How to Help Your Child Succeed at School #backtoschool #parenting #kids #school #learning

Back to school isn't all about buying new school supplies, prepping lunches, and enforcing bedtimes.  It’s just as important that students arrive at school with a positive attitude and enthusiasm for learning, backed up by parents who know how important their education is.  As a former primary school teacher, here are my tips for how to help your child succeed at school.


Create Happy Mornings

Having a relaxed but organised morning is one of the key things for helping children arrive at school ready to learn.  A chaotic home and frantic morning is not conducive to happy, prepared learners, especially if there has been stress and shouting before they get out the door.

You can help make mornings less stressful by making sure everyone gets a good night’s sleep and by organising as much as possible ahead of time.  Pack lunches the night before, lay out everyone's clothes and make sure backpacks, book bags and shoes are ready to go.  It’s amazing how attention to these little details can help the morning go more smoothly.

And make sure your child always has a good, nutritious breakfast.  Keep healthy cereals and fresh fruit on hand, and make sure to add some protein such as eggs, yogurt or peanut butter to keep little minds and bodies going strong all morning.  Scrambled eggs, healthy pancakes, peanut butter on toast, granola with yogurt, or overnight oats are perfect for hungry tummies and brains.

Choose a bedtime that will give your child plenty of sleep, and provide a healthy breakfast each morning.  Encourage exercise, and limit the amount of time she spends watching TV, playing video games, listening to music, or using the computer the evening before to ensure optimal sleep.


Get Involved

As parents we have done a great job of teaching our children to walk, talk and engage with the world.  You will always be your child's first and most important teacher, and that role doesn't end when they start school.  How involved you are in your child's school career, and the support you offer, is fundamental to their success in education.

When parents and families are involved in their child's school, the children do better and have better feelings about going to school.  Several studies show that parents' involvement with a child's school and teachers is more important to their school success than how much money the family makes or the level of education the parents have.

There are many ways that parents can support their children's learning at home and throughout the school year, and that starts with getting to know the teacher and the school your child attends.  Developing a partnership with the school will enable you to support your child academically and help with learning at home, as well as helping you to be informed about your child's progress and get involved with school affairs.


Meet the Teacher

As soon as school starts try to find a way to meet your child's teacher.  For school starters this is easier because you will probably be involved in getting them in the door, hanging coats and putting away lunch boxes, at least for the first couple of days.  But as your child progresses through school, try to chat to the new teacher at the beginning of each year to open up a relationship and let them know you want to help your child learn and to be appraised of any problems that may arise.

It is also useful to find out who else will be involved with your child, for example the head teacher, deputy, and learning support staff.  Don't overlook the secretaries and receptionists too, as they often hold the key to much of what goes on at school, and can help your child to adjust as well as letting you know of school events etc.


Offer to Help

Find out what the school offers in terms of activities and events.  Read all the letters that come home in your child's book bag or via email, and talk to school staff and other parents to find out what is available in terms of extra curricular activities.  Maybe there are music, sports or drama lessons or clubs that your child would enjoy.

Try to attend school events such as Christmas plays, dance or gym performances, summer fairs etc, and if you have time, volunteer to sit on the PTA.  These meetings give you a good chance to talk to other parents and to work together to improve the school, as well as organising some fun events.

If you have time during the day, volunteer your time to your child's teacher.  You could offer extra help in art and craft sessions, listen to children read, or help make displays and costumes.  If you only have the odd day off from work, offer to help on field trips and days out.  Teachers do really appreciate it when parents help out at the school, and there are many ways you can contribute.


Attend Parents' Evenings

Turn up to every parents' evening you are invited to, and if you can rearrange work go to every public assembly, performance or open afternoon too.  The more you can be available to both the teacher and your child the better.  Your child will feel reassured that you are there, and the teacher will get to know you better in both informal and formal settings.

