When I was 16 years old my parents offered me the opportunity to go to Bournemouth, England to study English and I happily said yes. The English course would take 4 weeks and after its completion, I would fly to Rotterdam, where my cousin was currently living, and stay with her for a week or so. Once I arrived in Rotterdam, I and my cousin started planning out what I could do during the day while she and her husband were at work. She proposed for me to go to Bruges, Belgium for the day by train, my cousin would drop me off at the train station and after a 2-hour train ride, I would arrive at Bruges. I was anxious about going by myself to a new city, but I felt confident with my improved English skills and felt genuinely excited to go.
I arrived at Bruges train station around 10:00 a.m. It was February so it was cold, although not freezing. I walked from the Train Station to the City Centre to the Markt guided by the city map my cousin had given me. I walked the Historic Centre and through the channels by the lake. I remember vividly standing at Rozenhoedkaai for what it seems to be a very long time, looking at the water while seating on a bench, with my thoughts overfloating me. I felt the excitement of being in a new place, of discovering the beauty of this amazing city, the freedom to walk at my pace while taking pictures and enjoying the peace within my silence.
After having a long lunch which consisted of Belgian waffles and a Coca Cola I continued to walk along the water, looking at my map while following my instincts, buying Belgian chocolates and small souvenirs and after eating fries with mayonnaise (European style), I walked back to the train station to find myself back in Rotterdam.
During the years to come (24 years since then), I have had the opportunity to travel alone many times, Syria, Greece, London, China, among other places. Always finding the perfect moment in which amazement meets self-enjoyment and happiness shows up, but I always go back to 16-year old me, sitting on the bench looking at the bridge in Bruges, Belgium and I cannot help but smile, knowing its true that old saying… To remember is to live again.
I have been thinking about ways to engage with you, the reader, and have decided to do, every Thursday, a “Question of the Week” segment, in which I will ask a fun, insightful, interesting and hopefully smart question that will challenge you to answer it. You can answer it out loud on the spot, use it for your journal entry, or just reflect on it for the next couple of hours or days.
The intention is to invite you to reflect and make you aware of your thoughts and feelings while you answer the question… creating a mini mindful moment.
The question of this week is: If you had an extra hour every day, how would you spend it?
When we ask ourselves this question, we tend to gravitate towards those actions or activities that we “keep putting off” mostly because of the “lack of time”. Some of the most common answers are:
- I would exercise
- I would cook a healthy dinner
- I would take time to converse with my husband and children (or parents or friends)
- I would study to further my education (go back to school or a work-related course)
- I would practice meditation or work towards mindfulness
- I would start my own business
- I would start a hobby (or go back to it)
This question, when we answer it honestly, can reveal things that are sincerely important to us since we are no longer blaming the “lack of time” as the culprit for not doing them.
Think about that extra time and what you would do with it. Maybe you will realize what is truly important to you, and rearranging your schedule to make it happen can be something worth looking into. All is possible within our reach and our time schedule. Yes, we do need to rearrange and prioritize, but we can do it.
It is usual for us parents to have high expectations for our kids at school. I have always said to my kids over and over that their main responsibility is to study and do their best at school. I, as a parent, expect my kids to help around the house and clean their rooms, and for the most part, they do, but schoolwork is important and is prioritized when planning my family schedule.
A few days ago my oldest son received the news that he could take an exam, provided by his school district, that if he passes this exam he will be eligible to get credits that will allow him to learn 9th Grade Math next year when he goes to 7th Grade. He is already in Advanced Math and thriving in his class. So when I brought this opportunity to him, and I left it to him to take it or not, he immediately accepted the challenge.
After reviewing all the information, he said he wanted to take the test, and my only two conditions were that he needs to prepare himself for it, and whatever he does with the exam he does it with 100%. He would need to practice and read and practice some more, of course, I will help him and support him. I said that if he doesn’t pass the test, it’ll be ok as long as he gave 100% and gave all his effort. He, of course, agreed enthusiastically.
So, that made me think… how can us parents support our kids with their studies? Here are my tips for you. It is what we do as a family and has worked for us so far.
- Create a reading habit. Give your kids time to read every day. The time gets adjusted as they get older. For example, my 9-year-old gets 20 to 25 minutes, my 12-year-old gets 25 – 30 minutes. This habit will help them build the foundation to discipline themselves towards their school work.
- Provide them with a place to study. It can be their room, your room, the dining table or the kitchen island. It doesn’t matter where it is, as long as it is a constant place they feel comfortable and familiar with.
- Learn with them. Yes, we want and need time to sit down, relax, and do our thing, but taking the time to learn with your kids is pivotal to their learning process. We, for example, read the Children’s Encyclopedia with our kids. They pick the subject and we take turns with reading the paragraphs and before we know it their little brain just learned new information.
- Support them in what they like. My sons have gone through all kinds of interests, from the Titanic to airplanes, to all kinds of sports, etc., so we take them to the Library and they can find books on the subjects, from dinosaurs to precious rocks, and from Catholicism to Buddhism. Whenever a subject catches their attention, we motivate them to learn more about it.
- Reward success and understand the failures. When your kids do great, be happy for them, make them feel their effort is valued, and when your kids have what’s considered to you failures, be compassionate and understanding. Ask the right questions such as “Do you understand your mistake?” and “Do you want to go over it to understand it better?” “How can I help you bring the grade up?” Asking questions like “Why did you fail?” and “Why you did not try your best?” Are counterproductive and will not bring their grades up. We all make mistakes, and getting back on track is what matters. You want your kids to be open and honest with their struggles so when a bad grade or conduct comes home, it is a window to connect with your child in a compassionate and loving way.
- Provide them a healthy breakfast and a healthy snack. A nutritious, low sugar and a “good” fat content snack or meal are important for your kids. When they eat healthily and nutritious, it is scientifically proven that their brains become more attentive and their body/mind becomes significantly more energetic and alert and that makes a big difference on their day at school. We have our own “breakfast ritual” with our power shakes every morning (Monday to Saturday), but breakfasts like avocado toast, toast with hummus, a plain yogurt with low sugar granola and all sorts of fruits and veggies are great options. A healthy snack when your kids come back from school includes, hummus and celery/carrots sticks, or hummus toast, almonds, cashews or pistachios, low sugar energy bars, etc. Providing a healthy snack and meal will provide a surge of energy to tackle any homework or sports activities.
These are my top 6 tips for helping your kids with their studies. We do all 6 of those tips with our sons, and so far it has helped them tremendously. They are thriving at their academics and after school activities (soccer and running). It also provides an avenue to make you feel like you are a part of their journey. Remember, their success is your success.