With the rest of the nation's students heading back to school this week (except those in the snowy and frigid areas of our nation), I thought parents might benefit from New Year's resolutions that would encourage them to be more involved in their children's education.
Forget the expensive gym memberships and fad diets. Adopt resolutions that will make a difference in the lives of your children. A simple change in your family routine or a brief conversation with your child's teacher can result in significant benefits to your student's education.
"Education remains a shared responsibility, and it is critical that families are engaged through meaningful, integrated, and sustained efforts," National PTA President Otha Thornton said in a recent email. "The new year is an important time to make a commitment to get more involved in children's education and for families, teachers, and administrators to resolve to work more closely together to support student success."
Here, the National PTA, Harvard Family Research Project, National Center for Families Learning, and Parents for Public Schools offer some of their New Year's resolutions for parents. Take encouragement from those resolutions you already follow, but be ready to take on the challenge of adopting a few new parenting strategies. You, your family, and your children will be all the better for it.
- Trust your own parenting abilities. Parents can play a positive role in their children's learning regardless of their own education level, according to the National Center for Families Learning. Parents' commitment to positive and sustained involvement make the biggest difference, says Emily Kirkpatrick, the vice president of the Louisville, Ky.-based organization. Kirkpatrick says parents should "recognize what happens at home affects what happens at school and vice versa." Parents, she concluded, should "commit to being an active participant in both settings."
- Talk to your child about learning. Stop asking the often dreaded: "What did you learn today?" Instead, Kirkpatrick urges parents to try asking about the "most exciting" thing that happened at school. "You'll be surprised what insights are shared and you'll be in the perfect place to address challenges and spark learning," she says. With boys, I've found using the words weird, gross, and strange to describe their day at school, tends to illicit some fun responses, too.
- Find learning opportunities outside of school. Maria Elena Lopez, associate director of the Harvard Family Research Project, encourages families to plan monthly learning excursions to a library, museum, or even a community center. "Be sure both you and your child are jointly engaged in the learning activity," Lopez emphasizes. My own recent family visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., prompted mini-lessons about the Berlin Wall, the failed assassination attempt of President Reagan, and of course, the Secret Service, and bulletproof vehicles.
- Establish clear channels of communication between school and home. Sign up for the classroom website or blog. Lopez encourages parents to make sure they are included on the class, school, and district email lists to receive information about school and community events. Not a techie? Lopez says parents should find alternative methods for communicating, using a phone, for instance. She added that parents should share the child's interests, talents, and challenges with their student's teacher.
- Ask employers to support parent involvement at schools. Myya Robinson, a parent coach for Parents for Public Schools, said more workplaces are allowing their employees to attend parent-teacher conferences during work hours.
- Keep your children in school. Parents can ensure that appointments—doctor, dentist, etc.—are made after school if possible, Robinson says. (This might be a tough one, but after a determined search, I found a dentist that has Saturday hours.)
- Model learning at home. This resolution comes from the National PTA's "Top Ten Things Schools and Teachers Wish Parents Would Do." Discuss current events by reading newspaper or magazine articles. Also the National PTA suggests that parents play games with their children. (How many children got an Xbox or iPad from Santa this year? Don't let your kids play by themselves—join in the fun.) The Harvard Family Research Project says that children also should understand how classroom lessons apply at home—using fractions to cook a meal, for example.
- Lastly, and perhaps, more importantly, establish a stable family routine. Both the National PTA and the Harvard Family Research Project stress this easily forgotten point. Parents overwhelmed by work and after-school activities sometimes sacrifice their children's healthy diets, good sleeping habits, and a quiet homework area for students to study. Endeavor to keep the family schedule chaos down to a minimum to have a better-prepared and happier student.
Feeling the spirit of this story, I promise to have my boys in bed before I go to the gym tonight. Just don't force me to give up my Coca-Cola habit, too.