Set students up for success during “the critical” hours

May 1, 2017 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Apple CEO Tim Cook wakes up at 3:45 a.m. to get a head start on email, while former President Barack Obama, a self-proclaimed night owl, prefers to burn the midnight oil.

Though for student success, it’s not the early morning and late-night hours, but the mid-afternoon hours that can make all the difference in helping students stay successful outside of the classroom.

Oftentimes referred to as “the critical hours,” the hours spent afterschool, whether playing sports participating in extracurricular programs, or even just an afternoon routine, are essential hours to help boost learning and development.

“When students are supported by their parents and/or teachers in afterschool programs and/or predictable afternoon routines, their social and emotional skills are supported, fostering a positive school-home connection which also enhances student motivation and self-expectations,” Christine Macchi, a school counselor at Oliver W. Winch Middle School in South Glens Falls, NY said.

The importance of extracurricular activities

A 2003 study conducted by the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation explored the link between out-of-school time and student success, and found that participation in afterschool programs, whether a sport, activity or club, highly correlated with school success, from more consistent school attendance to academic achievement.

“Being an active participant in an afterschool program becomes a motivational factor for students,” said Macchi.

“When students get involved in afterschool activities or clubs, they feel better connected to their school community. Being a part of a team or club supports students in building peer relationships, which in turn, provides students with confidence, a sense of belonging and self-worth. Being involved in such things helps build character and social/life skills as well.”

Macchi also shared that when students are active participants in extracurriculars, “they have a desire to do well academically, because when [students] are part of a team or group, they naturally do not want to disappoint their peers, advisors, coaches or teachers.”

No club or sport? Not a problem.

Is your student not involved in an afterschool program, sport or club? Maybe that’s something to look into. Today, there is truly something for everyone, from academic-focused programs to sports-centered activities. But if that’s not do-able or something for your child, that’s okay, too, says Macchi, “just work together to find an afterschool routine that works for your family.”

“A positive afterschool routine can support learning and development. Better yet, a predictable afterschool schedule can reduce stress and promote a feeling of stability for students while encouraging individual responsibility,” said Macchi.

An added plus for parents? “When students know what’s expected of them in the afterschool hours, conflict and power struggles are eliminated – keeping everyone in the family happy.”

Eat right to get right

Part of a building a positive afterschool routine involves snack time. There are actual studies on the science behind being “hangry,” and eating certain foods can even help improve memory and concentration.

“Starting the afternoon off with a healthy snack is important, because students need to refuel their minds as well as their bodies,” said Macchi.

Good nutrition provides students with energy and the ability to focus on accomplishing homework as well as other tasks. Quick tip: “Stay away from processed sugars and sugar snacks. Insulin levels will be spiked, causing an eventual “crash.”

Sugary snacks can lead to lethargy, causing children to become unmotivated and unfocused. Apples and sharp cheddar cheese, whole grain crackers and guacamole, or nuts and dark chocolate chunks are all good brain food snacks to start with.

Homework flow

Macchi shared, “it’s important for children to know what works best for them as they develop a system after school to accomplish their homework. It can depend on each student’s personality and learned habits.”

Some students prefer to get to work immediately after they get home, because for them it’s easier to stay focused without a significant lapse in time or a change in the rhythm of “the school mode.” Plus, some students feel if they get right to work, it’s easier to recall the information they learned that day.

On the other hand, some students need to take time to disconnect and recharge, picking up the homework to-do list with a fresh thought process and revived energy.

Once parents are able to help their children find their homework flow, it helps to teach other important skills like time management, goal-setting and meeting deadlines.

Downtime before bed – unplug and unwind

“It’s so important for students to have time to fully disengage from school in order to reset and be fresh for the next school day,” said Macchi.

Taking time to unwind before bed is a worthwhile opportunity for children to clear their mind from the day’s responsibilities, stressors and pressures, whether it’s emotional, social or academic.

“When students don’t have time to relax and unwind from the demands of the school day, stress, frustration and pressure can build up to cause anxiety, poor sleep habits, depression and lack of appetite, which in turn impacts them both in the short term and long term,” said Macchi.

Taking actual downtime provides students a chance to do something relaxing and enjoyable like reading, drawing, listening to music, playing video games, watching television or other hobbies.

“However,” says Macchi, “it’s important for parents or guardians to monitor the amount of downtime each night. Some students may take too much or too little and require guidance in balancing their time.” (Macchi notes this depend’s on your child’s age and is never a “one size fits all” option.)

Nowadays downtime can be synonymous with “screen time,” and it’s just as important to be aware of the amount of time children are on their phones, in front of the computer or television.

“Some students are, in a sense, addicted to their screens and social media, and it can be hard to stop scrolling late into the night. Some parents even have a strict no phones/screens/tablets in the bedroom at night policy. It’s about finding that balance for your family,” said Macchi.

Ultimately, carving out successful afterschool hours for children has to start with support from parents. Parents can reinforce the importance of the afterschool routine and even take it one step further by instituting routines of their own. Sometimes parents are just as busy as their children in the evenings tackling their own responsibilities and to-do’s, but something as simple as eating dinner together each night to make time for open communication, is a healthy habit for every family.

“Parents, set your children up for success by being involved and model the behavior that you expect to see,” said Macchi.

Aubree Kammler is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. She is not an early bird nor a night owl…she is apparently a hummingbird.

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