Thoughtful planning and streamlined strategies help families learn together

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For many families, September brings a renewed emphasis on bedtimes, alarm clocks, fights over homework, lunches to pack…

Back-to-school time can be both exciting and chaotic – and if you don’t plan carefully, it can wreak havoc on a parent’s dedication to his or her own schoolwork.

Here are some tips to avoid the back-to-school blues:

Look on the bright side. All the chaos aside, remember that sending the kids back to school can bring some real relief to the student-parent relationship – and then be sure to take advantage of those benefits. Sending the kids off to school could mean at least a couple of extra hours of study time for you. Make the most of every additional minute that school bell offers you.

“While working on my MBA, the school year meant a more regimented schedule for my family,” WGU Washington graduate Erin Zeiger says. “I was able to count on firm bedtimes and knew exactly when everyone would be home at the end of the day. That made setting aside time for homework and studying much easier.”

Ask for help. Your spouse can help the first-grader with his math, the fourth-grader with her reading. So can your older kids, or the baby-sitter, or your kid’s extra-brainy friend. Family and friends may be willing to take on dinner duty a couple of nights a week. After-school programs can enrich kids outside of the classroom while leaving you a little extra time to enrich yourself.

Empathize. Being students at the same time can give parents and kids a new perspective on each other’s lives. You understand their stress; they understand yours. You get what it’s like to have one more chapter to read when your favorite TV show is beckoning; they’re familiar with the nerves you feel before taking an assessment. Focus on that. Let the shared experience of learning be something you grow through together.

Co-study. It’s a lot easier to tell your kids they need to do their homework when you’re doing the same. “Do as I do” can be pretty effective. So if after-dinner is homework time for the whole family, it can reduce the need for nagging. Studying together also means you can keep an eye on the kids, making sure they stay on task and that you’re there should they have any questions or need some help (just as long as they know you need plenty of quiet time and they should keep the interruptions to a minimum – you’re studying, too, after all). And best of all, it can be a bonding experience. Experiment together – does some soft music in the background help us learn better, or is it distracting? How do we feel when we study next to an open window vs. under artificial lights? Do we find that it helps to take a break after a half-hour of studying to chat with each other about what we’re learning?

Learn to say “no.” We want to be able to volunteer for every school play, attend every PTA meeting, agree to host the next play date, and pick up extra carpool shifts. But being a student throws a new responsibility into our lives, and that means one more thing to prioritize – sometimes pushing other things lower down on the list.

“Being enrolled in a self-paced program has made me realize how driven I am to become a teacher,” WGU Washington student Edson Calaunan says. “Saying ‘no’ to anything that doesn’t move me forward in my career empowers me and reinforces my commitment to accomplishing my goals. My friends and family have always supported my decisions, and they always help me say ‘no’ to any distractions.”

Be an on-the-go student. Life offers opportunities to squeeze in a little learning on the go. As you await your turn at the parent-teacher conference, whip out your tablet and read a page or two from your e-textbook. Keep the flashcards handy so you can go over them one more time as you sit in front of the school waiting to pick up the kids. Schedule assessments for after bedtime or just after the kids get out the door in the morning.

WGU Washington is an online, competency-based university designed to expand access to higher education for Washington residents.