Back to school time is busy, and while parents are making sure kids have backpacks and shoes that fit, there are other steps they can take to make sure their kids thrive this school year.
Set up a designated homework space and time prior to the start of school.
Let your children weigh in on where and when they think they will work best. Corinne Alt, an educational therapist at Individual and Family Connection, a Chicago Public Schools teacher and parent of two, advises that giving them ownership can go a long way.
“Buy extra supplies and have a homework caddy ready,” she says. “You want to have everything they need so they don’t sit down and then say ‘I need a protractor.’”
She emphasizes prioritizing homework time and making sure it’s on the master family schedule.
“Sometimes the schedule changes, but overall consistency matters and helps a lot to get the homework done in a peaceful manner,” Alt says.
Use family time to tie in with what they’re learning at school.
Cinda Klickna, president of the Illinois Education Association and a former English teacher, recommends that parents learn what their children will be studying this year and look for ways to connect with it as a family.
“When you know what the curriculum covers, consider planning family activities that coincide with it,” she advises. “For example, if kids are studying Mark Twain, consider a trip to Hannibal, Mo., where he grew up. If they are studying Egypt, take a trip to the museum. If they are learning about plants, check out the arboretum or even just head to the park to observe the plants,” she says.
Even a trip to the library to find books related to the subjects they are studying can be hugely beneficial. Klickna notes that kids thrive when they realize that learning happens anywhere, not just in the classroom.
Get to know your child’s teacher(s) early in the year.
Knowing your child’s teacher can go a long way to making a difference in the academic year.
“Be sure you know each teacher by name,” says Klickna, who explains that while that’s easy when children are younger, as they get older they have different teachers for different subjects.
Alt recommends sending a brief, friendly email to your child’s teacher at the start of the year to introduce yourself. “Having a good relationship with the teacher from the start sets a good foundation for future communications,” Alt says. “It makes it easier for a teacher to work with parents when they’ve reached out in the past in a positive way.”
“Many schools have great tools online for keeping up with grades and homework that parents don’t know about or don’t sign up with,” says Alt, noting that parents can use the Chicago Public Schools’ parent portal to review assignments and grades.
Alt recommends that parents use it as a source of information but cautions, “Don’t overreact.” If a parent sees low grades or missing assignments, a parent should first talk with their child before reaching out to the teacher. If a parent then needs to communicate with the teacher, having all the facts make that conversation more productive.
Some teachers also have blogs or weekly newsletters, which are good sources of information.
Be involved with your child.
It sounds simple, but being involved with your child and talking about school can be a game-changer.
“Ask open-ended questions,” suggests Klickna. Parents can sometimes get a lot of information by asking, “What was the funniest thing that happened today at school?”
Alt also says parents should consistently ask, “What homework do you have?” Parents should not do the work for their children, but it helps kids to know that parents are there to help. Says Alt, “When kids know that you’re on top of it and there to support them, it makes a world of difference.”