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College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College Prep 101: Create a Quiet Workspace for Teen Productivity

IF YOU THINK your teen is easily sidetracked now, just wait! When she heads off to college, she’ll have to deal with new distractions of noisy dorms and the siren’s call of “Oh, c’mon . . . you can study later! Let’s go out for coffee!”

A Designated Workspace

High schoolers need to learn that there’s both a time and a place for school work and study. In College prep 101: Learning to Meet Deadlines, we looked at the element of time. Today, let’s talk about place.

Studying in front of the TV or trying to work at the kitchen table while the family plays and talks nearby will doom your student’s productivity. He needs a quiet spot for studying—a place set apart for school work alone.

I know this can be a challenge if you have a small house. Our daughter and her husband currently live in a two-bedroom house with four children, so I understand that this isn’t always possible. But if you can swing it, designate a workspace that’s separated from the family room, kitchen, or other busy, distracting, high-traffic locations.

Frequent interruptions do not belong in your teen’s study environment. By setting aside an isolated area used only for school work, you’re helping him make a healthy distinction between work and rest or play. A designated workspace promotes concentration during study times, which in turn will produce better academic results. Furthermore, a quiet area improves concentration, which means the student can get more done in less time. This adds up to more hours in which to enjoy his favorite pastimes—a worthwhile bonus.

5 Steps Toward Creating a Quiet Workspace

1. Establish and maintain a clutter-free zone.

Visual clutter is highly distracting, but a clean, orderly work surface greatly improves productivity.

2. Eliminate other distractions.

[Affiliate links in this post are for products we personally use or feel confident recommending for your family.]

Make this an electronics-free zone as well, with the exception of a computer and printer. If there’s a TV nearby, turn it off along with the phone. And if there’s just no such thing as a quiet nook in your home, consider investing in a set of noise-cancelling headphones
your teen can wear to block out peripheral noise.

3. Keep necessary supplies at hand.

Jumping up every five minutes to hunt down sharp pencils, paper, scissors, calculator, or a new ink cartridge eats up time and breaks concentration. Store school and office supplies in a handy drawer, basket, shelf, or tray and don’t allow them to be moved to other parts of the house.

4. Make the work area conducive to studying.

Your teen’s bed is not such a place. His body will identify the bed with sleeping, and his productivity will fade as he is overtaken by the temptation to nap.

5. Establish a comfortable studying environment.

Provide a reasonably sized work surface and a comfortable chair, and face the chair toward a window or wall so other household activity doesn’t compete for your teen’s attention. Warm or stale air can contribute to sleepiness, so keep a small fan handy. Finally, don’t forget to offer adequate lighting.

Next time I’ll share some ideas that, though necessary for good study habits, will be unpopular with your teen. I’m talking about limiting social network time.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Aurelio Asiain, courtesy of Creative Commons.

College prep 101: Learn to meet deadlines

College Prep 101 | Homeschool teens must learn to meet deadlines if they hope to survive the demands of college coursework.

FOR high schoolers, there’s more to planning for college than simply getting accepted. Unless your student has experienced a more rigorous course of study and has learned some good study habits, he’ll be overwhelmed to arrive on campus and discover the mountains of reading, writing, and studying that await.

Parents can do a lot to prepare their students, and in doing so, will help deter the stress and erratic grades that separate the unequipped college freshman from the equipped. Train your child during high school—or even junior high—by encouraging responsible study habits that will serve him well in college.

Today we’ll begin a series that will help your teen prepare for college. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to offer several guidelines to help you move in that direction.

Train Your Teen to Meet Deadlines

In many households, homeschoolers are notorious for working “whenever.” As long as it all gets done, no one seems to care whether the kids work in the morning, afternoon, or well into the evening. When giving a history or science test, the student keeps at it till he’s finished, with no attention paid to the clock. Mom asks for a report on photosynthesis, to be turned in by next Friday. It’s not ready yet? Oh, well. Just get it to me as soon as you can.

We like to think  this is our privilege. After all, we’re homeschooling. We don’t need to bow to artificial rules and schedules. But if this speaks to you, you may want to rethink the idea of scheduling—even if it’s not strict hour-by-hour scheduling. If your teenager is used to having all the time in the world, he’ll be in for a rude awakening when college hits, along with scheduled classes, syllabuses filled with deadlines . . . and no one watching over his shoulder to remind him.

