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School Involvement That Adds Up

By Stephanie Toelle, Family and Consumer Sciences Extension Agent IV at UF-IFAS Duval County
Reviewed by Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

As the school year starts up again, it’s time for parent-teacher conferences, backpacks bursting with homework, and cries of “Mom! I forgot–we need to go buy 3 pieces of pink posterboard, a container of glitter, and a bottle of tempera paint…tonight!”

As parents, we all see different levels of involvement among the parents at our children’s schools. What is appropriate? And how can parents be supportive of their children’s education without becoming a crutch?

Children need to be aware that their parents and their teachers have a meaningful connection and relationship.  Don’t hesitate to initiate the first contact with your child’s teacher, using his or her preferred method of contact.  It’s nice to begin with a bit of praise in your email, phone call, or meeting. Starting on a positive note will make any challenging conversations you might need to have later in the year much easier.

Keep teachers up to date on important developments at home. For instance, if a change in family life occurs (like a move, a lost pet, or an added family member), talk to the teacher about it, as it may alter your child’s performance or behavior in the classroom.

Homework is another area where you can help your child and his or her teacher by keeping things organized and setting boundaries. Have you seen those science projects that seem they were surely created by a NASA engineer, not a 6th grader? Keep that parental tendency to take over children’s work in check by offering the right kind of guidance.

  • Give your child structure by designating a regular time and place for homework. Be sure that homework supplies are readily available and that the homework area is free from distractions to help them focus.
  • Have your child make a to-do list of homework, or if they have a planner, to list their assignments by date on the planner. Explain the rewarding step of crossing out completed items from the list!
  • Do “homework” yourself during that time. When you focus quietly on reading a book or writing a letter, for example, you model the behavior that you expect. Be available to your child for questions during that time.
  • Recognize that we all have different work styles. Some students focus on one task at a time, while others bounce back and forth between assignments. Monitor your child to ensure that his or her chosen style brings successful results. Schedule in breaks when your child loses focus.
  • Show interest and ask questions about your child’s homework. If she or he is having problems, ask your child to demonstrate or discuss a solution, then suggest another approach. In this way, you help your child think through the problem and solve it for her/himself. Sometimes working through another, similar problem together will help. If you don’t know how, admit it and find another source! However, always remember to let your child do his or her own homework.
  • Check homework (unless teachers request that parents not do this). Praise improvement, not just good performance. Even if you aren’t available during homework time, you may later be able to sit down, review homework assignments, and then talk them over with your child. You don’t have to talk about everything—keep this conversation upbeat and positive.

Another step for being supportive is to stay alert for problems at school. Many times, a drop in grades is an indication of an emotional issue for your child. If there is a drop, ask your child how she or he is doing in school. Pay attention to signs of bullying or social problems with friends. There could also be an academic issue related to missing an important concept in the curriculum or not spending enough time on the subject, such as reading or math problems, at home. Either way, make a plan of action, which may be a visit with the teacher or school counselor.

(Photo credit: UF/IFAS file photo.)

Resources:

Fenton, K. Help your child get organized to study. Partnering for school success.University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved from http://www.extension.umn.edu/family/partnering-for-school-success/structure/help-your-child-get-organized/ on August 18, 2014.

Fenton, K. Homework: How to help. Partnering for school success.University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved from http://www.extension.umn.edu/family/partnering-for-school-success/learning/homework-how-to-help/  on August 18, 2014.

Fenton, K. Problems at school. Partnering for school success.University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved from http://www.extension.umn.edu/family/partnering-for-school-success/support/problems-at-school/ on August 18, 2014.

Olson, K.A. What can parents do to strengthen parent-school connections? Partnering for school success. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved from http://www.extension.umn.edu/family/partnering-for-school-success/support/what-can-parents-do/  on August 18, 2014.