By Susan Baldani
Children are expected to be fully engaged in their education. One way parents can ensure this is happening is to lead by example.
According to the National Educational Association (NEA), “Research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.”
So, what exactly does this mean? What can parents and guardians do to show they are invested in their children’s academic success? Here are some ideas:
• Form relationships with your child’s teacher.
Keep the lines of communication open and let the teacher know you are available. Volunteer for opportunities such as classroom helper, fundraising, and extracurricular activities.
• Attend back-to-school nights.
Show your child and his teacher that you are interested in what he and his classmates are working on and how the classroom is set up.
• Get involved in what your child is learning.
If the class is learning about fossils, take your child to a museum where she can view them and learn even more. Or, if she is learning about animals, go to a zoo where she can see, hear, and possibly touch them. Bring classroom lessons into real-world experiences to make them more meaningful. Every day, ask your child what his favorite new thing was that he learned that day and why.
• Set goals with your child.
If your child is struggling with a subject, such as reading or writing, come up with a set amount of time where you can both work on that skill together. Or, if you can’t do it, hire another student or private tutor.
• Use the school’s technology to your advantage.
Most schools have portals where you can see assignments and make sure your child is getting everything done. You may also be able to see grades and report cards. Keep track so you can note any difficulties before they become too severe.
• Attend school plays, sports, and other special events your child is involved with.
Support your child’s extracurricular activities and be there to cheer when she’s winning and to offer comfort when she’s losing. Show your support by rehearsing lines with your child or practicing hitting a ball.
• Advocate for better educational materials or courses.
If your school is struggling to buy certain materials, get together with other parents to find ways to raise money or get donations to fill any gaps. Teachers often use their own money to buy basic necessities. Ask them to make a list of items that are in short supply.
• Continue to be involved even as your children get older and more independent.
Older children need and want their parents to be involved in their education, too, even if they won’t admit it. “The U.S. Department of Education reports that the rate of parent involvement drops to 55 percent by the time children reach age 14, and it continues to drop as children progress through high school.”
In the article “The Enduring Importance of Parental Involvement,” by Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, and Otha Thornton, president of the National Parent Teacher Association, they mention that “[t]he most significant type of involvement is what parents do at home. By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their children have every opportunity for success.”
All of this involvement takes time. What is a parent to do if he or she works full-time or has other demanding responsibilities?
One solution is sharing the load. Mom can go to back-to-school night and Dad can go on the next field trip. Grandparents can also help by attending school plays or the next football game, and aunts and uncles can help with homework. Engage the whole family in your child’s education.
If family is not close by, ask best friends and good neighbors to pick up some of the slack. Children want to know that people are interested in what they’re doing, and if it can’t be Mom and Dad, other people they know can sometimes fill in.
Explain to your child why you can’t be there — for example, if you will be away on a business trip — and help them understand that as they have a responsibility to their education and teachers, you also have a responsibility to your job and your boss. Make it clear that you will be there when you can, and you will miss seeing them in their play or competition. If possible, ask the person attending if they can record at least some of it so you can share it with your child at a later time.
Of course, schools also have to encourage parental involvement and present opportunities for interaction between parents, teachers, and administrators. Everyone in the educational community has to be on board and recognize that a team effort will offer the best solution for creating a positive and open learning environment for students.
“Schools must do their part to encourage parent involvement in education. Key activities include making parents feel welcome at school, involving parents in decision-making, and implementing programs to provide information about parenting skills and community resources,” said Linda Hinkle, a writer and educator who spent 29 years teaching mathematics in public high schools.
If you feel the need to do even more, consider joining the PTA (Parent Teacher Association), which provides programs on strengthening family-school partnerships, or run for a spot on your local Board of Education. Both of these will give you the opportunity to gain more insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of your town’s educational community. The more understanding parents have of the educational process, the more they can help their children achieve academic success.
Written for Roanoke Valley Family Magazine, in Roanoke, Virginia.