This doesn’t mean your teen needs to be at the table at 8:30 every morning! If you’re a family of night owls—and it serves your schedule best to do school in the afternoon—it’s still important to introduce some guidelines and boundaries so your teen can learn to meet deadlines.

One. By taking a moment each day to survey how much work needs to be done and how much time is available, your teen will learn to avoid the panic-filled late-night study sessions that plague many high schoolers and college students.

He will also appreciate the reduced stress that comes from following a plan—and he’ll enjoy his free time all the more. Good habits of scheduling assignments and planning out longer projects will prove indispensable when he faces the additional demands of college course work.

Two. Start to attach a time limit to any tests you give at home. A test associated with a textbook is generally designed to administer in a 50- to 60-minute class period.

Essay questions given as tests should also have a cap. Depending on what your goal is, the essay could be 20, 50, or 90 minutes. That’s the real world.

So if you’ve been less than consistent about deadlines, and the fruit of your casual flexibility is an unprepared student, it’s time to start tightening up your schedule to better equip your son or daughter for the demands of college life.

Catch the Whole Series

College prep 101: Take deadlines seriously

College prep 101: Create a quiet workspace

College prep 101: Limit social network time

College prep 101: Teach responsible study habits

College prep 101: Focus on key writing skills

Photo: Willi Heidelbach, courtesy of Creative Commons.

College prep: Is writing on track?

BookshelfIf your bookshelf looks anything like mine did when we were homeschooling, it holds an assortment of curriculum you’ve stopped and started at various times along the way. Some we just couldn’t get into for various reasons, and we ended up finding alternatives. But there were others that we fully intended to use—we just never got around to them.

For example, we were supposed to get through a foreign language to meet my son’s college admissions requirements. Time and again, it seems, we’d start fresh and then stop. Spanish kept sliding to the back burner because of everything else that vied for his time. Then one day I nearly had a stroke when I realized he would never be able to finish the course in time for graduation. He paid for my lack of perseverance by having to spend some of his college electives on a foreign language.

Do you find that writing is one of those subjects you keep starting and stopping? Does your child drag his feet, fail to finish assignments, or complain night and day? Or are you the one who has trouble following through with lesson planning or editing? Whatever the reason, it’s important that you start afresh, make a plan, stick to your guns, and don’t let your student whine, wheedle, cajole, or otherwise manipulate you into letting him lapse!

Start Fresh

Writing is one of those non-negotiable subjects that forms a basis for academic success. So make a commitment to see your writing program through. If you’re not using a formal writing curriculum, you must still commit to assigning writing on a regular basis.

Has time been the culprit? You may need to give up another subject or extracurricular activity in order to have the time to devote to writing. Your child will not survive in college without writing skills.

Make a Plan

WriteShop’s convenient scheduling options can help parents stay on track. With older high schoolers, time is running out. So if you’re concerned about the SAT essay, for example, your student will need to complete the essay portion of WriteShop II well in advance of the test because he’ll need time to practice writing timed essays. But no matter what, arm yourself with a plan—and stick to it—or your student will slip into old habits of not completing his work. This means:

  • Choosing a schedule to follow;
  • Sticking with the schedule;
  • Supervising your student’s work to make sure he’s doing it; and
  • Editing and returning papers to him on time so he doesn’t fall behind in his writing assignments.

If your student can finish WriteShop II by (or before) 10th grade, you can devote the rest of high school to more advanced writing, such as longer essays, literary analysis, and a couple of research papers.

Stick to Your Guns

Now for the hard part! Help your child develop self-discipline. See that he follows the schedule. If he’s used to giving excuses for why he didn’t get around to doing his writing assignment, make him write first thing each day. Hold him accountable and don’t let him off the hook!

Likewise, if follow-through hasn’t been your strong suit in the past, recommit yourself to helping prepare your student for college by teaching and overseeing the lessons and adhering to deadlines. If your student knows you won’t check up on him, he’ll continue to fritter away his time. But if he realizes that you’re going to hold his feet to the fire and impose consequences for incomplete work, he’ll perform better for you.

You’ll both be much happier in the end, and just imagine the pride at being able to say that you reached your goal!

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