By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

Step One: Schedule a conference with your child's teachers.

Whether you attend an "open house" or schedule a one-on-one conference, you should meet with your child's teachers. Ensure that they have contact information for you and encourage them to call or email you to discuss your child's progress during the year. Most teachers will also appreciate a brief recap of your child's educational experiences to date, such as any major successes or stumbling blocks along the way. Did your child score off the charts in mathematics? Did he or she require extra tutoring to improve reading comprehension? Providing a snapshot of your child's educational "resume" will help the teacher personalize instruction to suit your child's special needs.

Step Two: Look out for key benchmarks on the academic calendar.

In the early fall, many school districts administer important tests to gauge students' preparedness for the months ahead. By talking with your child's teachers and/or going to the Department of Education Web site for your state, you can usually find out which tests will be given to students by grade level, and when. You can find out the key subject matter that will be tested, and when you should expect to see your child's results. Keep in mind that these tests are not given simply to see how your child "measures up." They're offered as a diagnostic tool for revealing academic strengths and weaknesses. Understanding these strengths and weaknesses in the fall will help you and your child prepare for the higher stakes tests given in the spring - the results of which may be factored into decisions about grade advancement and graduation.

Step Three: Raise the bar on expectations.

Whether your child is an excellent, capable or struggling student, earning the best possible grades should be one of the most important goals. This means envisioning certain targets and committing to the hard work it takes to reach them. If your child had relatively good study habits, worked moderately hard and earned "B"s and "C"s last year, set a goal to earn all "A"s and "B"s this year. In most schools, this GPA level will qualify for the honor roll and signify that your child is performing at grade level, and is well-prepared for increasingly difficult work. If your child is already an "A/B" student, set a goal to earn all "A"s and do everything possible to help achieve that goal. If your child struggled last year and ended up with "C"s and "D"s, talk with teachers right now about the subject areas that proved most troublesome so they can shape their instruction and find the extra help your child will need.

Step Four: Establish a learning schedule.

The beginning of the school year is also a good time to establish parameters for homework. Setting aside a designated period of time after school or in the early evening that is to be used only for schoolwork is a strategy that has been proven effective for countless students over the years. There are several factors that can influence the decision about which time is best. Some children, for example, may complete homework more successfully by beginning immediately after school, leaving the rest of the late afternoon and evening for other activities. Others may need time to "wind down" after being in school all day before they're relaxed and focused enough to complete homework successfully.

Step Five: Balance learning time and leisure time.

You should also think through the right balance of academics and extracurricular activities. Keeping in mind the significant amount of study time most children need to make good grades, take a look at all of the other activities that your child wants to fit into his or her day. Have a frank discussion to determine which activities are most important to your child, and see if you can arrive collaboratively at a decision about which should be pursued. Then see if you can also determine, together, the best time to be set aside for studying in the midst of these activities.

While it's important to set and maintain a schedule throughout the year, most high- achieving students also plan ahead to ensure they have enough flexibility to fit in extra effort that may be needed during high-pressure periods, such as the approach of mid-term and final exams. By establishing the right environment at home and a strong, positive connection to what's happening at school, you can give your child a head start that will drive success all year long.