“Mom, I have a book report due.”
“Have you read the book yet?”
“Umm…not all of it…”
Sound familiar? Often, teachers assign book reports to kids in the fourth through eighth grade, and may just give them an assignment sheet at the beginning of the month, explain the project, and then close with the warning, “This is due in four weeks, so don’t procrastinate. Start now.”
Unfortunately, most kids have no idea what that means, which means that the night before, they are huddled over the kitchen table, feverishly reading a 100 page book only to write a semi-strong five paragraph essay about it. A strong teacher will check up on her students and may even do a practice assignment over a period of a week before she allows her students to complete these assignments on their own. However, many teachers skip over that step, believing that the kids “should already know” how to complete a book report, so the kids are left flailing and intimidated, and often that means, they wait until the very last minute.
As the parent, what can you do? There are a few key strategies.
1. Keep on top of your child’s assignments, especially with a younger child. Go through his folders with him each day, and if you see an assignment like this, put it on the refrigerator so neither of you forget. Middle school classes often have websites, so for an older child, you can check there to find long term assignments.
2. Make a plan with your child. Let him tell you what timeline works for him. He is eventually going to have to do this on his own anyway, so give him the responsibility of making the plan. (But you should still sit with him and coach him while he does it.)
3. Don’t just make a plan; create a visual list that splits up the assignment into small parts. This is especially useful for kids who tend to get overwhelmed. For example, “1. Read the first 50 pages. 2. Read the second 50 pages. 3. Complete book. 4. Make idea web for book report.” Some kids will need more detailed checkpoints while others thrive on only a few. Ask your child to check off each time he completes one of the items on the list. He will feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
4. Set a goal for the deadline that is before the actual deadline. For example, if the book report is due Nov. 5, encourage your child to complete it by Nov. 1. If he does, give him the opportunity to do something fun the weekend he would’ve been cramming in the whole assignment.
5. You may need to help him through each step the first few times, but will then gradually be able to give him more independence and responsibility. In turn, he will be learning how to break up large assignments, complete them in timely manner, and avoid stress!