One key is to start the journey to college by the end of the fourth grade.
As parents, we really should start promoting good study habits from kindergarten, but if we have been a little slack (as many of us are) we really need to start focusing by the time our student is reaching age 10. We also need to accept the fact, for a myriad of reasons, that schools in general are not able to provide for the education of our children alone. A lot of it falls back into our hands. The key to producing an academically successful child is your efforts in providing intellectual enhancements beyond the classroom experience.
1) Television is Not The Enemy, Poor Scheduling Is - In short, homework should be done and 'free reading' should be completed before the television goes on. In addition, the television your children watch should be mentally stimulating. If there are favorite shows, they can be part of the television time. Cable offers a myriad of educational and education enhancement programming, some can be found even on such channels as Disney, Nickelodeon, History Channel, etc.. In addition, it is possible to by DVD and DVD sets of programs, movies and shows that address reading, writing, critical thinking, and positive social skills in a fun and entertaining way. One process that works is also called "earned tv time." For every half our of non- homework related reading, writing, or practicing an instrument, a kid can earn an hour of television or video games.
2) Make a weekly visit to the library. For younger kids, many libraries offer stories hours and movies. As kids get older, it's good get into the habit of going to the library and each of you (yep, you too) take out a book or two. Allow them to select books that speak to their interests but will also challenge their reading levels. Which leads to:
3) Have a vocabulary word of the day. Each day introduce a new word, what it means and how it's used in a sentence. Hint, pick words found on practice copies of the SAT. The optimum house-hold dictionary is the Oxford. Random House and Webster are okay, but have limitations and the best way to master the language is from the roots.
4) Converse. Regular discussions about various topics: politics, music, arts, history, family stories, memories of your youth, movies, books, television shows, where folks feel free to share and exchange opinions, ideas, and points of view stimulate critical thinking. Studies have shown that young people coming from homes where regular conversation is a part of the environment do better in humanities (English, history, writing, etc.) and social sciences then young people who don't.
5) Explore after-school programs. In this world, it is not always feasible for parents to be able to dedicate this kind of time on a daily basis due to work and household obligations. However, take a little time to explore the after-school options offered in your community, through the school, community centers, churches and the like. Take the time to find out what the structure and 'culture' of the program is. Does it provide some or all of the preceding elements described? Does it have a staff a director who can provide some of the elements that for what ever reason you cannot?
It has been said that if you do something for 30 minutes each day for 21 days, you create a life habit. At least an hour of intellectual enhancements per day for seven years will do incredible things as well.
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