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In the past, school personnel were usually considered the “experts” on how best to educate children. Parents generally took a fairly passive role, allowing their children to go off to that magical place called “school” to be taught by “those who know best.” Not anymore – thanks to two very important variables. First, today's parents are better educated and more knowledgeable than any previous generation. They take an active role, often viewing education as a consumer would, trying to get the best value for their child. Second, researchers who have studied children's learning are focusing their attention on the home.


Parents can do many, many things at home to help their children's academic success. Consider this: children spend approximately thirty hours a week at school, yet they have more than double that number of waking hours for parents to influence. We should try to fill those hours with interesting opportunities for learning. Unfortunately, research suggests that many of us are not doing so – with the average American parent/child interaction (talking, reading, etc.) at less than thirty minutes a day for mothers and less than fifteen minutes a day for fathers. On the other hand, research shows that home efforts can greatly improve student achievement.


1.  Instill a love of learning


Parents are children's first and most powerful teachers. Children's early encounters with learning in the home have a phenomenal impact on their later school success. I can’t tell you how many children I’ve seen over the years that by the time, they’re in 2nd grade (or even younger!), say they “hate school.”  What a tragedy.  


The basis for school learning starts at home.  First and foremost, we must establish a foundation of a love of learning ~ as opposed to an expectation of always being entertained (i.e., with TV, computer games, etc.)  Click here to read about establishing the foundation for a LOVE OF LEARNING.


2.  Monitor Health and Rest


Poor nutrition and inadequate sleep can rob a child of enthusiasm for learning. Good nutrition is critical for developing mind and body; without it, children can become lethargic and irritable. Adequate vision and hearing are essential too, so have these things checked. (The school itself does screenings, not full evaluations, routinely in early elementary grades and usually upon parent request in later grades.)


Any child, regardless of age, needs to be well rested for optimal learning. Set an appropriate bed time, and stick to it! In fact, it is most beneficial to have a regular time for family members to eat, sleep, play, and study/work.


3.  Maintain school attendance


Simply put, school absences can cause skills gaps. When children miss school, they miss the information being presented and/or then opportunity to practice skills. When absences are frequent, some children never really adjust as it is so difficulty to “make it up later.” Additionally, when parents routinely schedule other events (i.e., dentist appointments or holidays) during school hours, children get the message that school is not really important. If a child attempts to get out of school, don’t argue, but keep a calm, matter-of-fact attitude which says school attendance is expected and is required by law.


4.  Schedule Free-time and Fun


When children spend a large chunk of their day in the structured environment of a school, they often need free time at home to loosen up. It is usually not a good idea to hit children with doing their studying or homework immediately upon coming home. They need a change of pace – a snack, a chance to run around outside, some time to “be a kid.”


5.  Remember Talk Time


Show interest in your children’s school experiences by talking with and listening to them. Encourage them to talk about everyday activities. Don’t pry, but don’t accept “nothing” for a reply when you ask what they did in school all day. Instead, ask more specific questions, such as “What was the most important (best, crazy, etc.) think you did (saw, had happen, etc.) today?” Encourage conversation about friends, interests, or activities, not use academic work. Use meal item, car time, or bed time to talk about the world around us and what is going on in the family.


When children bring home test scores, progress reports, or teacher notes, do not consider this privileged communication. Use it to talk with your children about their strengths and areas to improve. Especially focus on helping children see that their efforts do make a difference.


6.  Use Praise and Rewards


Learning is hard work, and children need plenty of reinforcement for their efforts. It is all too easy to find something wrong with a child’s school paper, especially if the teacher has already put some red marks on it. Try overlooking some of that and focus on anything good about the assignment (penmanship, capitalization, creative ideas, etc.). Remember to emphasize the process (effort) more than the product (result) – although some results in themselves are quite rewarding (free time or scholarships).


