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Syndicated column from The Parent Institute

[OCT. 5, 2005]  Q: I was excited to have school start again. I was looking forward to some structure in our household after a free-spirited, chaotic summer. We did well for the first couple of weeks, but here we are -- it's madness again. I can't seem to get a handle on everyone's schedules, homework, chores -- you name it. We need help.

A: The start of a new school year is always exciting. Everyone starts with a clean slate and vows that this year will be different. But it doesn't take long to realize this also means kids and parents need to make some adjustments. Routines -- dependable, straightforward ways of handling day-to-day family life -- are wonderful for keeping your home manageable and peaceful. And it's not too late to get your family back into a good routine for this school year. Here's how you can start:

  • Use everyone's best ideas to create a list of what everyone will do and when. Include things like getting ready for school, breakfast, leaving for school, dinner, homework, backpacks by the door, reading and bedtime.

  • Have everyone also write down their activities as they are scheduled. This will help you plan ahead. (Soccer on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. will have an effect on homework time and dinner.)

  • Write the schedule on a chart and post the chart where everyone will see it. Give out gold stars or stickers on those great days when everything goes according to plan.

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It's also a good idea to establish three important rules. Discuss them as a family and make sure everyone understands what you expect now that they are back in school.

  1. Homework rule. Set a specific time and place to do homework. Determine that there will be no TV, video games or telephone time until homework is finished. Set the pattern yourself. Use this time to take care of bills or correspondence, for example.

  2. TV rule. Monitor the kinds of images and programs your children watch. Establish the amount of time your children will watch TV or play video games. Enforce the rule.

  3. Reading rule. Set aside some time each day for reading. Read to or with your children -- every day. Be a good role model. If your children are old enough to read on their own, sit nearby and let them see you reading, too.

Stay committed to your routines for 21 days. That means a lot of reminders to "Put your backpack by the door." But research has shown that it takes that long for routines to become habit. Children do best when they know what to expect, and the structure and stability your routines create will help your family thrive.

[The Parent Institute]

For more information about helping children learn or to submit your own question, go to All questions will receive a prompt answer by e-mail.

"Ask the Learning Advisor -- Ideas for Raising Successful Children" is a free, syndicated column from the Parent Institute.

Copyright 2005, The Parent Institute.

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