Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: The moment one definitely commits oneself,…all sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
– W.N. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition
Yesterday I had the honor of meeting with thirty national and Ohio education and positive youth development experts to begin the process of developing standards for K-3 educators in the areas of social and emotional development, approaches to learning and physical development. The facilitator confessed, “I stand up here terrified because I know we are about to do something very important.” These standards will be used in the state of Ohio to support teachers in creating better learning environments, integrating social and emotional skills in the academic curriculum and promoting healthy habits for life. Those gathered expressed similar sentiments about their belief in the power of schools to change the world for the better. Conversely years ago, I remember working with a school community and having a conversation with a parent at a community center. Her confession was the flip side of that same coin. “I have to admit, I get sweaty palms when I even get near a school. My kids take the bus and I avoid it.” “You don’t go to parent-teacher conferences?” I asked gently. “No they aren’t required so I don’t go.” Whether positive or negative, there tend to be strong emotions associated with schools. Because we have all spent a significant amount of our childhoods in schools, we have a whole backlog of experiences that have informed our opinions and feelings. The woman who stayed away must have had some pretty negative school experiences. Regardless of whether you possess a warm glow when school is mentioned or feel like you want to run in the other direction, most parents want to support their children in being successful in their respective school environments. Showing your commitment to supporting their school experience can go a long way toward demonstrating your confidence in their abilities to succeed in school.
If you are a full-time parent or work part-time as I do, you may have the chance to volunteer during the school day to show your support. However most busy mothers and fathers have to find other ways. How do we keep in touch with what is going on? What can you do at home to be supportive? The following are some ideas for simple ways to show your support and play a role in contributing to your child’s school success.
Commit to the basics. Get your child to bed on time consistently. You know that they have not had enough sleep if they have a difficult time getting out of bed in the morning or are tired throughout the day. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 15 million American children do not get enough sleep each night. Children at 5 years old typically require 11.1 hours and 13 year olds require 9 hours. Adolescents may need more sleep requiring 10 hours between the ages of 14-18 years.[i] A lack of sleep prevents a child from performing well at school. It requires a commitment from your family but getting children to bed on time can be a significant contribution to their ability to learn. Also ensuring your children have a healthy breakfast before they leave the house each morning is an easy way to contribute to a child’s health and preparedness for school. Make sure that protein is a part of whatever you serve so that your child is well fueled for learning. For great ideas on fast, healthy breakfasts that are balanced and include a dose of protein to prepare your child’s brain and body for learning, check out Table 365, a site devoted to making feeding a family easier.
Articulate your commitment (and avoid talking negatively about school). You may not like the way your child’s teacher is speaking to students. You may think an assignment is ridiculous. You may think your child gets picked on by his teacher. Yet, you also want your child to succeed in school. Talking negatively about a teacher, a principal or activities related to school can send a confusing message to a child. Particularly if criticisms are relayed with passion, your child is going to embrace your way of thinking and could translate that passionate criticism to other aspects of school. Sometimes it takes great restraint when you don’t like what is going on. But save the criticisms for times when you are with your partner alone and the children have gone to bed. And certainly if there are serious concerns to raise, engage in direct discussions with teachers and administrators. But articulate your commitment to the school, your children’s teachers and classmates as much as possible so that they too can make the commitment to being successful in that environment with those individuals. Invest in relationships with classmates’ families and with school staff and your children will be able to trust that they are in a supportive environment each day.
Support homework. Does your child have a clean, clear space that is designated for homework each night? Is it near you so that while you are cooking dinner or taking care of other children you are nearby to offer support when needed? Is there good lighting so that your child can see well? Are basic tools easily accessible (paper, pencil, pen, scissors, glue stick)? Creating a consistent space and time for your child to work on homework creates a routine that is expected. The routine promotes accountability as well. There typically is not much time in an evening to get homework accomplished. Find a time with your children’s input when tummies are full and they seem the most receptive to getting homework accomplished.
Keep up with what’s going on. Do you know what’s going on during the day? Often the response when we ask E what he did during the school day is “I don’t know” or “I can’t remember.” Are there mechanisms in place for keeping posted on school assignments and major themes? Some schools use weekly folders. Check those daily to find out what is expected for homework. Many schools now have an online space to communicate updates. Stay in touch that way. If those opportunities do not exist, ask teachers what they would suggest for staying in touch with the themes and content being taught. And certainly parent-teacher conferences are an important opportunity to make a connection with your child’s teacher.
Make dialogue easy and safe. Though a direct question like, “What did you do today?” may not get much of a response from a child, there are ways to get more information. Kids typically are trying to relax after school as we attempt to pump them for information about their day. Give them time to wind down. At dinner or later, start into a conversation about school concerning your thoughts, feelings and questions but do not pose them directly to your children. See if they don’t just chime in. “We used to make mailboxes around Valentine’s Day and bring Valentines for each classmate. I wonder if they do that at your school?” Casual wondering on your part may invite and make it safe for conversation to take place without your child feeling put on the spot.
Sing, read and discuss. Singing, rhyming, discussing ideas and reading with your child may seem nice but not really important. However research has actually demonstrated that it can mean the difference between school success or failure. Dr. Roger Farr, a former president of the International Reading Association and author and researcher on literacy and language goes so far as to say, “The size of a student’s vocabulary is the single best predictor of success on state tests.”[ii] Children who live in homes in which they are regularly read to, in which they sing or rhyme together, in which they discuss ideas over and above communicating logistics and other “business talk,” have twice the size of the vocabulary as their counterparts who do not have language and song rich environments at home. An expanded vocabulary allows for greater reading comprehension and the ability to learn through school texts throughout the preK-12 experience. Conversely, a study that tracked interactions between parents and infants showed that four years olds who received less interaction and reading entered preschool a full two years behind counterparts who received a high level of reading and interaction in their home life.[iii]
Seek support. You really don’t have to study trigonometry yourself. Who has the time? If your child is struggling with a particular subject, talk to her teacher. Ask for school supports or get a referral for a tutor. This help may only be needed temporarily to get through one particularly challenging unit. In addition, all families go through high stress periods of time. Maybe you are moving or a family member has been moved into hospice care? Consider asking your school if they might refer you to a child or family counselor who can help talk through those stresses with your child. Seek additional support if and when it’s needed and your child will understand that there are community resources that can help you get through some of the more challenging times.
Your commitment to supporting your child at home after school and on weekends in ways that will contribute to his success during each school day will only reinforce your child’s willingness to work hard and demonstrate his own commitment to learning.
[i] Smaldone, A., Honig, J.C. & Byrne, M.W. (2007). Sleepless in America: Inadequate Sleep and Relationships to Health and Well-being of Our Nation’s Children. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: 119, S29-S37. Retrieved on 1/31/14 at
[iii] Hart, B., and T. R. Risley. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children: The everyday experience of one- and two-year-old American children. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.