the individual make some certain determination of becoming a successful person in life. The things that create room for determination is very important towards positive changes. "
11/17/2009:
"this is very helpful to me"
10/27/2009:
"Great tips and very useful advice! Thanks"
09/4/2009:
"Talking to parents is sometimes uncomfortable. Talk to peers for help."
07/27/2009:
"My question is what kind of connection between parent and teacher should be expected when a child begins sixth grade? Are teachers expected to send home information weekly or monthly about what is going on in their classroom?? I have heard teachers depend on students to relate to parents what activities are going on in the class."
07/27/2009:
"I believe choosing to have your child re-do 2nd grade isn't the best option. If the school district feels the child has succeeded in passing 2nd grade why would you as a parent want to hold the child back? If the child worked soo hard to pass 2nd grade, and now is being told has to repeat 2nd grade maybe the child feels like why try so hard if it's seems her best isn't good enough. You should celebrate her passing 2nd grade and encourage and support your child in the 3rd grade as you did in 2nd grade. This will give your child more confidence and motivation to do her very best in the challenges ahead. "
07/14/2009:
"Any additional advice on trying. My daughter had a difficult year in 2nd grade, keeping up was a challenge and she really worked hard. We have decided it best for her to redo 2nd grade as she is young turning 8 in September. This summer she comments on always being wrong and she has a serious lack of interest in learning for the first time. I am concerned she has started to give up inside. We do celebrate her successes. Any advice for a child who tried really, really hard all year and seems to be giving up now? Thanks!"
07/13/2009:
"This is a very good article! I myself am an 8th grader and I love this!! :)"
05/13/2009:
"Great tips for parents. Thank you!"
04/9/2009:
"I have a 17 year old daughter who has struggled her whole school career. She has been diagnosed with ADD but refuses to take meds because of how these meds affect her. She excels in hands on classes, but barely passes the other core classes. I've tried learning programs such as Sylvan with very little results. She gets completely overwhelmed and basically gives up when the work load becomes to much for her to understand or handle. I want to help her, but need some basic tools to do so. Please Help!!!"
12/3/2008:
"A lot of these ideas don't seem like they'd work on the average high school student. We're finally old enough to be trusted, and you're going to take that away by blocking email and whatnot. It's nice to inspire education among your children, but there's a line between letting them choose to learn and forcing them to. Why are there so many articles directed to parents and not to the students. The learning should be taken over by the student and not pushed by the parent. "
10/13/2008:
"It is very intersting observation and I believe that the tips could help parents to follow thier children in order to improve thier academic success. But how can I define academic success? What are the indicators of academic success? What additional factors can affect the academic success of the children? "
10/1/2008:
"My kindergartener is always in a hurry. I am a grandmother raising three girls under the age of 8. This middle one expects me to know the assignment before she lays it out for me to look at. She gets irritated if she has to redo since she is in a hurry to finish. I know my part is to be consistent with expectations. But I need some suggestions as to how to slow her down, keep me patient, and prevent interruptions from the sister just 14 months younger than her."
08/19/2008:
"Hi, Mom of 14 year old, Your daughter sounds just like my daughter when she was 14.This is just the beginning of the end, if you don't get help immediately! I wish there was the education out there then. My daughter is very intelligent and a high energy person. It took us till age 27, in 2007 to find out that she has a 'Depression' problem that is under the catagory of 'Bi-Polor'. Please get a book at your public library, to help you see if it applies to your daughter. If it does, it wil give you a in-sight how to approach your daughter, to get her involved in the process. Please don't talk to others, she will feel like she is being attacked. To help her if it applies, before getting medical help. Sleep, exercise, sunlight/blue light theapy(can be purchased), fish diet or fish oil pills(anti-burp kind.G.N.C. has, not Costco brand) Please keep a open mind, I didn't pursue this, a hidden family secret, was implied. A distant family member had committed suicide. Usually inheirited, 'Bi-Polar' My daughter, and our family has paid the price. I hope this helps! Don't give up hope! She is your child, you are probally her only hope! That is what I have had to tell myself. A Mother's love! Please pursue this! A Caring Mom"
08/19/2008:
"Great idea: enroll your children in Kids College at your local community college's continuing ed center. for example a very smart kid can take web site design or writing a-z classes and algebra classes, too. "
08/15/2008:
"i often create a 'to-do' list for my son, which is extremely rewarding to him as he CHECKS OFF the tasks......thank!....good stuff!!"
08/15/2008:
"this is ver y good info thanks"
08/15/2008:
" My child is not very organized and needs help completing his classwork at home. Does anyone know how I can motivate him to try harder to accomplish his classwork in school? "
08/15/2008:
"Thank you for the great tips. I wish I had them when I was in school!"
08/14/2008:
"My child had a bad experience two yearsa go with a teacher. Since then, he's been so discouraged by school. Saying, ' I hate school!' He's only in the 6th grade and it upsets me to see his interest in school decline and he has so far to go. These are actually supposed to be the fun times in school (elementary). I have two younger children that hear him say the things that he says, and it's a challenge to keep theem interested and optomistic about school. How do I get him encouraged about school again??"
08/14/2008:
"To the Homework Club Mom: I would approach this the same way we do in business. Document everything and then go to someone above the person you are dealing with. Have all the parents that participate in the homework club ask the principal why he/sheis not supportive of this program [that is free to the school and the parents]. if possible email or regular mail the letter. Once there is no response after say a month, send a copy of the letter to the principal with 'copy' noted on the letter. After another month passes, go to the district superintendent or even the board with all copies of letters sent and responses received. This is rather antagonistic but the principal is not showing much support for the teachers, parents or students. Maybe they will transfer the principal."
06/10/2008:
"my son can not settle down during school time to complete his work and it bothers me because i think something is wrong with him, but nothing is wrong with him he is just distracted he said so him self. he also said that the child he sits next to dastracts him what could i do?"
06/5/2008:
"I have two children, one that will be moving into 2nd grade and one that will be in Kindergarten. Good food in my case organic, plenty of sleep (10-12 hrs) and giving them access to as many experiences as possible, builds a healthy foundation. I believe that from that foundation they can achieve their true potential. Organization will definately make life smoother!"
03/5/2008:
"Hi, I have a 14 yr. old whois having trouble in school. She doesn't to study, we've tried everything. We've taken away everything she owns, and tried to get her to earn it back. I've tried sitting with her to do homework and study and that didn't work. She'll tell you she didn't study because she didn't feel like it. We fight day and night. I think I HAVE ALMOST GIVEN UP. I don't know what else to do with her, she's a smart girl. If she study's she does well, if se doesn't, shefails every test.. I've tried talking to her, motivating her. I just don't know what else to do. She doen't have behavioral problems, she's not a wild kid. She's over all pretty good. I will tell you she's very imature. PLEASE HELP."
02/20/2008:
"My eight year old third grader is new at her school that is closer to the end of the school year. The class has been going over things she is not familar with. I think she feels not as smart as the other students. Also there is a taks test coming soon that I am not sure she is ready for. I am tring to figure out how to help her. She gets irritated with my help with school work. I do not know what to do. Can you please give me some advice on what to do to keep her inerested in new school and catch her up on things?"
02/11/2008:
"thanks for the great tips i can id these topics with my child somethings you suggested i will try have not throught of until reading your topic thank you."
02/6/2008:
"This is great! Getting started on this today! Thank you."
01/30/2008:
"Great article. As an elementary school teacher, I know that if all parents could and did participate in their children's education, all schools could be great!"
01/22/2008:
"Excellent details..its really worth following the 5 keyes for the academic success..thanks for the useful message we liked it :-)"
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