In a perfect world, you might be able
to oversee every second of your child's education to ensure that he
or she has the best opportunity to succeed. Unfortunately, you
won't be in the classroom with your kids all the time-they'll be
building the foundations of their success later in life under the
authority and tutelage of others.
But that doesn't mean there aren't
plenty of ways you can guarantee those foundations go up strong
from the very beginning. Experts say that the sooner you get
personally involved in your child's schooling, the better.
Here are a few of their suggestions to
help your child thrive.
Connect with the school
At the soonest opportunity, establish a
line of communication with your child's teachers, principal and,
particularly if your child has a medical condition, the school
nurse. Be certain to learn the best way to contact teachers and
"Teachers often appreciate when parents
ask what is the best way to get in touch with them," says Dr.
Bradley Stein, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with the
University of Pittsburgh. "You don't want to wait until there's a
problem or an issue."
Stein suggests researching your child's
school to find out about open house nights or parent-teacher
conferences. If these happen later in the year, though,
particularly with younger children or in a new school, seek out
Teachers can certainly use your insight
early on in helping them to work with your child, says David Raye
of the Goddard School. "The parents need to communicate and the
school needs to communicate, both ways."
Keep in touch
Once you've established that
connection, use it, especially when problems arise. "If the child
is struggling in school, there needs to be more communication
between school and home," says Sue Adair, director of quality
assurance for the Goddard School systems.
Slipping grades, a declining interest
in school or other negative changes in a child's approach to
learning are best addressed between parents and educators.
"The parent being able to talk and
communicate with the teacher is one of the most important things to
making sure that when issues comes up the child gets the support
that they need," says Stein.
Apply lessons at home
One great way to help augment in-school
teaching is to apply the lessons they learn in the classroom in
their everyday lives. "The learning doesn't stop when the child
walks out of the school," says Raye.
"Talk about how you could use that
skill in everyday life," Adair suggests. "If your child is learning
about money, when you go to the supermarket with your child, you
can talk about it in a real-world context."
Playing educational games together-in
moderation-is also a plus.
Talk about school
It's crucial to hear from your child
about school, but it can sometimes be tough getting kids to talk
about their days. One good way to get around terse answers is to
start by asking about things the kid loves-even if it's games at
recess-and transition into discussions about what they're
Stein suggests starting with very
open-ended questions. "For many kids this works; for others it's
often useful to ask specific questions and direct them," he
And another benefit of frequent
communication with the school is that you can be briefed in advance
on what your child is learning about. "If (parents) know what's
going on in the classroom, you can say, 'well, you were working on
multiplication skills today,'" suggests Adair.
Help with homework
For preschoolers and kindergarteners,
tests and homework probably won't be an issue. But as children
transition into higher grades, they may need your helping hand when
it comes to out-of-classroom work.
This is a good thing, says Stein, in
moderation. "You don't want your child too frustrated by homework,
but at the same time it's important that the homework is there for
the child to learn," he says.
Walk kids through a few easy problems,
then have them do their own until they get stuck. For tests, try
creating a practice exam tailored to the areas your child still
needs help with, then go over their work to identify patterns of
And when all is said and done, a
special treat for good grades isn't a terrible thing. "It's OK if
you have a small reward system," says Raye. But be careful not to
overdo it-you don't want kids learning only because they want an
Keep kids healthy and rested
Physical health is crucial to mental
health and development. That means kids need their exercise (often
in the form of outdoor play), a balanced diet that includes
breakfast and a good night's sleep. Sleep needs vary between ages
and children, but at least 10 hours is usually recommended up to
And finally, don't forget about
emotional health. Kids will be upset on occasion, and some may
never really love going to school, but a pervasive negativity or
depression should be addressed as soon as possible.
Keeping your kids healthy and happy
will help make sure they're building a strong base of knowledge for
the rest of their lives.
Darren McRoy is a former Chicago Parent intern.
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