Scholar time

How is it that one family can produce such different learners and learning styles?

One of my kids is easily distracted and forgets due dates, another could read and do homework in the middle of a fiesta at Disneyland.

One actually puts together a timeline for big projects with mini steps along the way without any urging (clearly not my genes coming through there), another lives in la-la denial land until the day before it's due and then panics (no comment).

It became clear, halfway through last year, that I needed to figure out a way to help all three have better study skills and planning. (This may or may not have had something to do with the mid-year report of one of the kids where missing homework assignments and such had led to a midterm warning of a very low grade. Measures were needed.)

I've always loved hyggli family routines and cultural traditions. I think I should have been British, given how much I adore the tea time tradition. So I stole the essence of tea time, slapped the title Scholar Time on it, and made it our own new tradition.

Scholar Time is from 3 to 5 at our house in the winter, later in the fall and spring (with a little variation for lessons and sports practices, as needed). It's nothing revolutionary: just a set aside learning time for my kids and me.

Truly, it's all in the spin and marketing, folks! I try to make it more of a nice ritual. Put on some music, light a couple of candles, sometimes add cocoa or a treat.

We all unload our homework, books, etc. on the table. If there's homework, they do it (I do mine, too). But it's not just about homework.

I make everyone fess up about looming tests, quizzes, etc. If someone has a project coming up, we map out the small steps to make it feel more manageable. I ask (I learned this from my Aunt Annette) how much support they want: minimal (just reminders about due dates, etc. and putting it on the calendar), some (need materials from the store, want to brainstorm, need a proofreader), or a lot (don't know where to start, help with understanding the concepts, helping organize an outline, field trips [our high school has the freshmen find and catalog 100 different leaf varieties; that's a big one]).

If someone comes upon something really interesting, they share it with the rest of us and we stop and chat about it.

Here are the keys:
  1. Keep in mind my kids are 11, 13, 16 and all in middle school and high school. Two hours isn't too much to ask; yours might only need 1/2 hour. We try to do it Monday through Thursday and make Friday afternoons an anything-goes day but usually at least one other day just doesn't work out.
  2. I am there to help out. Available. Sitting right there. I think this is the biggest shift.
  3. It's quiet as possible (for the easily distracted among us)
  4. It's scholar time, not just homework time. So if they don't have homework (or finish early), they go over something they've learned, study for a test, outline an essay for next week, read ahead, go practice their instrument (out of earshot).
  5. When they're done, they pack up their backpacks for tomorrow (I'm so over the hurry-before-the-bus-comes-I-can't-find-my-essay-and-math-homework). Celebrate another day of learning, woot!
As I said, nothing revolutionary but a great improvement over our laissez-faire homework-doing of the past. That particular low midterm grade? It sprang back up into the zone of better grades. Like most "programs" sometimes we're better at it than others. But I do look forward to a couple of hours of sitting with my kids + watching them learn. And I get my hyggli ritual.

(Maybe everyone already does something like this and it's just taken me 11 years to catch on! Recently a couple of families we know have asked about it since Sam was talking about "scholar time" so I thought I'd put it out there in case it makes sense for others to do, too.)

Plus, I'd love to hear any suggestions about what you do around your house to help kids stay on top of the academic demands (or what you did as a student). I think my kids have more homework now than I had as a college student!