The new (academic) year offers students, parents, and teachers a fresh start. It’s exciting to take advantage of back-to-school sales, select notebooks and fall outfits, make good resolutions about homework, and reconnect with classmates.
Yet we all know that learning involves plenty of toil and sometimes even tears. Here is a teacher’s top-ten list of the things you can do to help your child have a successful school year, whether he is going off to kindergarten or high school.
Hint: Despite what the back-to-school advertisements might suggest makes for happy students, there’s nothing here about technology, cute school supplies, or Lunchables. In fact, you might even be surprised how few of the items actually have to do with academics and homework. Those are important, but by and large they fall naturally into place if a child has a healthy, supportive family life. As a teacher, I can do a lot to help your child understand math or learn to write more clearly, but I’m powerless to meet many of his daily, basic human needs.
1. Make Sure Your Child Sleeps
Have a set bedtime and stick to it. It should probably be earlier than your child thinks it should be. Most elementary students should be in bed by 8:00 and older students by 9:00. Sticking to a regular, early bedtime routine may require hard choices about what other activities you can allow. It is worth it.
2. Feed Your Child Well
Yes, we all have mornings where we end up racing out the door with a granola bar in hand as “breakfast,” but we shouldn’t make this a habit. Plan your child’s mornings so he can sit at the table and eat something reasonably substantial to be ready for the day.
If he brings a snack to school, make a habit of sending healthy items, and please don’t send him to school with a Starbucks mocha or a Gatorade or a Monster energy drink in hand. (I’ve had students come to school sipping all of those.)
3. Sit Down to Dinner as a Family
Year after year, studies (such as this one) consistently reveal an astonishing array of benefits to eating dinner together as a family. Not only do children develop better eating habits, engage in more mature conversation, and have better relationships with their parents, they are also less likely to engage in drug use and, believe it or not, they simply do better in school. The dinner table is also the perfect place to hear what your child has been studying.
You, yourself. Read books for your own pleasure and learning, and let your children see you doing this. Teachers and parents alike are models for children. You can coerce children into reading “because I say so,” but you’ll never lead them to love reading that way. Reading is part of a mature, happy human existence. Model this to your children.
5. Read Some More
Read with your children when they are young, ask them to tell you about what they are reading as they grow more independent, and read aloud to them no matter how old they are. (Would you believe middle-school students love to listen to “Winnie the Pooh”? Oh, they do!) Take trips to the public library. Treasure books and make them a habitual part of your family life. It is essential that this is more than just checking off the assigned homework reading. Need evidence? Here is some, and some more, and even more.
6. Be Homework Aware
It is good for students to learn independent responsibility for homework, and it is not helpful for parents to micromanage or nag. However, children whose parents stay completely out of the loop with homework quickly slide into bad habits, ranging from mild laziness to outright lying.
One of the worst things I can hear from parents at parent-teacher conferences is, “I had no idea my child was supposed to be doing X.” Monitor your child’s homework by keeping tabs on what is normally expected and whether any out-of-the-ordinary projects are coming up. Ask your child’s teacher to help find solutions if homework is taking an excessive amount of time or if your child never seems to have any homework.
7. Speak Well of School-Related Things
Remember that the Eighth Commandment’s requirement to “speak well of [our neighbor] and explain everything in the kindest way” extends to teachers, your child’s classmates, other parents, and school administrators. Also think carefully about how you speak of the school’s curriculum. Your offhand comments about schoolwork—whether fractions or sentence diagramming or Latin—being something you never learned or that is beyond your ability to help with send your child the subtle message that maybe these things have no real value. Presumably you have a chosen a school that you trust, and you want to reinforce rather than thwart the goals of its curriculum.
8. Establish Good Communication
Read the school or classroom newsletters, look through graded papers, know what school topics or events are coming up. Conversely, let your child’s teacher know of family circumstances that might impact your child’s behavior or learning, ask about things you don’t understand, or let the teacher know if you have a concern. Teachers appreciate frequent, honest communication with parents, and words of encouragement or thanks can be reviving water for a weary teacher’s heart.
Pray about things that worry your child at school, pray for his teachers, and pray in thanksgiving for blessings throughout the school year. Let devotion and prayer be such a natural, indispensable part of your family life that it is the first thing your child thinks of in difficult circumstances or times of joy.
10. Love Your Child
One of the greatest gifts to aid your child’s learning is acting in such a way that he comes to school every day secure in the knowledge that his parents love him. The child who was yelled at just before he got out of the car or who didn’t get his homework sheet signed because mom was too busy checking her messages will struggle all day to keep his mind on academics.
Right before the start of the school day is a good time to reflect and see if there is forgiveness to be given or received. The child who enters school with the words “I love you” ringing in his ears is fortified to face almost any challenge the day brings.
This article is reprinted, with permission, from Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife.