What's the best way for me to stay involved in my child's school activities?
Your young teen needs you in her life more than she may admit (to you or to herself) although she may want you present under different terms and conditions than she did previously. Some parents misread the signals that their children send and back off too soon. For example, for children at age nine, about 75 percent of American parents report high or moderate involvement in school related activities, but when children reach age 14, the rate of parent involvement has dropped to 55 percent. The rate continues to drop throughout high school.
Research shows that adolescents do better in school when their parents are involved in their lives and that education works best when teachers and parents work closely with one another. Here are some tips for staying involved in your child's school life:
Set ground rules for your child at the beginning of the school year. From the first day of school, make certain that your child knows what time he is expected to go to bed and get up, what he needs to do to get ready for school each morning and what time he needs to leave the house for school. Check that he knows his curfew both on weekdays and on the weekend. Make sure, too, that your child knows that he is expected to try hard and do his best in school.
Learn about your child's school. The more you know, the easier your job as parent will be. Ask for a school handbook. This will answer many questions that will arise over the year. If your school doesn't have a handbook, ask questions. Ask the principal and teachers, for example: What classes does the school offer? Which classes are required? What are your expectations for my child? How does the school measure student progress? What are the school's rules and regulations?
Find out about the school's homework policy. Knowing school policies for homework is important because by the middle grades, homework generally plays a bigger role in your child's grades and test scores than it did in elementary school. Find out from teachers how often they will assign homework and about how long it may take to complete. Do not do homework for your child. However, make sure that he tries his best to complete assignments.
- Help your child get organized. Many young teens are easily distracted. With so much to do and think about, it's not surprising. The amount of their school work and their extracurricular activities often increases at the same time that they are going through a growth spurt, developing new relationships and trying to develop more independence. Young teens respond to these changes in varying ways, but many of them daydream, forget things, lose things and seem unaware of time. It's not unusual for a middle schooler to complete a homework assignment but forget to turn it in. Some schools help students develop organizational skills. Others leave the task to you. Whatever the case, you can:
- Go over your child's schedule together to see if she's got too much going on at once. Talk with her about setting priorities and dropping certain activities if necessary or rearranging the time of some of them.
- Help her learn good study habits. Set a regular time for her to do homework. Talk about the assignments. Make sure she understands what she's supposed to do. Make sure she has a calendar on which to record assignments, as well as a backpack and homework folders in which to tuck assignments for safekeeping.
- Help your child get started when he has to do research reports or other big assignments, perhaps by taking him to the library or helping him find sources of online information from appropriate Web sites.
- Help your child to avoid last-minute cramming by working out a schedule of what he needs to do to prepare for the test.
- Work alongside your child to clean out his backpack or clean up his room.
Provide an environment at home that encourages learning and school activities. Provide a quiet time without TV and other distractions when homework assignments can be completed. If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can't be avoided, you may want to let your child complete assignments in the local library.
Attend school events. Go to sports events and concerts, attend back-to-school night, PTA meetings and awards events, such as a "perfect attendance" breakfast. Remember, though, that many young teens are often self-conscious and want parents to be present but in the background. "They want you there, but they want you at more of a distance," explains teacher Bill Gangl. "They want to look out of the corner of their eye and see you there. On the track, they want to peek up into the stands to make sure somebody is watching them." Look for school activities that you can do with your childcleaning up the school grounds, for example.
Volunteer in your school. If your schedule permits, look for ways to help out at your child's school. Schools often send home lists of ways in which parents can get involved. Chaperones are needed for school trips or dances. School committees need members and the school newsletter may need an editor. The school may have councils or advisory committees that need parent representatives. If work or other commitments make it impossible for you to volunteer in the school, look for ways to help at home. For example, you can make phone calls to other parents to tell them about school-related activities or maybe help translate a school newsletter from English into another language.
Keep in touch with the school and your child's teachers. Keeping in touch can be tricky when your child has many teachers, but at the very least it's good to know your child's counselor and a favorite teacher. The more visible you are, the more educators will be able to communicate openly and regularly with you. Attend parent-teacher conferences. Read school bulletins when they are sent home.
Make sure your child takes classes that are needed to attend college. Middle school or junior high is by no means too early to plan for your child's future. A two- or four-year college degree is becoming more and more important for finding a good job. Colleges want students and employers want workers who have taken certain courses and acquired a solid base of skills and knowledge. Good courses for college-bound students include English, science (biology, chemistry, earth science and physics), history or geography, as well as algebra and geometry. Many colleges also require applicants to study a foreign language for at least two years and some prefer three or four years of one language. Basic computer skills are also essential and many colleges view participation in the arts and music as valuable.
Monitor how well your child is doing in school. Report cards are one indication of how well your child is doing in school. But you also need to know how things are going between report cards. For example, if your son is having trouble in math, find out when he has his next math test and when it will be returned to him. This allows you to address a problem before it mushrooms into something bigger. Call or e-mail the teacher if your son doesn't understand an assignment or if he needs extra help to complete an assignment.
Let your child know that you value education. Show him that the skills he is learning are an important part of the things he will do as an adult. Let him see you reading books, newspapers and computer screens; writing reports, letters, e-mails and lists; using math to balance your checkbook or to measure for new carpeting; and doing things that require thought and effort. Tell your child about what you do at work.