Monday, August 12, 2013

Back To School

Guess what? It's my favorite time of the year: Back to School! Yes, I occasionally break out into a little chorus of, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year", and, yes, my kids cringe every time I do (which, naturally, causes me to sing it again and again and again....) And, yes, my kids are pretty much ready to get back to school this year (mostly because they want to get away from my singing. Hey, whatever it takes.)  

Seriously, I loved school - all the way through my college years - and, fortunately, my kids do, too.  However, these days back-to-school takes on a slightly different meaning than it did when I was the student.  For example, what do I do with all that free (?) time I'll have once the kids are out the door for eight hours every day Monday through Friday? Do I volunteer? Do I take on a new job? Do I sit around and eat bon-bons and watch soap operas? And, once I send those little angels off into the unchartered waters of school and teachers and friends and lunch ladies, what do I do to keep connected with them and their new activities and interests without actually sitting in class with them all day? 

Surely you've had these questions, too?

Well, have no fear.  Last year I wrote a post with some suggestions about creating a positive relationship with your child's school, and I'd like share it again with you today. Hope you enjoy, and, as always, thanks for reading!

Creating a Healthy Partnership With Your Child's School 
(Originally posted on August 24, 2012)

All around the country parents are gearing up for their children to go back to school.  Regardless of what stage you are at in your child’s educational course, the new school year always brings excitement and anticipation as parents and children alike prepare for yet another new school-related adventure.  For me, this new school year brings new experiences (a first time high school student and a first time middle school student) as well as some old ones (a second year college student and a third year middle school student).  But one thing is not new about this school year: my propensity to make resolutions for the new school year in much the same way others make resolutions at the beginning of a calendar year.

One of the best resolutions that I made – and kept – was the commitment to establish a more active role as a volunteer at my kids’ schools.  This promise is one that most educators would like to see more parents make – and follow through with.  But, how do parents take on a more active role in their children’s schools without interfering with day-to-day classroom operations?

To help parents – especially those new to the whole school experience – become better partners with their children’s schools, I asked a couple of my teacher friends for some advice on how parents can use their energy in a positive and productive manner in order to enhance their child’s educational experience.  The following represents some of their suggestions, as well as some helpful tips I have learned through trial-and-error over the years.

     1.   If your child is in elementary school, be sure to check his backpack every day.  Don’t rely on him to keep you informed of events at school such as homework assignments, special assemblies, field trips, etc.  My children were always given daily planners that highlighted not only the day’s assignments but also listed any upcoming special events or projects such as “pajama day” or “research day”.  The students were required to have a parent sign off on these planners daily in an attempt to ensure proper communication between the classroom and home.  If your child’s teacher does not currently have such a system in place, perhaps you can approach the teacher and suggest adding this to his daily routine.  Something as simple as providing the teacher with a chart that she can have your child fill out each day for your perusal would be sufficient in helping create open lines of communication between you and the teacher.
     2.  Have a designated area at home for homework, and maintain a homework routine.  This will help instill in your child a habit of self-discipline, which will help her achieve success in all areas of her life in the future.
     3.  Don’t be afraid to visit your child’s school and meet his teachers.  Children love to show off their work, whether it be journal entries, art projects, or math tests.  They also like to show off their personal work spaces such as their desks or their lockers.  Hearing a compliment from teacher to parent will also help boost confidence and self-esteem.
     4.   Don’t wait for parent-teacher conferences to address questions or concerns you or your child may have.  Sometimes a child is afraid to ask a question, and having his parent voice concern over an issue helps alleviate fear and embarrassment as well as sends the message that everyone is on the same team.
     5.   For those parents who have the time, they can volunteer in the classroom.  They can help decorate bulletin boards, listen to children read, or distribute papers to student or faculty mailboxes.
     6.   Some parents can help out their child’s class by sending extra supplies needed by the teacher.  Extra pens or pencils, folders, notebooks, art supplies, stickers, and class snacks are “extras” that teachers often spend their own money on to have on hand in their classrooms for students.  Our family has made a tradition of donating hamster or rabbit food for my kids’ classes that have these pets as well as sending in extra boxes of Kleenex and bottles of anti-bacterial gel during the winter months when colds are rampant in our area.
     7.   Parents who are unable to visit during the school day can show their interest by communicating with the teacher.  A periodic note or e-mail lets both the teacher and the child know that you are interested and aware of school happenings, no matter how much time you spend on campus.
     8.   If you do visit the school, be sure that you respect the privacy of the other students in the classroom.  Remember that every child works at his or her own pace, and ultimately it is up to the teacher to decide how the classroom should be run in regards to addressing the various learning personalities that make up a class.  Refrain from offering academic “advice” to other parents with regard to their children’s school work.
     9.   If you find that your presence in the classroom is distracting for your child, seek out other volunteer opportunities.  School-wide fundraisers, book fairs, Parent-Teacher Organizations, and extra-curricular organizations all depend on parent support for their success.  Find a group that fits your personality and offer your expertise, time, or financial support to help them meet their goals for the school year.
     10.  Often a school’s administrative areas welcome parent volunteers to assist with their operations.  Check with your child’s school office to learn about volunteer opportunities in the school library, cafeteria, or office area. 

My favorite bit of advice came from one of my daughter’s eighth grade teachers.  Her simple advice illustrates how parents and teachers can easily work together to help promote a student’s success.  She says,

I would tell parents to find out their unique way to show interest. Maybe it is as simple as writing a short note back and forth with the teacher in the student's planner every day. Maybe it is volunteering in the lunch room once a week. It could be sending the paper plates for the Halloween party. Just make sure that the child and the teacher know that you are interested. Don't be afraid to share suggestions or offer expertise or lend an extra pair of hands. Teachers and students love to see that interest in their schools!”

Creating a strong relationship with your child’s school is not difficult to do, and is imperative for your child’s academic success.  When you show an interest in your child’s scholastic undertakings, you send him and his teacher the message that your child’s education is important to you.  This, in turn, helps foster a healthy outlook toward school that encourages learning.

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