Guest Post by Author & Parenting & Educational Specialist, Dawn Casey-Rowe
“Does anyone have the school supply list?”
“I lost the summer reading–can someone post?”
“We haven’t touched the summer computer math.”
Those are the types of things I hear from most every parent I meet. Even though I’m a teacher as well as a mom, I often feel completely unprepared. This year, I was a bit ahead of the game. I didn’t lose the supply list. I bought the required number of folders, pencils, and crayons, plus a few extra to share. I felt proud.
Still, I’m not perfect. I didn’t log my son’s summer reading even though we read books for fun. I also lost the login for the computer math program he hates so we did our own fun math and science this summer instead of fighting about requirements. I hope it counts.
“Mom, if I cut the head off a hydra five times,” Declan asked after watching Percy Jackson, “How many heads will I get?” That’s a great question. I take every opportunity I can to sneak in learning–they get wise to this quick as they get older.
“If it grows back two heads every time, and we cut them off five times…” We start figuring out the solution. That’s an exponential equation–not bad for an eight year old. Even little kids can understand advanced math if it’s explained in terms that interest them. “You know that applies to germs and fruit flies, too?” He’s familiar with fruit flies. We have a lot of them. He helped me research and make traps for them. That’s applied science.
Those are the types of things I did this summer–no lists, packets or assignments, but lots of learning and fun.
I feel like a terrible mom for not doing things exactly the way they’re supposed to be done. I hope I haven’t started my son off on the path to failure by not doing the computer math or logging the reading. When he becomes an unemployed liberal arts major with $300K in student loan debt, it’ll be all my fault.
I was at a soccer practice with parents wondering about whether they’re doing all they can to help their children succeed. “I can’t do the ‘new math.’ I’m old school,” one said.
“My boy picks the easiest book off the shelf to do his reading homework, and what’s the point of that?” said another dad. I commented how I’m exhausted by the hours of crying over a math paper, so we didn’t finish the homework.
We all wonder if we could do more. Most of us second guess our efforts. The truth is we want to know the best way to support our kids in school. Even seasoned parents struggle with this sometimes. How can we best help?
Here are five simple tips to help your child from a mom who is a teacher.
1. Encourage your student. Bring learning into family activities. It’s tough to find out what kids do in school. My son always says ”nothing.” When I sneak the information out of his backpack, I try to reinforce the lessons at home in fun ways. Last year was all about bugs, so we collected bugs, talked about bugs, drew bug pictures, bought bug larva, wrote bug books, and made a bug poster. It didn’t seem like learning at all, which is the way we learn best. We all had fun with bugs. I learned a lot, too.
Be involved. Many parents have jobs. It’s tough to be involved in school activities. You may not have time to join the PTO or go to school functions held during the day, but there are still opportunities for you. I missed Declan’s first grade play–he was a duck. I felt like the worst mom alive. His principal let me do other things. I helped with the lemonade truck they brought at the end of the school year. I stayed for recess and read a story. I did what I could during the times I could take off from work. It was a big deal for Declan, too.
Schools want parents to be involved. If nothing looks doable, don’t hesitate to call in and ask.
Build a relationship with the school. It takes a village to raise a child. I connect with Declan’s teachers as soon as possible so they know I’m supportive in their efforts. My son’s not the easiest student, and I want his teachers to know I appreciate them. Good family-school relationships are critical in both good times and bad. Building a good relationship goes a long way and can be done with notes, emails, phone calls or quick hellos during drop off and pick up times.
Ask questions. Many parents assume the teacher knows best. Communication is a two-way street. If something is or isn’t working for a student, have that discussion.
I encourage my students to advocate for themselves–I can be flexible, adapt things, change a deadline or incorporate their interests. I want them to ask questions. Asking questions helps improve things for everyone. Don’t blindly accept things that don’t serve you. Ask. There may be a reason, but there may be some way to improve the situation as well.
Hands off when necessary. Homework time is not fun in my house. It’s torture and crying. When I come home from school, I can predict the quality of my afternoon by the amount of homework in Declan’s folder. Incidentally, this totally changed my view of homework as a teacher. Last year, homework time became so unbearable I met with the teacher, who said, “Don’t worry, just send it back.” I felt like a bad parent and educator. Declan’s teacher told me she wanted him to become more independent, and she reinforced that at school. She was magic.
The message: sometimes hands off is the best approach as a parent. We have to guide our kids not hover over them. Before long, Declan was doing the homework on his own–his teacher helped me establish a routine that worked for him.
Show a great example. I’m always learning. My son sees this. He sees me reading, doing projects, researching new things, and writing. I talk about it with him. He knows learning is important–not only learning in school, but learning in life. Over time, he’ll understand that learning is a core value in our family and I hope he will bring that with him through life.
The moral of the story is that there is never a right answer about how best to be supportive and get students to succeed, but by making home and school a team, we have more people involved looking for the best ways to motivate our children. This works for homeschooling parents as well–if you’re working with cohorts, other homeschooling parents, or outside extracurricular activities, all those people are partners in educating your child.
Ultimately, our children have to find their inner light and move forward. Our job is to support and encourage passion for learning. Some students seem to have that fire right away, and others take a little longer. The good news is learning is 24/7, everywhere around us–they will always have the resources to learn.
Dawn Casey-Rowe is the author of Don’t Sniff the Glue: A Teacher’s Misadventures in Education Reform