Build on strengths; pay attention to what your child does well; notice small improvements. Be patient with problem areas and back away from them for awhile if necessary. Keep in mind, too, that success does not have to be in the academic arena – a child’s work is not equivalent to his/her school grades. Successes in other areas (art, athletics, dance, bank) can lead to self-confidence and improved self-esteem.


7.  Meet the teacher, counselor and other parents


Your child can be rescued from anonymity by your involvement. One of the first things teachers always bring up to me when discussing a child’s learning problems is whether than child has support from home. Don’t underestimate how important this is for teacher. They need to put a student with a parent’s face and believe that you care. Plus, when a child sees parents and teacher join forces for his/her benefit, then “miracles” may happen. At the beginning of the new year, go to open house, meet the teacher, visit the classroom; even spend some time watching in action or consider volunteering at the school.


Guidance counselors are very important people, and they are available in almost every school now. Most elementary schools have one counselor, but at middle and high schools there are many. In some cases, you may even be able to “shop around.” If so, look for sensitivity to young people and ability to follow up on their problems. Get to know other parents as well, so you can share information. For example, if you are uncertain whether your child or the teacher is painting the more accurate picture, you can ask parents of other children in the class what they think is going on.


Keep track of what is expected and what your child is learning. Stay in touch with your children’s teacher. Ask your children to show you their school work everyday, then make sure you take the time to review it. If you spot trouble, don’t wait to hear from the school. Make an appointment with the teacher and find out how you can help. Many teachers are willing to send home weekly, if not daily, progress reports. Many middle and high schools have a system already intact, with the students simply picking up the report from the guidance office on Fridays and giving it to each teacher for ratings and signature at the end of each period.


8. Be Realistic


Strong research shows that unrealistic expectations can actually be damaging to a child’s academic achievement! Consider the following studies. Children of mothers with extremely high expectations have been found to be less creative and have more test anxiety. Children forced into learning to read before they have the necessary mental ability can develop long term learning difficulties. Children who have been hurried or exposed to early social pressures in academic learning, constitute a high percentage of the young people experiencing school failure.


Thus, the best practice appears to be to accept your children as they are and be realistic about your expectations. This means realizing that each of us is different. We each develop at our own rate and meet life’s demands on our own way. Everybody has shortcomings and failures and parents should not resort to criticism or humiliation to “correct” them.


Help your child to cope with frustrations and disappointments at school by being supportive. Avoid comparing a child’s achievement with that of a brother, sister, or friend, which can be harmful to a developing self image. Being realistic also means keeping track of whether your child is putting in sufficient effort and taking responsibility for learning.


9.  Set up a Study Time and Place


Study time at home is important for imparting a sense of responsibility, increasing initiative, and reinforcing learning through practice. Set aside a study time and a study place for each child, without interference such as television or stereo. A study place should be quiet and well lit with adequate supplies, such as dictionary, paper, pencil, and other tools.


10.  Follow the “10-minute” Rule


Schedule a home study period every night depending on the child’s grade:  10 minutes for each grade level.  A third-grader will have 30 minutes of homework a night, while a ninth-grader will have an hour and a half.  A child can work on assigned homework, read for pleasure, practice skills (multiplication facts, spelling words, etc.), do activity books/pencil puzzles or any type of academic exercise. If the child says there’s “no homework” tonight, then the parent can assign some, using the newspaper, globe, a typing program, etc.  


The time should  should be routine as much as possible, for example, 7:30-8:00 or after dinner for an hour.  I get very worried when I hear a student has to spend three to four hours every night on homework. In such a case, something is not right – the assignment, study habits, learning problems -- and this should be investigated.



School Success

“10”

PARENTS DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE


Parents are the most important people in a child’s life.  Adequate achievement comes not so much from intelligence but more from behavior and attitude. Successful students behave in certain ways and show a positive attitude: they are motivated, attentive, relaxed, and diligent. These factors are not in-born but can be learned. As your child progresses through school, keep in mind these basic foundations to work together with the child and the school to insure the best possible education.