Time spent together talking about school will help kids stay on track

Keeping up with all school matters-social, emotional and academic-is one of the most important ways to be sure that your child is on track and getting the most out of the academic experience.

Here are some ideas for staying in touch with your children and their school day.

  • Share a meal together every day. It doesn’t have to be dinner-it can be a bowl of cereal at breakfast or even a before-bed cup of cocoa. Turn off your cell phones, the computer, the television and the to-do list that runs through your mind, set aside the magazines and the mail. Focus on listening first: Give your child, as well as yourself, time to digest what’s been said, then offer your own thoughts and advice if necessary. Sometimes kids just want a parent to be a good listener.
  • Be familiar with your child’s teachers, classmates and school personnel. Join the PTA. Attend open houses and introduce yourself to other parents. Volunteer your time and talents-schools welcome parent help and you’ll have a chance to experience the environment that your child lives in every school day.
  • Check your child’s assignment notebooks and read through some of his textbooks so you can ask questions on academic subjects and think of ideas to support learning outside of school.
  • Do your kids tend to clam up with pre-teen-like angst when you ask about their school lives? Ask their opinion on something to get the conversation going. Kids-especially pre-teens and teens-love sharing their opinions and having their voices heard.
  • Never ask yes/no questions. Ask questions that invite thoughts, opinions and long-winded answers.
  • If your child is encountering a problem at school, ask the simplest question of all: How can I help? Sometimes parents tend to formulate their own solution strategies without the input of the key player in the situation-your child.
  • Acknowledge how appreciative you are that your child shared his feelings with you, and remind him that he can always come to you whenever he has a problem or concern. Teach your kids that bottling up worries or feelings isn’t necessary and it helps to bring things out into the open.

Staying in touch with your child’s school

  • Read the student handbook and know who’s who in the school building. Make sure you’re aware of homework policy and study expectations.
  • Teachers are busy these days; the best way to catch them is by e-mail. Don’t wait for disaster to strike-send a simple e-mail at some point (preferably at the beginning of the school year) introducing yourself, your family and your child, and letting the teacher know the best way to contact you should the need arise.
  • Familiarize yourself with the school Web site. Chicago Public Schools has recently launched the Parent Portal, accessible via the school Web site, where parents can securely view their child’s grades and attendance online. You can also register to receive e-mail or text notifications when your child is absent or when his or her grades drop below a point level identified by you.
  • Ask your teacher if you can help out in any way in the classroom. Many teachers would love for a parent to visit and discuss a special interest. Working parents can volunteer to collect classroom supplies, coordinate a classroom newsletter or gather materials for a bulletin board.
  • Of course, you won’t want to miss parent teacher conferences, open houses, the science fair, but also be sure to attend the other fun events such as talent shows, fundraisers and sporting events (even if your child isn’t playing on the team). This will give you a chance to get to know teachers, school administrators and other parents in an informal way. Let your child see for himself that you believe school participation is important.

Questions to ask your kids

1) If you could change three things about your school what would you change?

2) Who is considered the friendliest kid in your class? Why?

3) What qualities do you think make a good friend?

4) What would you do if you saw or heard someone making fun of another kid in your school?

5) Who is your favorite teacher so far? Why?

6) What qualities do you think make a good teacher?

7) What qualities make a good student?

8) What have you done in school (or school-related sport or activity) that you’re proudest of this year?

9) How much TV do you think you should be allowed to watch per day? How much time do you think you should be allowed to play video games? How does watching too much TV/playing too many video games affect your schoolwork?

10) What three things could we do as a family to help you succeed in school?

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