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School Success Starts at Home
As a busy mom of three school-age kids, I know how important it is to create a home environment that's conducive to learning and study. Your home environment can make a big difference in your child's ability to succeed in school. A child who is ready to learn is well-rested, well-nourished and emotionally healthy.

Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Establishing a regular bedtime and wakeup time will ensure that your child is adequately rested. Children vary in the amount of sleep they need but all have difficulty learning if they're tired. If your child seems sleepy or grumpy during the day, you should enforce an earlier bedtime. It's also important that he has enough sleep to wake up and start the day with ample time for morning activities. If morning preparations are rushed and stressful, an earlier bedtime could improve the situation.

Encourage healthy eating. Your child should start the day with a healthy breakfast. A meal that includes whole grains, fresh fruits and protein will supply proper nutrients for a day of learning. In contrast, a high sugar treat will only give your child a short-term boost and won't provide the nutrition for healthy development.

Maintain an emotionally strong family. Your child will be best able to learn when he is feeling happy and secure. Creating opportunities for regular family activities and open communication can foster an emotionally strong family. Creating routines like family mealtimes, family chores and times to engage in recreation as a family can give him an inner sense of security.

Minimize stress. While you can't protect your child from every family stressor, it's clear that some situations, such as substance abuse and violence, require direct intervention and professional help. Other events, such as divorce or loss of a family member, can lead to sadness and fear. If your child seems worried, anxious or depressed, he may require the support of a therapist. Speak with your family doctor, pediatrician or school counselor for appropriate referrals.

Create a space for learning. Help your child create a physical space that's clean and allows for quiet study. This should be well-lit and free from distractions such as phone calls or television. While some children are able to concentrate with music in the background, others do better in a quiet environment. Establishing a regular study time helps your child be responsible and work independently.

Show interest in your child's learning. Ask your child questions about school. Try to reinforce concepts that she's studying. Include her in activities that bolster math, reading and writing skills. For example, you can help your young child identify the rectangles, squares, circles and triangles you see around the house. When you cook, your older child can read the recipe aloud to you and learn about fractions using measuring cups. Your older child can also help measure and multiply for a home carpentry project.

Be a good role model. Children are influenced by their parents' behavior. When your child sees you engage in an activity, it influences her own choices. Talk to her about your interests.

Nurture literacy. Let your child see you reading books and newspapers, writing letters and reports, and using math for home projects. Keep age-appropriate reading material around your home. Bring your child to the library and help him get his own library card. Encourage him to find books at the library, bookstore or yard sales. Read aloud to your child every night or encourage your older child to read with you.

Limit television. Television should be limited to no more than one hour on a school night. Television replaces more productive activity such as reading, participating in creative play and engaging in arts or sports.

Offer praise. Seek opportunities to praise and encourage your child for achievement and improvement. And while you're at it, offer yourself some praise for supporting him through this special time of life.

Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist