Ask The Expert: What Goals Should I Encourage My Child To Make For The New School Year?

Time is slowly but surely moving forward and while the long summer days feel as though they might last forever, the truth is a brand new school year is right around the corner. It's important to prepare kids for the upcoming academic year before the first day of school, and Eileen Huntington, founder of Huntington Learning Center, has some advice for parents about what goals you should encourage your child to make for the new school year and how to facilitate your child achieving those goals as the year progresses.

What goals should I encourage my child to make for the upcoming school year?

When we talk about goals for students, it has to be broken down by grade level.

A kindergartner is making the transition into school, so the goal for the child for the first week or two of school is adjusting to what’s going on in the classroom, and your goal as a parent is to help your child with that adjustment. You can help with this goal by saying to your child, listen to what’s going on in the classroom. Participate.

enthusiastic young girl with school supplies

I collected first, second, and third grade together. The first goal for the child should be to bring your homework home. Sit down and do it in a timely fashion. As for parents, you should offer support – if you’re there when the child is doing the homework and they’re stuck on something, give them support – but don’t do the homework. Also in grades one, two, and three a goal should be for the child to be organized. Is his or her backpack ready to go to school in the morning? That should not be a fire drill every morning. At night, get the backpack organized. At first the parent can help with this, but then they should transition it over to the child. By third grade the child  should know how to organize his or her backpack. Have your child be responsible for laying his or her clothes out at night. This shows them organization which will eventually build to study skills. All these things that don’t even relate to school eventually come back and they do relate to school.

Fourth grade is when a really big transition happens, and that’s when, in looking at goals, a child has to realize that they’ll be doing a lot more independent work at school. A lot more projects. This starts in third grade, but by fourth grade there are higher expectations, and your child has to be planning on a daily basis. The foundation you’ve set up is important here, because if your child has become organized and they’ve sat down and brought their homework home and you know that they’re doing it, then that all helps.

Usually by fifth grade kids start getting actual letter grades, so a goal a child can make for themselves in fifth grade is, “I got a B last year in math, how am I going to improve upon that? If that’s my goal, what do I have to do?” Your child may have to spend more time reviewing my homework, or go to the teacher for extra help. The goal should really be taking responsibility for that. As a parent, you should encourage your child to go to the teacher for extra help, rather than calling the teacher yourself and saying your child needs extra help. That step of responsibility of the child going to the teacher and saying, “I would like to review some problems in math today, do you have time after school?” is really key. A lot of schools do have time set aside after school for the teachers to offer extra help and that really is a key goal for students because that means they’re really taking responsibility for their learning, and by fifth grade you really want that responsibility being taken by the child.

If my child had a hard time at school last year, how can I make sure s/he has a fresh start to the new year and how can I make sure s/he feels comfortable in a school environment?

Back to school is a hard transition for students. Before school starts, whether your child is going into kindergarten or into tenth grade, reestablish routines. For example, bedtime. In the summer it’s more relaxed, kids schedules are not as tight, so one or two weeks before school starts, start going to bed around the bedtime. Cut a half hour off each night and gradually get it down. Bedtime is key.

Over the summer kids get rusty and they lose a lot of their academic skills. You need to prime them before they go into school. If your child hasn’t been doing any academic work over the summer, start doing some with them. Set aside some time each night for them to start doing ten minutes or twenty minutes of reading. Go over some of the math they had last year and review it. It doesn’t have to be at night; you can do it in the morning or whenever. When they get into school, the teacher will check and see how much they retained over the summer and it will determine what group they’ll be put into, so it’s important for them to get into a routine.

What are some good studying and homework habits to reinforce as soon as the school year gets underway?

Your child should have a designated study time every day, even if he or she has no homework. Stick to a plan. Never cancel study time because of extracurricular activities, you have to plan around it.

As a parent, you should also conduct bookbag checks weekly, or with a younger child maybe every day. It’s amazing what you can find in a book bag. Make sure that assignments are being handed in on time, because sometimes they’re completed but they’re just sitting there.

Find a study method that is right for your child. Some children use notecards, some children use highlighters…what is best for your child? Some things that are key for all children are organization, time management, prioritization, and concentration. Your child should be tracking his or her own assignments, and the school should give a guideline about how much time a child should sped on homework. If a subject is difficult for a student, he or she should work on that first. Turn off the phones, the TV, the emails – all of that should be off-limits during study time. Determined what your child needs help with, but don’t do the work for them. If your child can’t do the homework, that’s a warning sign to you that they really didn’t get that concept in school, and that’s okay, because you want to be able to let the teacher know that the child didn’t get that concept so that it can be reviewed.

How involved should parents be in a child’s academic journey? How do you balance the desire to stay involved with the urge to help too much?

What you should do as a parent is provide an environment at home that encourages learning and school activities. If you emphasize those things as important then your child will see that education is important.

Establish the lines of communication between home and school. If your child really didn’t understand a concept and can’t do the homework, contact the teacher, because if your child didn’t get it maybe everybody in the class didn’t get it.

Volunteer. Participate in school programs and events. It’s amazing what you find out when you’re inside the school.

Learn together. A family can sit down and do twenty minutes of reading together. Set the timer and everybody sit down for twenty minutes and read. It’s showing a habit, and once you develop a habit it keeps up.

Participate in parent organizations in the school so you can see what decisions are made that affect your child. And you should also be involved in the community, which is different than being involved in the school, because in the community there are a number of different things to strengthen student’s learning and development. It could be a program in a library or museum. All of those things show your child that learning takes place not just in school but in the community we live in as a whole.

Know what benchmarks and skills your child should be mastering by the end of the year. Make sure you go to back to school night so you know what’s going on. The most effective approach is when the parents work in conjunction with the teachers to make sure the child is learning all the necessary skills, so it really is a partnership with that teacher.

If things aren’t going well, you can always look for outside help. You shouldn’t do your child’s work for him or her because you can’t always zoom in and fix things, but if a child needs extra support he or she should and can receive it.

Eileen Huntington is one of the co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, a high quality tutoring organization that first opened in 1977. Eileen opened the original center with Dr. Raymond Huntington, and there are now 32 Huntington Learning Centers in the New York metro area alone. Eileen holds a masters degree from Rutgers University and has taught students in the Bronx, NY and in Bound Brook, NJ. Huntington Learning Center's mission is to make all decisions based on what is best for the student. To learn more about the tutoring offered at Huntington Learning Center visit