We did it! After a few weeks of frantic back-to-school shopping, our kids are finally ready to head back to school. The backpack is loaded, and the iPad is charged. Sure, we can get them to the bus stop on time, but our work doesn’t end there.
We trust our teachers to deliver an amazing educational experience, but have we stopped to consider our role in their overall success? Whether our little one is heading off to kindergarten or our big one is tackling college applications, our kids still need us to be involved. Ask any teacher what’s top of their wish list, and they'll likely say, “more parental involvement, please!”
What seems like common sense has been verified by ample research in the education field.
The National PTA, for example, says, “the most accurate predictors of student achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family . . . becomes involved in the child’s education at school.” While research from the National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education shows, “no matter their income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior and adapt well to school.”
Now that we understand the “why” behind parental involvement, let’s tackle some practical “how to” advice, which I’ve gathered after a decade of teaching and two decades of tutoring!
Children, especially young ones, take their cues from adults. They not only imitate our behaviors and word choices, but also internalize our core attitudes and beliefs. The ways in which parents talk about their own school experiences matter more than you might think.
As a middle school math teacher, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say something disparaging like, “Oh, I hated math in school, ugh. It’s no wonder my kid doesn’t understand fractions. I never liked them either!”
While I empathize with these parents' math phobia, I fear they are passing down negative beliefs about math to their kids, which isn’t exactly setting them up for success. I’d far prefer something like, “Yes, math can be challenging, but I know you can do hard things!”
In fact, I like to use an acronym with my students – M.A.T.H. means “Mistakes Allow Thinking to Happen!” to remind them that it’s OK to fail. I would love to see this positive orientation in my students’ parents too!
Communicate & Collaborate:
We’ve all heard it said before–communication is key.
Getting to know your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year is like putting money in the bank. Later, if you have an issue or a complaint, there will be goodwill in the account for you to make a withdrawal. Most teachers genuinely want to cooperate with parents and figure out how to help every child succeed!
Don’t forget to build relationships with the other folks involved too, be it the crossing guard, nurse or secretary. It takes a village, so know the village members.
Ask the Right Questions:
School is fun! Even when kids are struggling, there is usually something they like about school. Go beyond asking the usual question, “How was school today?” and instead, ask engaging questions that help you bond with your child and learn more about their day-to-day experiences.
Move beyond academics to get to the heart of their social-emotional well-being and character development, as well. For example, “How did you make a difference today in your community? Who was acting with integrity or kindness today? Did you learn anything that caused you to change your mind about something?”
As a teacher, I lead group discussion circles called, “Roses and Thorns,” where each child shares one positive “rose” about something they are enjoying and one negative “thorn” about something they are struggling with.
Parents can implement a similar strategy when asking about school. What was their daily highlight (rose) or challenge (thorn)? Celebrate your child’s success, and if needed, take positive action to help them with their thorns.
Struggling in history class? Maybe it’s time to find a tutor. Feeling sleepy after lunch? Let’s discuss adjusting bedtime and committing to eating a nutritious breakfast. Failed a test? Perhaps an extra credit assignment can make up the loss. Asking the right questions will lead to problem-solving strategies that can make a world of difference in your child’s development and learning!
Steps to Success: Tips for Parents
- Create healthy, consistent routines and read nightly with your child for 15-30 minutes.
- Display your child’s artwork, class projects or tests
(even if they don’t get an A).
- Shop for “wish list” supplies for the classroom together.
- Volunteer to chaperone field trips and other school activities.
- Prioritize open houses and parent teacher conferences.
- Help your child write letters or emails to relatives, pen pals, celebrities, etc.
- Practice math skills by following recipes, calculating tips or playing numeracy games.
- Discuss healthy limits on screens, especially at night when children need to sleep.
- Set up a quiet, comfortable dedicated study area at home.
- Model the joys of lifelong learning by pursuing your own hobbies and interests.