By Katie Basson
One of the most important aspects of parenting is ensuring that your child gets a good education. School is a place where your child not only learns skills such as reading and writing; it is also where your child will learn about friendship, responsibility, and fairness. In short, school is a test run for the 'real world', and your child needs your help to navigate this complicated arena. When your child was a baby, you set your life around nap times and diaper changes, now your growing child needs you to set your life around school.
1. Establish Consistent Routines
Take the 'year at a glance' approach. If you have a child starting first grade and one in fourth, one a musician and the other an athlete, then you must sketch out how you will achieve a balance between school, their activities, your work, and your activities. It is best to look at all of these areas at once, so that you can spot the trouble areas. Once you have the big picture, it is time to ask how you can set up a regular routine to ensure that everyone's needs are met, including yours. Early in the school year, decide which activities will fit, and which will have to be postponed. One of the biggest areas of concern for modern families is activity overload. Avoid it! Now that you know what activities you will be engaged in, decide where homework fits and set a regular time for it. Whether there are assignments or not, this should be the time of day that your child always does a little extra school work. When will you have dinner? If possible, make it at the same time everyday and expect all family members to attend. Don't eat on the run! If you have to eat in the car in order to make everything fit, then you are doing too much!
2. Set Reasonable Bedtimes
Open any magazine in America and you might find a story on the cumulative sleep debt that Americans are suffering from. It causes accidents, ill health, and poor work performance. It has the same effect on young students. Without enough sleep, their learning suffers as does their behavior. Additionally, lack of sleep makes kids prone to getting sick, which means they miss school and get behind in their learning. Avoid these problems by setting a reasonable bedtime for your children and sticking to it. According to Dr. Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., a member of the National Sleep Foundation, elementary age children need between 10-12 hours of sleep each night. She also recommends allowing an additional 10-20 minutes to that amount in order to account for the time is takes your child to fall asleep. Keeping these requirements in mind, your child's bedtime should be no later than 8:30pm.
3. Learn to Say No
There are many demands placed on our time. There are after school opportunities galore: sports, music, drama, art, and more. Parents have an equal number of options for after work activities. Parents want to provide the best for their children and many believe that giving them access to numerous opportunities is the best way to enhance their learning. In fact, the best way to enhance a child's learning is to allow them to slow down and think about what happened in class and to talk to them about it. This type of reflection can only come when parents and children have some downtime together. I advocate the motto: "Just Do Nothing".
4. Limit TV
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I love TV. I loved cartoons as a kid, and I love sitcoms and drama shows now. But I'm careful not to watch TV to the exclusion of all other forms of entertainment. Kids are not as good at moderating their exposure to TV. They need the help of their parents to make good choices and to limit the time spent being a passive observer. Kids learn best when they are actively involved in what they're doing. Reading, talking, exploring, drawing, building, playing—these are all important parts of childhood. Make sure that they don't get squeezed out by too much Scooby Doo.
5. Encourage Reading
Research has shown that one of the greatest predictors of academic success is the amount of time a student reads. When asked by the parents of my students what they should do to help their child learn, I always answer, "Get them to read." Books not only open new worlds and ideas for children, they build their vocabulary, improve their memory, grow their imagination, and teach them valuable thinking skills. Time spent reading is an investment in your child's future.
6. Support Your Child's Teacher
It is an unfortunate fact of modern day society that teachers feel less support from parents, administrations, and governments than ever before. This is a shame, not only for the hard working teachers who deserve to feel respected as professionals, but for the students they teach. Students receive the best education when they are part of a committed triumvirate. For a child to truly learn in school, all three members of the team need to work together. The teacher, student, and parents need to be all working towards the same goal with commitment and help from one another. All parts of the triangle must be connected for the goal to be met. Go against the tide-give your child's teacher the respect she deserves and the support she requires. Your child will thank you.
7. Enlist Support
It truly does take a village to raise a child. Too often these days, however, parents find themselves struggling to do it all with very little support. If you live near grandparents, aunts, or uncles, ask if they can occasionally go to the soccer game, or pick up the art materials, or buy the new notebook. Very often it is the little tasks that combine to make parents feel overwhelmed. Spreading the small tasks around to willing volunteers may give you more time to focus on the important aspects of the school year. If family members aren't available to help, then exchange help with neighbors and friends.
8. Practice what you Preach
In order to make the school year go more smoothly, it is important that your child is responsible, timely, and well-behaved. You are far more likely to have a child who behaves this way, if you model appropriate behavior for them. If you are frequently late, often forget important items, and are stressed and irritable most of the time, you are far more likely to have chronic problems with your children—especially during the school year when time is tight. Give your child the skills to succeed by working on them yourself. Nobody's perfect, but if you show that you ask of yourself the same things you ask of them, then you are more likely to garner their cooperation.
9. Plan Ahead
If you fail to plan, then plan to fail. Harsh though that statement may be, it often happens that you'd experience more success at school if you'd take the time to plan ahead. If you know that your daughter is going to appear in a play during the month of November, and that it will require lots of rehearsals after school, don't enroll her in tap class and swimming. When you know that time will be tight, it also makes sense to speak to your child's teacher in order to advise her of the situation and to get her help with scheduling homework. Always keep in mind what is coming up next week and what may be required due to the seasons. Getting to school in September may not be much of an issue, but what will you do when the snow flies?
10. Keep your Eye on the Prize
Being committed to managing the school year well takes effort. Keeping your family balanced despite all of the demands on everyone's time can be difficult. All of it can be managed better if you always stay focused on your purpose. Your purpose as a parent is to raise well-adjusted children who can enter society and forge a good life on their own. They need a good education in order to do this. How to ensure that your child receives the best education possible ought to be the first thing you think about in the morning and the thoughts you keep as you close your eyes at night.
Knowing that you've arranged your life around the essentials, despite how hectic life can be, will greatly enhance your sense of satisfaction. After all, as parents, it is rare that we receive kudos for a job well done, so we must learn to put first things first and then congratulate ourselves on our success.
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