At parents' evenings take a note of any concerns you may have so you don't forget, and ask key questions to find out how your child is doing.  Ask how they compare to other students the same age, and how they are keeping up.  If there are issues with a particular subject, ask how you can help at home.  You could even employ a tutor to give your child extra support in key areas such as reading or maths.  It's important to act early before your child gets too far behind.

Remember that you can also ask to meet with your child's teacher any time during the year if you are concerned.  If your child has additional needs, make sure you understand how the school are offering extra support, and be prepared to pursue the need for an IEP (Individual Education Plan) if necessary.  Ask for a meeting with the school's SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) if you are concerned about your child's needs being met or have any questions.


Stay Informed

If something concerns you about your child's learning or behaviour, ask their teacher about it and seek their advice.  Whether it is problems with reading, bullying, homework refusal, or behaviour, your child's teacher and the school head are there to help.

Talk about school often, not just on the way home when you may just get grunts or monsyllabic answers.  Do you know how your child feels about her classroom, her teacher, and her classmates?  If not, ask her.  Pick a time when you are doing something else to ask her about what she likes and doesn't like at school.  Give her a chance to express her anxieties, excitements, or disappointments about each day.  Some parents like to make a regular coffee date with each child, or go for a walk to chat.


Address Problems

If there is a problem with another student, teacher, or administrator let the school know about your concerns.  If you have a difference of opinion with your child's teacher try to keep it to yourself and sort the problem out away from your child.

Try not to talk negatively about the teacher in front of your children.  You don’t want your child to get the message that you think the teacher doesn’t know what he is doing.  If a child loses respect for a teacher it can contribute to behavior problems or lower their interest in school.  A positive attitude about school must be communicated at home, helping children to feel that parents and teachers are part of the same team.


Help at Home

At the very least, make sure that your child gets their homework done (without groaning or complaining about it yourself!).  Let your child know how important their education is, and make doing homework a priority in the evenings, at weekends and during the holidays.  Getting homework done before the fun stuff may seem harsh, but it shows your child how much of a priority learning is.  Plus, who wants the prospect of homework hanging over them all weekend and then doing it in a rush on Sunday evening?  Or at the very end of a holiday?

You can help your child with homework by creating a particular place to study, creating a homework caddy with all the supplies they may need, establishing a regular time for homework, and removing distractions such as the television or phones during homework time.  If homework seems overwhelming, teach your child the important skill of breaking the task down into smaller, more manageable baby steps.


What to Do When Your Child is Struggling

Praise your child's efforts and try to help if you see mistakes, but always remember that doing your child's homework for him won't help in the long run.  If your child is having real difficulties, especially with maths, it is likely they haven't grasped the concept at all.  In a class of 30 it is very easy for a teacher to overlook one or more children, so ask directly for extra help for your child.  They cannot go on to the next concept if they haven't understood this one.

Again, a tutor or after school club with tutoring may help, if you can't explain the concept yourself.  But do make your child's teacher aware of any problems and ask for extra support as necessary.

You could also look for alternative ways to teach your child at home, for example cooking combines elements of both maths and science.  Use the time when you make dinner as an opportunity to read and follow directions, to discuss fractions, to make hypotheses ("What will happen when I beat the egg whites?"), and to examine the results.  Or set up some fun science experiments in your kitchen or garden.


Be Positive About Learning

Remember to always demonstrate a positive attitude to learning yourself.  What we say and do in every day can help children to develop their own positive attitudes towards school and learning, and to build confidence in themselves as learners. Showing our children that we both value education and use it in our daily lives provides them with a powerful model and will contribute greatly to their success at school.  It's our duty to keep an enthusiasm for learning going.

It is also important to keep a close eye on your child's screen time.  Monitoring television, video game and internet use and making clear how these things should be used as tools, not a sole source of recreation, is vital to your child's healthy development.  Encourage some essential outdoor play time after school to burn off steam, then homework, then maybe some family TV time after dinner.  Keep the screen time and video games for weekends only.

