Some parents have the belief their child’s success in school is something over which they have no control. They are mistaken. As a general principle, start out assuming your child has average or slightly better than average ability and then be sure he is learning as much as he can. How do you do this? First, create a healthy, stimulating home environment. Your children should come to school as healthy physical-doing, emotional, moral, social individuals. They should feel positive about being in school. They must be able to relate to teachers and conform to their expectations. With such a background, your child comes to school with enthusiasm, prior experience, and a readiness to take on the world of school.
No, it is not important your child be able to read, count or write numbers, or spell and print before getting to school. If another parent says his (or her) child could read by the age of four, knew the alphabet before going to school, could count to one hundred before entering kindergarten, or the like, there is no reason to be alarmed. School is a good place to learn these things; your emphasis before your child gets to school should be on his physical-doing, emotional, moral, and social development. If you decide attending preschool is something you want for your child, remember the need is still mostly related to physical, emotional, moral, and beginning social development. Some focus on school skills such as numbers and letters is helpful and may give your child a positive edge when starting school. Even so, kindergarten is soon enough to start the process of structured learning emphasizing reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Once your children are in school (kindergarten through high school), active parental involvement is important. Since in general the more interest in your child shown by her teacher, the more academically successful your child will be, you want to maximize this attention. You do this by demonstrating your concern for your children. Always go to scheduled parent-teacher conferences. Make an active effort to attend school functions, including PTA, special programs and school events. If possible, become a volunteer room parent, help with school projects, or serve on committees. You can even say hello to the teacher when you pick up your child from school. If your child shows signs of difficulty, telephone the teacher and otherwise let the teacher know you are vitally interested. Don’t become a nuisance.
Next, be restrained in approaching the school or teacher about problems which are generally fairly minor. Also, your children may distort what has happened at school to make themselves look better and the teacher worse. Let these difficulties pass unless they are particularly severe or repeated. Save your disagreements with the school for important issues. You will probably have at least one serious problem with the school during your child’s school years. If you have a history of being cooperative, interested, and understanding, your credibility will be good when you call a serious problem to the attention of the school.
Next, take major responsibility for monitoring the academic progress of your children. For your children of grade school age, insist they regularly bring home their papers and school projects. Most of the time, you can just look over this work and specifically note any errors. When you find a problem answered incorrectly, calmly go over it with your child. Emphasize the positive, but be sure the homework is corrected by your child. Don’t make a big deal of this process – helping a grade schooler with homework should normally take no more than thirty minutes. Any longer and you should talk with the teacher about the problem.
Your child should have a place to do his homework and be encouraged to do all homework. If your child is having difficulty at school, he should spend time every evening on school work, whether or not homework has been assigned. (Twenty minutes is long enough for first and second graders; an hour is reasonable for high school students). Check with your child’s teacher from time to time to see if homework is being completed and turned in on time. It is also important to look at your high schoolers’ books once in a while, to look over their homework papers, and ask questions about their studies. Make an active effort to see they do their work.
If your child has special difficulties you are not prepared to help with, first talk with the teacher and then arrange for special help if necessary. Perhaps another high school student can tutor. Most high school teachers are quite willing to give extra help, if the student shows interest and asks for it.
School is fun and enjoyable, but it is also a lot of hard work. Your child may not like all subjects, every teacher, or doing school work. Especially with your high school student, be firm about your expectation to do well with school work, to get along well with teachers, and to conform to parental and school expectations whether or not she likes every aspect of school. Succeeding academically is your child’s work and is one of her major responsibilities.