Parents: Our first teachers

Preparing the next generation to inherit the world is no small task. It makes sense that the efforts of schools and parents be synchronized. Parents often ask me how they can help at home. Here are some basic guidelines for supporting your child’s education:

(1) Speak about learning. Question your child about new concepts and processes that he is learning in school. If he says he learned how to write an algebraic equation from a word problem, have him demonstrate. Your child isn’t in school yet? Discuss the weather, trees, trains, and dinner. Develop vocabulary and get those critical thinking wheels turning.

(2) Ensure time for homework. If you arrive home late, have your child show you the completed assignments. Whenever possible, dedicate time to sitting with your child to work on homework. You show him or he shows you. Either way, you are helping him. No homework today? Review classwork and notes.

(3) Communicate with teachers and other members of the school community. Even better, become a part of the school community through the PTA or similar programs. Attend school meetings to which you are invited. Show your child and his teachers that you are serious about education.

(4) If your child’s school has an online grading program, get access and monitor the grades religiously. You will know when he has homework and if he does it. You will know his last test score and what he earns each marking period before you even get a report card.

(5) Enforce prompt, daily attendance. If your child is home, he is not learning the curriculum. Each day’s lesson builds upon the previous day’s activities. Students who attend school daily avoid having to play catch-up. Promptness and daily attendance are assets in the professional world. Help your child develop a work ethic.

(5) Encourage reading. Go to the library or bookstore to browse the material. How about a book or magazine subscription as a gift? Of course choose something of interest. Practice makes perfect, and children who are good readers do much better in school than their peers who struggle with reading. Yes, we live in a digital age, but the written word is all but obsolete. Take out written words from our computers and they become screens with pretty icons.

(6) Talk long-term. Get your child thinking about life after school. Which universities most appeal to you? Which majors? Which careers? What are you doing now to get ready? If your child is in high school, speak with his guidance counselor about relevant work and volunteer experience.

(7) Don’t forget about yourself. One chapter in the book Freakonomics presents a data analysis undertaken to determine the effects of parenting on children’s futures. The authors conclude that who you are, your own level of success, is the greatest determinant of your child’s potential success. The explanation and implications are certainly open to discussion, but there is an applicable moral to this story: Your own success sets a standard and expectations. Model success for your child and establish a family culture of success. Essentially, help your child by helping yourself. Make decisions that improve your situation. Have difficulty with English? Take a course. Need ten hours of training to get a promotion at work? Sign up for the training tomorrow. My own mother finally earned her bachelor’s degree two years ago, at the bouncy age of fifty-seven. Self-improvement is not bound by age. Next time your child tells you what he learned, you tell him what you learned. Dedicate effort to your own success, if not for yourself, then for your child.

The author is a former special education and general education teacher , and a former teaching fellow ambassador with the NYC Teaching Fellows program.

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