Related post: How to Limit Kids Screen Time the Easy Way


Expect Success

Tell your child regularly how amazing they are and how proud you are of them.  Let them know that they can achieve anything they set their minds to, and remind them of their previous accomplishments.  Expect him or her to succeed.

They don't have to be the best at everything, but rather to always do his best, so that he is proud of what he can accomplish.  Help her understand that, whatever the result, doing your best means everything.

If you make that expectation clear and provide a home environment that promotes learning, then your child will have a greater chance of becoming the best student he can be.  To back this up, resist the temptation to measure children's success on test results and report cards.


Books, Books and More Books

A child is a thousand times more likely to become an avid reader if they are surrounded books and see their parents enjoying reading.  Helping your child to become a keen reader is perhaps the single most important thing that you can do to help them succeed at school and in life.

Have plenty of books available to your child, and include a wide variety of reading material and types of book.  Your child may happily re-read picture books long after your think they are too old for them, so keep your bookshelves stacked.  Provide other material such as magazines, comics, brochures and leaflets, perhaps of places you have visited together, and have a range of both fiction and non-fiction books around the house.


Prioritise Reading

Make trips to the library a regular part of your week or month, and always make money available to buy books.  Taking children to charity shops or fetes and sales can be a great (and cheap) way to stock up on new reading material.  Reading is the basis of all learning, so make it a priority in your time and your budget.

Playing board and card games with your child is another way to help them learn, as many involve reading, but also essential skills such as strategic thinking, memory skills, and even simple things like taking turns and being ready to win or lose.

Keep reading to your child before bed every night, even when they can read for themselves, and show how much you cherish and enjoy this time together rather than regarding it as a chore.  If they ask you to read a book, or help them read, whatever time of day, make the time to do so.  Nothing is more important.


Create Active Learners

Talk to your child all the time, and don't dumb down your language.  If they ask questions, answer them thoroughly, don't brush them off.  And if you don't know the answer show them how to use books or Google to find out the answer together.  The most successful students have a natural curiosity and desire to learn.

Very young children are inquisitive and voracious active learners.  By its very nature school has a tendency to knock this out of kids, so make it your responsibility to engender these qualities.  Encourage your child to look for answers, to ask more questions, and to want to always know more and to find things out.

Active learning involves asking and answering questions, solving problems and exploring interests.  Find out what your child is interested in and encourage that interest.  Take them to art galleries, museums, castles, historical sites, nature reserves and gardens, or wherever else their interests may lead.  If they're interested in motorbikes take them to motorbike shops, race circuits, or motorbike shows.  Don't restrict learning to two dimensional learning in books, TV or tablets.

We recommend a family membership to either English Heritage or the National Trust for endless fun and educational days out.


Encourage Their Curiosity

Always encourage your child's curiosity by helping him learn more about his special interests, whether you share them or not.  In unschooling there is a practice known as strewing which essentially means leaving things you think may be of interest to your child lying around.  There is no reason you can't do this with a schooled child and plan your weekends around what they respond to and are interested in.

If you are really stuck for ideas start asking your child open questions like "What amazing things did you discover/ find out this week?" and use this as an opening - what do they want to find out more about?  How can you introduce something extra, or learn more?  Where could you see this in action in the real world?

To promote active learning, listen to your child's ideas and respond to them.  Let him jump in with questions and opinions when you read books together, or go out for the day.  When you encourage this type of learning, your child's brain continues to fire neurones and create new pathways like a toddler would, and it encourages a type of life-long learning that will be of enormous benefit to them in the future.


Conclusion

A child's success or failure at school starts at home.  There are many, many studies that link poor academic performance with lack of sleep, poor nutrition, obesity and a lack of parental support.  And those same studies show better results for students who live in homes where healthy habits, regular routines, and good communication exist.

Follow the tips above to ensure that your child has the best start at school and beyond.  Even as teenagers, children will take their cue from their parents and their home first, however it may appear from the outside!

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