School is in session, or will be soon. But for whom? It’s not just our children who have to climb back onto the bus and behind the desk, pencils sharpened and thinking caps on. It’s also time for parents to get in gear.
No matter your child’s age or grade, you have a responsibility to become an active part of her education. Don’t passively assume that your child is getting the education she needs and deserves. Make your child’s education your top priority: Act on her behalf! Here area few ideas:
- Establish a rapport with your child’s teachers. By getting to know your child’s teachers, you are making your priorities clear. A teacher who knows that you value what is going on in the classroom is more likely to keep you up to date with concerns and successes. Perhaps even more important is the message you are giving your child. By showing that you value education and are willing to become actively involved, you are modeling motivation and investment in learning that will last for many years.
- Participate at school without being intrusive. Your time, energy and talents are precious commodities in your child’s classroom and at her school at large. By attending conferences and maintaining your rapport with teachers over time, you’ll learn where you’re most needed. Does the school need a volunteer in the library once a month? Can you chaperone a field trip? Organizers for a can drive? Teach a favorite craft or skill? Participate in career day? Or someone to trouble shoot those pesky new computers? But be careful not to intrude. In the early elementary years school can be as much about separating from home as it is about academic learning. A child who sees mom or dad in the classroom almost as much as at home may not have important opportunities to work on this separation.
- Keeping up to date. Quarterly report cards and interim progress reports may not be sufficient if your child has lagged behind academically or has had notable behavior problems in the past. Teachers should be willing to help arrange and complete a daily assignment notebook or a weekly behavior update. Not only do these communication tools keep you well-informed in case further intervention is required, they also teach your child critical organizational skills and communicate your caring. If you and your child’s teacher do implement a notebook of this sort, remember to emphasize successes. When a weekly notebook only communicates failures that lead to arguments and punishments, school behavior becomes a matter of shame and secrecy, and the student will try harder and harder to interfere with communication. Of course you must respond (hopefully constructively) to problems as they arise, but your best bet will be to reward successes loudly.
- Know your rights. Federal and state law guarantees your child access to an education suited to her needs and abilities. As an active and concerned parent, you must know your rights under law for assuring that your child receives the education she deserves. Every child has individual needs, strengths and weaknesses. Some are better spellers and have a harder time with math. Others excel with numbers but struggle with language. Some children have better or worse hearing, vision, coordination, capacity to relate to others, memory … all the variables that make us each unique. When these differences make learning in a standard classroom setting difficult, the school must provide resources to help.
Dr. Benjamin Garber is a New Hampshire licensed psychologist, internationally acclaimed speaker and prolific writer. He is the author of several books including: Holding Tight, Letting Go; The Healthy Parent’s ABC’s; Keeping Kids Out Of The Middle; Developmental Psychology For Family Law Professionals; The Roadmap to the Parenting Plan Worksheet. Recipient of the March of Dimes Distinction in Media Excellence award, he is an acclaimed speaker and professional educator. His website is www.HealthyParent.com.