By Camilla Benbow
(Originally printed in The Tennessean on August 2, 2012)
School has begun for many readers, and parents may be wondering how to help children get off to a successful start. After a couple months of leisure time, it can be a challenge to get back into the rhythm of school days, transportation, homework and extracurricular activities. The sooner parents and children set that new routine, the better.
For example, children who have gotten used to staying up later during the summer (and sleeping later in the mornings) may need an earlier bedtime. It takes time to change the sleep cycle and get used to it. Having a solid routine reduces absenteeism.
Many schools will host open houses within the first few weeks. Parents can take this opportunity to meet teachers and learn about their expectations and teaching styles. That way, should a problem arise, they will have a better sense of what their child is experiencing. Even better, parents can volunteer to help in the classroom by tutoring or assisting with other needs.
Schools also will encourage parents to attend regular PTA/PTO/PTSA meetings; many will ask for help with fundraising. These are certainly valid means for parents to support their children’s education and the school’s mission. Statistics show that attending meetings is the main way that many parents participate. But it is important to remember that parent engagement takes many forms, not all of which are visible outside the home.
By far, the most important way for parents to get involved is through their children’s homework. Research indicates that students whose parents monitor, help with and check homework have higher achievement gains. This is true regardless of family income level. My colleague, Barbara Stengel, advises parents to make time and space for homework. Parents can model homework time, she says, by sitting down to read a book or write letters or pay bills — so that you and your children spend quiet time working together.
Older children, of course, may not want mom or dad peering over their shoulders as they do their homework. By middle school and high school, it is more important that parents assert their influence by encouraging students to set high expectations for themselves. This may mean urging them to select courses or take part in extracurricular activities that will ready them for college, including AP or IB classes or service activities out in the community.
The family dinner hour is a good time for parents to check in with younger and older students alike. Parents can ask what their student learned in school that day. When children explain what they have been learning, it helps to solidify their knowledge and make it permanent. It also reinforces the message that parents think learning is important. And it gives children an opportunity to practice communicating ideas with adults. Parents and children will come to know each other better and appreciate each other more.
When families work together to pursue educational success, everyone benefits.
Camilla P. Benbow is Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Her column on education appears every other Thursday in The Tennessean Local section.