Summer has officially come to an end with the start of a new school year. Each year as my kids return to the hallowed halls of academia, I have great hope and determination to see them have a great year in all aspects: educationally, socially, and developmentally. I recognize each year, however, that the onus of that expectation does not solely lie in their hands. As their mother, I feel as though I have an obligation and responsibility to give them the tools they need and to guide them down that road to success in school.
Every family is different; and every family views education and success in school differently. Some parents don't equate success in school with grades and don't establish grade requirements. I think they are beneficial, so we do have grade requirements; but they don't begin until 8th grade (which is a "grace" year.)
Other ways I have found that help me encourage success in my children include:
1. Reading: 20-30 Minutes Every Night. This is a habit that is best to start early--Kindergarten, if possible. In the early years, reading to your child is very important; but encourage them to read to you as well. Praise their successes. As a four or five year old, reading the sentence "Sam sat on the mat" for the first time all by yourself is a BIG deal!! Guide them through their failures and frustrations as well.
Reading and reading comprehension are vital to a child's growth and success, not only in school; but also in life. Like most parents, my first child is often the test study when it comes to many things. I will confess that I failed miserably. I just assumed that my daughter would reach 12 years old, and follow in my once young footsteps, and read "Are you there, God? It' s me Margeret." and her insatiable need to read everything journey would begin....yeah...not so much. Don't get me wrong, she will read; but it has to be a book she REALLY likes; and then she'll read it non-stop.
With my boys, I just didn't give them a choice...so 8:30-9pm is reading time every night.
2. Routine: Important at Home and School. There is a reason most teachers follow a schedule in their classroom. Children thrive on structure and rhythm in a day, they need that structure and guidance. They often find comfort in knowing what to expect throughout the day. However, most teachers find a way to balance routine with spontaneity. Following a routine doesn't have to mean boring.
Establishing a routine at home can also helpthem succeed. Of course, there will always be soccer games, doctor's appointments, band practice and the like. Still, there is a way to incorporate routine into a crazy day. Try to establish a consistent time for reading and for bed time each night. Also, a regular waking up time and morning routine before school is important too.
Routine doesn't have to always revolve around time management. Simple habits like packing their backpacks at night before going to bed and making their beds in the morning are effective routines to establish. Routines help children focus on their responsibilities; and fulfilling those responsibilities is an accomplishment which ultimately helps lead to success.
3. Independence: Give Them a Chance to Shine. It can feel very tempting to just give the answer to the math problem you've been watching your child struggle to do for 10 minutes. After all, there's dinner to cook, the dog to be fed, laundry folded and your life would be SO much easier if we could just move on to the next problem and get this homework done, right?! WRONG! Guess what? It is NOT about you...it is about your child and their ability to apply what (hopefully) they learned in school that day. That being said, there's nothing wrong with guiding and asking questions to help show them the way; but let them get to the answer on their own.
Once my children reached 2nd grade, I stopped sitting at the table watching them do every single piece of homework. Every day after school, I ask them, "Do you have homework?" If they say yes, then they sit at the table (or at the desk in their room) and do it. I tell them I am available to help if they need anything; but then I pretty much let them steer their own ship. I also don't check their homework--unless I know it's an area with which they've been struggling or needed help. It isn't that I think it's the teacher's "job", I just choose to believe in my child's ability; and that they know the right answers to the questions they've been asked.
Children need to feel as though they're learning and accomplishing through their own hard work. Their teachers are working hard at school to help them build the ladders they need to climb to academic success. Catch them if they fall; but encourage them to climb, nevertheless.
4. Failure: It isn't Personal. Failure is a part of learning. Rare is the child who can make it through an entire high school career without failing a test, or a quiz or a homework assigment. When your child fails, however, it is important that they don't personalize it. They should never feel as though failing an Algebra test makes them stupid or incompetent or unable to learn the material. As parents, we must be careful to not allow our own frustrations and sometimes disappointment in our children's academic performances to manifest as personal attacks against them. There can be a wide variety of reasons your child fails a test or a homework assignment. Find out what those reasons are by opening a line of communication with your child and his teacher. Many times a parent's frustration about failure is a result of not understanding what the teacher expected from the student. Develop a plan to help get your child back on track and try to encourage him in positive ways to improve.
5. Learning: It's a Process. There is a reason why school lasts 13 years (more if continued through college) and that is because learning is a process. It takes time...plain and simple. What is easy for you as a parent at 35 years old can be difficult and frustrating for a 6 year old who hasn't done it yet. Just because you still remember the "Order of Operations" for math class all these years later doesn't mean your 8th grader has it memorized yet. Our lives these days are so advanced with technology and research and "expert studies" about education and children that sometimes I believe we expect our children to come home at the end of kindergarten with a master's degree. Learning is an evolution. It is not something that you check off as though it's part of a "to-do" list. Be patient with your child as he travels down the path of academia; and try to remember that most of it is new to him and that his brain is still developing. Help him and encourage him to WANT to continue to learn. Ask questions that promote thinking and understanding of the material and know that two days from now, he probably won't remember what you've talked about...and then ask the questions again, talk about it again. Have faith in them and teach them to have faith in themselves.