For most parents, sending children to school is a necessity of childrearing. The goal when parents turn their precious children over to the school, be they toddlers or teenagers, is for kids to be safe, comfortable and ready to learn. Too often, parents feel like separate entities from their child’s teacher/s and school. As soon as parents hug their children goodbye in the morning, parenting is put on hold until they collect their kids at the end of the school day; and virtual strangers take over the important parenting/teaching role.
Becoming an active member of the child’s teaching team is an important role for parents that not only encourages the child’s learning, but alleviates some of the anxiety that parents feel as they place their children in the hands of the school. Thinking as a team allows parents to become more involved in their child’s educational experience and opens up good communication between parents and teachers.
Assuming that the school is of quality and the teachers competent, what is the role of the parent in the learning process? It is important for parents to understand their role as members of the team and to respect the boundaries of the school. Parents must also feel confident to step in, on behalf of the child, when situations call for action.
Below are helpful steps for developing a good relationship with the child’s school and parenting with the goal of academic success.
Establish a Set Bedtime Routine
Get kids bathed, and into bed early. It is in the hands of the parents to deliver well rested, fed, happy and bright eyed children to school every morning.
Drop Off is Not for Conferences
Drop off children promptly each morning. Leave the house on time so children are not stressed when they arrive to class. Give a big hug and kiss, give one goodbye, and leave the building. Prolonging goodbyes is upsetting to most children. Good teachers are equipped to handle upset children, and children rarely continue to cry after the parent leaves. By being strong at drop off, the parent models and supports independence.
Drop off time is not the right time for a teacher conference. Drop off is a hectic time for teachers, and parents deserve a teacher’s undivided attention when discussing their children. Teachers are usually very happy to schedule time for parent/teacher conferences at times when they can devote enough time to parent’s concerns. Short e-mails to teachers addressing questions and concerns are usually responded to promptly and with insight and care.
Observe a Class
Make an appointment with your child’s teacher to come into the classroom and observe a part or all of your child’s day. Observing the child’s day allows parents to see the classroom through the child’s eyes and from the perspective of the teacher. Classroom observation also tells the child that his/her parent is interested and concerned.
Make time to volunteer in the classroom or school. Tutoring and chaperoning are great ways to keep a finger on the pulse of the classroom. Volunteering time to the school helps out the school and more importantly demonstrates to children that education is of value.
Create and Follow a Dress Code to Keep the Focus on Learning
Follow the dress code of the school. If the school does not have a dress code, parents can create and enforce an appropriate dress code for the family. Many parents mandate that clothes exposing the upper thighs or buttocks are not appropriate for school. Tight shirts and low cut pants that expose the midriff in any way are also not appropriate for school. The goal is to place the focus on learning and studying not on personal attire. Choose clothes and shoes that children can play, do arts and crafts, run and sit on the floor.
Monitor What Children Bring To School
Toys, video games, electronics, trading cards etc. are not conducive to learning. By monitoring what children bring to school and not allowing children to bring distractions, parents help focus children on learning. It is okay for parents to check backpacks.
Intervene When Appropriate and Be a Child’s Advocate
The parents’ first assumption should be that having chosen a quality school with quality teachers, that their children will be handled appropriately. Situations that arise with behavior, difficulty with subject matter and social issues will in most cases be dealt with professionally and skillfully by the teacher(s).
There will be situations that come up when a parent must step in as the child’s advocate. Parents should listen to both the teacher’s take on the situation as well as the child’s. Parents should be wary of looking for a short term gain at the expense of the long term lesson i.e.: by negotiating grades.
Create an Atmosphere that Supports Homework Completion
Find out what homework assignments have been given and when they are due. Create a comfortable, well lit, quiet location for children to sit and do homework. Be available for questions and assistance, and make sure children complete homework.
Reading to children or with children should be a part of the nightly homework assignment and bedtime ritual. Young children can be held close and read to, or parents can take turns reading to and being read to by older children. Nightly reading should be for pleasure to teach a love of reading. Reading before bedtime will encourage children to use their imaginations and give them the necessary motivation to read for themselves.
Sick Kids Need to Stay in Bed
Keep children at home if they are exhibiting any symptoms that are contagious to others. Check with school policy, but usually fevers, runny noses, vomiting, and diarrhea are all symptoms that should keep children tucked in bed for the day. If parents are vigilant the school stays healthier throughout the year.
Make sure that the school has updated telephone numbers for parents. Children feel more secure too if they memorize mom’s or dad’s cell phone number even if they never need it.
Pack a Healthy Lunch that Delivers High Energy Foods
Pack lunches with healthy foods. Proteins and complex carbohydrates like carrots, cheese, crackers, 100% fruit juice, turkey, sliced fruit are all tasty items for a lunch and will give children sustainable energy for the day.
Dinnertime is the Perfect Time for Discussing the Day
Sitting down to dinner as a family is a great way for parents to connect with children and discover how the day went. Parents can ask questions about school subjects, social interactions, successes and concerns. The family meal should remain upbeat, warm and loving, a haven for the family at the end of the day.
For instance, one mother discovered during dinner that her son was having difficulty understanding the oral instructions for completing reading exercises in a workbook. Knowing that her child was a visual learner, she shot off a quick email to the teacher requesting a visual demonstration of the material in addition to the oral. This simple intervention, based on a mealtime conversation, solved the problem quickly and alleviated what could have been prolonged anxiety.
Parents should not feel intimidated by teachers and administration and should be comfortable discussing their concerns with the appropriate administrative staff. It is beneficial to everyone to be compliant with school policy. By following the above steps, parents can become an important part of their child’s educational experience, their child’s advocate, and feel included in the learning process. In addition, parents will help make their child’s educational experience a positive and non-stressful one. Parents should remember that although their child will be taught by many different teachers over the course of their educational years, parents are ultimately the child’s most important teachers and role models.