You’ve purchased the pencils and pens, backpack, computer supplies and clothes for the first day of school, but have you thought about other steps you need to take to ensure that your child will have a good year? Whether your child is in kindergarten, middle school, high school or college, parental support is important for the student’s success in school. Here are some tips to help your child have a good year.
•Visit your child’s school. Set aside time to visit the school and see the environment where your child will be learning. Visit his or her classroom, the lunchroom, school office and other important areas. Most schools have a back-to-school night, so plan to attend this event and meet your child’s teachers, principal, guidance counselor and other school staff. It’s especially important that parents talk with their child’s teacher. Approach your child’s teacher in a friendly manner, and let him or her know that you want to be part of your child’s education team. Have specific questions for the teacher that will help you understand the objectives for the year, and discuss appropriate information about your child.
•Establish a schedule that allows you to work with your child each evening. If you’re going to be your child’s biggest cheerleader, it’s important that you become actively involved with his or her education. Make learning a priority by developing a schedule that allows you to spend time together each night reviewing assignments and assisting with homework. Children don’t need distractions while they’re studying, so set aside a quiet place for studying, and turn off the television, computer games and music. Even if your child doesn’t need help, set aside time wherein the whole family studies and learns. Read a book, learn a foreign language, write a letter or work on a crafts project. Simply try to make homework time an important and fun part of the day.
Encourage your child’s natural curiosity by welcoming questions and by teaching him or her to question the why and how. Show your own curiosity about the world by reading, investigating and talking about what you’re learning. Younger children need your guidance as they develop new skills, so spend time reading to them and have them read to you. Small children love to snuggle close to their parents, so allow them to sit right beside you. They’ll think of reading as a happy time when they have your full attention. The reading time doesn’t have to be long—10 or 15 minutes each day—but it’s important that you spend time each day reading with your child. As you read books together, you help your child to increase thinking and listening skills, and you will have fun together.
If you’re not able to give your child the help he or she needs in completing assignments, contact the teacher. Discuss the types of problems your child is having and ask the teacher for suggestions. Many schools, local libraries, churches and other community organizations offer students assistance with homework and other assignments, so check with these organizations.
•Get involved in your child’s school. There’s no better way to let your child know you care about his or her success than to become an active parent in the school. Your actions speak louder than your words, so attend PTA meetings, parent-child breakfasts, award ceremonies, sports activities and other school events. Periodically visit the classroom during the day and volunteer to chaperone for class field trips. Young children love to have their parents visit them during school, so set aside half an hour one day a month to eat lunch with your child in the school’s lunchroom. Teachers can always use an extra hand to copy work, put up material on a bulletin board or help children with their work, so become a classroom volunteer.
•Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. Parents should feel free to contact their child’s teacher to discuss the child’s progress. Parent-teacher conferences are held throughout the school year, but don’t wait for those special occasions to talk with the teacher. The more you stay in contact with your child’s teacher, the greater you help to ensure the child’s success. Talk with your child’s teacher about how you can become more effective in working with your child at home, and if your child is showing behavior problems in the classroom, ask his or her guidance counselor to help you with ways to resolve these problems. Teachers appreciate parents who show an interest in their child’s education, so make every effort to work with the teacher. If your child’s teacher requests a conference with you to discuss your child’s academic progress, behavior or other issues, follow through on contacting the teacher to schedule the conference, and be sure to show up at the scheduled time.
•Practice open and honest communication with your child. Most children want to know that they have supportive parents, so keep the lines of communication open with them. Communicate with your child in an open, honest and nonjudgmental manner. Be willing to talk with your child about school, his or her fears, classmates, friends and other subjects that are important to your child. Encourage your children to share with you about their day at school, and make your questions specific. Ask questions such as, “What did you study in your math class today?” or “What was the most fun part of your day?” Your child needs to be able to talk with you, which means that you must be willing to listen and give him or her your undivided attention. If children do not feel that they can talk with their parents, they begin to withdraw, feel that no one cares or talk with peers who might mislead them. Although a daily time for your family to eat dinner together might not always be possible, try to schedule at least one or two meals together during the week. Mealtimes are great moments to talk with children about their progress in school.
•Reinforce and support school rules. Most schools have a student-parent handbook that contains the school’s policies and rules. Although teachers usually spend the first few days of school reviewing the rules, parents should also reinforce the rules with their children. Read through the school’s handbook with your child, and emphasize that you expect him or her to comply with the school’s rules. Talk about the importance of following rules, and help your child understand that everyone in society is governed by rules. Answer any questions he or she has about the school’s rules, and if you have questions about the rules, contact the principal or your child’s teacher. Don’t speak negatively about teachers in front or your children. If you disagree with a grade that your child has received or a decision the teacher has made, contact the teacher. Parents should support the school’s policies, rules and discipline decisions.
•Establish regular routines for your child. Children need regular routines, so it’s important to provide them with structure. Establish a regular bedtime and daily schedule. As summer vacation ends, and the beginning of school draws closer, ease your child back to a bedtime schedule that allows him or her to get plenty of rest. Most schools no longer include times for naps in the schedule for kindergarten students, so make sure your children get lots of rest at home. During summer vacation and the school year, limit the number of hours your child watches television. When children are sitting in front of a television, they are not being creative, playing outside or thinking. When your children do watch television, watch it with them and watch something that helps your children to think and learn. After the program is over, talk with them about what you’ve just seen.
•Help your child to become organized. Many children fail in school because they lack organizational skills, so parents should help their children learn how to manage their time and work. Make sure your child has a backpack and notebook where he or she can keep assignments. When your child arrives home from school, check his or her book bag for assignments, school newsletters and notes from teachers. It’s especially important for parents of elementary-school children to follow this routine. Older children should have assignment books where they can write down their homework and other assignments. Encourage your child to plan ahead for term papers, science projects and other major assignments. Have them break large assignments into smaller, achievable tasks. Children can become overwhelmed and lose motivation to try when they face a large assignment, so have them complete small parts of the project each day. As they complete small steps, have them check off the task. Your child will feel a sense of accomplishment when he or she finishes the smaller task, and the child will become motivated to complete the entire project.
•Help your child become persistent. No one has more influence over a child’s desire to keep trying than parents. Persistence and hard work will help your child become successful in school, so encourage him or her to develop an “I can” attitude. Although ability is important in achieving measures of success, teachers and other educators rank a child’s persistent attitude high among the characteristics needed for children to succeed in school. Parents can help their children develop this persistent attitude by encouraging them to complete their work on time, attend school every day, be on time for school and follow through on what they’ve said they will do. Tell your child, “If you keep working at it, I’m sure you’ll be successful.” And when your child succeeds, praise the child by saying, “I told you your hard work and persistence would pay off.” Again, children watch actions more than they hear words, so parents should show these same characteristics.
Parents are key components in determining whether a child will be successful in school. By becoming an active participant in your child’s education, you will help to ensure that he or she is gaining important skills needed for the rest of life. You’ll discover, too, that putting time into your child’s education will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
James Hendrix, Ph.D. is an administrator for East Allen County Schools.
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