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How to Manage a Busy School Schedule in Early High School

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| By Amy Vagne | May 23, 2021

We asked a teacher, a parent and a student for their best tips on how to manage a busy school schedule, social commitments and extracurricular activities.

Discover the best tips on how to manage a busy school schedule.

Starting high school can be a shock to the system, in a range of positive and challenging ways. The increase in homework, extracurricular activities, and responsibility can be a lot for young people to manage, and many parents are left scratching their heads, wondering how they can help. So what is the secret to success in time management? We asked a high school student, a parent and a teacher to share how they manage a busy school schedule while keeping calm and staying organised.

Use a Wall Planner or Calendar to Stay on Top of Everything

“Get students to create a weekly schedule around their school timetable,” suggests Sydney high school teacher Sarah Bunce. “Make sure they include before- and after-school activities, and try colour-coding to make it easy to read.” Visual planners you can pop on walls are winners because they’re accessible and eye-catching, and it allows you to check there’s enough time devoted to all the things your teen has going on, including school, study, sport, socialising and relaxation. “We have a monthly whiteboard calendar on our fridge with all of the different activities written on it – extracurricular activities, social events, birthdays, and so on. It helps us keep on top of all the activities as a family,” says Angela Mills, mum to 13-year-old high school student Xavier.

What to Try

Prioritise Completing Homework Before Other Activities

Teens should prioritise homework to manage a busy school schedule.

“I’ve definitely felt stressed out and overwhelmed at times,” says Year 8 student Xavier. According to Sarah, students in Years 7, 8 and 9 should be spending between 60-90 minutes on homework each day. “This can include finishing off incomplete work from the day’s lessons, reading their class notes to parents or verbally explaining the practical work they completed in class. Homework can look very different to the typical ‘pen and paper’ image we are accustomed to,” she says. So rather than just working on a summary of notes or an essay, it could be writing a journal entry, working on a podcast or video or watching the news. Starting on homework as soon as you get home from school (on afternoons when kids aren’t scuttling between school and soccer practice) means what you’ve learnt that day will still be fresh, making you more motivated to complete the tasks at hand.

What to Try

Set Good Habits Around Sleep

Setting good habits around sleep is essential for how to manage a busy school schedule

A 2018 report found many teenagers miss out on the crucial sleep they need due to stress and over-stimulation – and that includes spending too much time on screens at night. The report recommended putting phones and tablets away at least one hour before bed, as well as engaging in relaxing pre-bedtime activities such as reading a book or practising meditation. Talk to your teens about setting boundaries with their tech and setting better sleep habits to ensure that they’re well-rested for the next day. “I try to go to sleep at a similar time every night, around 9pm,”says Xavier. “A few times I’ve been up late working on assignments, but my parents won’t usually let me stay up late to do homework, so I know I need to get it done by a reasonable time.”

What to Try

Plan Regular Time with Family and Friends

While homework and study are very important, they shouldn’t come at the cost of teens feeling burnt out. Taking breaks is essential, and research suggests spending quality time together as a family has the added benefit of improving mental health. “Spending time with friends and family is a priority for us, so we make sure to book in plenty of social time with the people who are important to us. We also try to have one night a week that we spend together as a family, watching a movie or playing a board game,” says Angela. “Much like adults, students need to ensure they make time to socialise. Student learning is at its best when their wellbeing is also a main priority,” says Sarah.

What to Try

SEE ALSO: Study Tips and Back to School Hacks for High School Students

Limit Screen Time – For the Whole Household

Set parameters around screen time to help teens manage a busy school schedule.

We all know how distracting our phones can be – and some research suggests a quarter of kids are already using smartphones in problematic ways. While the internet is an amazing resource, it can also play a huge role in deterring us from being productive and staying on task. “In our house, managing screen time is a constant challenge,” says Angela. “Our rules are consistent but we find that we still need to remind the kids on a fairly regular basis.” Her solution? Regular family meetings where everyone can have their say while remaining respectful, and family rules are agreed upon. Xavier says this has helped his family create a solid set of rules around screen time. “Our homework has to be done before screen time [and] screen time finishes at 8.45pm.” While screen time is part of modern day-to-day life and can be beneficial when used as a “brain break” in between bouts of study, it’s important to have time to switch off – and that goes for the whole family. “Having designated screen-free time is useful – but it’s even more powerful when the TV in the background is switched off, and parents also put their screens away,” says Sarah.

What to Try

Keep in Contact With Teachers and the School

“Parents should be proactive and keep teachers informed about big changes outside of school that may affect their child’s learning – things like moving house, the passing of a pet, or an ill grandparent,” says Sarah. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice when it comes to staying organised or setting up homework routines, and your teen’s school may also offer special programmes and extra support. “At Xavier’s school there’s a buddy system where Year 10s buddy up with the Year 7s, show them around the school and help with peer learning. It was fun and really helped during the early days when high school was a scary new situation,” says Angela.

SEE ALSO: 8 Ways to Help Kids Find Study/Life Balance

Ask Questions – and Persevere!

Teens need the support and guidance of their parents to manage a busy school schedule.

Teenagers may crave privacy, but they still need the support and guidance of their parents, especially as they transition into high school and need advice on how to manage a busy school schedule. “Taking a genuine interest in your child’s day by asking open-ended questions makes a big difference. It creates space to discuss any concerns they have or to share exciting stories,” says Sarah. Angela says she and her husband try to support Xavier by establishing good routines for him. “We make sure he has plenty of time to complete his school work by not booking in too many extracurricular activities. We’re constantly encouraging him and offering assistance, plus we’re aware of what homework he has and when things are due so we can offer verbal reminders when needed.”