It’s no secret that children are most successful when parents are consistent, supportive and involved with their education. How to accomplish that in the practical sense, however, isn’t always as easy as it looks. Don’t believe it? Just try asking any child above the age of seven what they did in school. The answer? “Nothing!” or “Not much!” All parents have heard that familiar refrain at some point… as the mother of a 13-year-old girl who specializes in one-word answers, I can also say that the responses get less detailed every year.
The lack of information volunteered by our children makes staying involved that much more of a challenge, and many parents may find themselves frustrated and out of the loop. The good news? It’s never too late to get involved. The following tips may be of benefit.
1. Start at Home
Kim Mula is a first grade teacher and mom of one. Currently in her 10th year of teaching, she has plenty of practical advice for parents looking to get more involved. “To start, parent involvement goes beyond offering their time volunteering at school or helping with class parties. Parent involvement means being actively engaged in their child’s life. It starts at home, with parents giving their children structure and routines.” Establishing a routine that schedules time for homework, reading, discussion and sleeping allows your whole family to get in the habit of making learning a priority. Be as consistent as possible in maintaining that structure.
2. Check Your Attitude
Mula is quick to point out that parental attitude is key. “It is important to make sure that parents have a good and positive attitude about school and learning. At the same time, it is a teacher’s responsibility to keep parents updated on the struggles that a student might be having in the classroom (behavior or academic) but to also keep parents informed of the successes that their child is experiencing.” When children struggle, it’s easy for parents to become discouraged, and that may be reflected in their own attitudes. Enthusiasm for learning is contagious, and parents who model a positive attitude will see results.
3. Make Learning Fun
Amanda Gant is a licensed childcare provider and a mom of three. “When the kids are cleaning up toys or if we’re waiting somewhere, say at a stop light, we count in Spanish, sign language or French. It makes it a fun, non-direct way of learning,” says Gant. “Another game we play in the car is who can guess the math problem the quickest. This was originally started to stump the kid’s grandpa because he is mathematically inclined. We’ll add a series of numbers or do multiplication or subtraction—whatever their learning level is in school. This teaches them to learn how to do math in their head plus keeps the parent sharp on their skills. Children enjoy beating their parents.”
4. Give them Choices
Jeffrey Pate is a father of two and a former teacher. He suggests letting kids make choices as a learning tool. Younger kids, for instance, can choose their lunch from the menu before going to school, says Pate, while your older children can select their school electives.
5. Check Backpacks
Mula stresses the importance of being aware of what’s happening in the classroom. “Sending weekly newsletters and periodic notes to parents is also a great way for teachers to keep them abreast of important items. Parents should also be proactive in making sure they are aware of things happening in the classroom, around the school and what is going on district wide.” Kids can’t always be counted on to pass the information along, so it’s important to remember to check their backpacks for information.
Pate suggests one of the simplest ways of getting involved is to volunteer at your child’s school. “Join the PTA. There’s not a better way to know what’s going on inside the school than that. Attend and volunteer at school fundraisers.” Just being a presence at your child’s school can be a great way to communicate that his or her education is important.
7. Discover His Learning Style
Candice Bowles is a homeschooling mom of four kids. “Don’t just help kids with homework or go to their activities, but find out if they are really understanding and learning what they are being taught. Regardless of whether your kids are homeschooled or not, I have learned that each child learns differently. A straight-across-the-board curriculum is going to leave some kids not understanding what they are learning. So as a parent, take the time to find out if they are really learning and if not, find out their learning style (auditory, visual, or kinesthetic) and find ways to help them really LEARN.” For more information about discovering your child’s unique learning style, contact his teacher or visit www.scholastic.com/familymatters.
Most of the public school systems in the metro require 20 minutes of daily reading. One of the greatest favors you can do for your child is to enforce this rule. If you want to go a step beyond that, enforce it for yourself, too. You can implement a family reading time, or just make sure you set a good example and read in front of your children.
Tanya Reitan teaches Special Education and is a mother of two. She and Mula both agree that when it comes to parental involvement, communication is key. “Many schools and teachers communicate by email now, so an occasional communication with a teacher can be done fairly easily. Just a simple check-in can help keep you in the loop. Letting teachers know when something big is going on in a student’s life can also be really helpful in understanding moods and behavior,” says Reitan.
10. Attend Events
Whether your child is active in extracurriculars or not, Pate maintains that attending sporting events or other activities at your child’s school is a great way to demonstrate interest and become more involved. “Just maintaining a presence is so important.”
11. Use the Car
“I could name 15 things to do in the car alone!” says Gant. “It’s such a great place for learning, especially in our on-the-go society.” Gant frequently has her kids read to her while she’s driving, often exceeding the 20-minute mark in a few trips each day. “Not only does reading in the car allow them to practice their reading skills, but it opens the door for conversation, too.”
12. Surf the Web
Many teachers have a class website that parents can visit, which helps them stay current on what their children are studying. Some school districts offer online grade book systems that parents can access, which displays their child’s grade on each assignment and alerts parents to any missing assignments. These resources are invaluable for keeping parents in the loop.
13. Eat Dinner Together
Pate makes a point of talking about school during dinner with his son. ”It’s a simple habit that shows him I’m interested and helps me understand what he’s learning.”
14. Take Two Minutes
Gant offers a unique suggestion for getting through to teenagers. “In my experience, their attention span is about two minutes long, so we play the two minute game. He gets two minutes to talk to me about anything on his mind, and I have to listen. In return, I get two minutes, and he has to listen. I often use this time to educate on issues such as drugs, sex, and alcohol.” Knowing your child’s friends and social circles is important as well, especially with adolescents. Keeping the lines of communication open during this time can be hard, but is so important.
15. Go to School
Reitan and Mula both feel that parents should take advantage of the open-door policy that many teachers have for parents. “The main thing I’d love to see is for parents to be active in the more traditional ways. So many parents don’t even attend conferences, which are being offered from early morning to late in the evening in an attempt to fit diverse schedules,” says Reitan.
Mula notes that “We as teachers need to create a positive and welcoming classroom so that parents will feel free to come to us with concerns and questions. We need to have an open-door policy, allowing parents time in the classroom if they wish, and as long as it isn’t disruptive to learning.”
Getting involved in your child’s education is both a great way to bond and help foster their success. If you’ve been feeling a little out of the loop, consider one of these strategies as a means for jumping back in and helping your children reach their educational goals.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and single mom to two girls. An Edmond resident, she graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma and is an HR manager in the medical field.