Kindergarten, elementary school, high school – every phase of your child’s schooling has its unique circumstances and interactions. One thing is certain: It’s vital to have a good relationship with your child’s teacher, no matter what grade your kid is in, so that you can form a partnership in guiding your child’s education. As you enter these important phases, here is some advice that teachers would give to parents of students transitioning through these grades.
1. Learn to let go. There’s a difference between walking your kindergartner to class and sitting by the window and waving to your kid until class ends. (Don’t laugh — we’ve seen it with our own eyes.) Even though it’s difficult, now’s the time to set the stage for your child’s independence, and learning to pull back is essential in helping them gain some autonomy. You can always wait for them at the door at the end of the day.
2. Volunteer. Parents, don’t hesitate to let yourself be seen. Teachers welcome parents who show an interest in their child’s progress, and volunteering in the classroom or on campus can give teachers and/or administrators a much-needed hand with their charges. However, make sure you take your cues from your child’s teacher on how much – and how often – they need assistance.
3. Don’t overburden them. It’s often been said that kindergarten is the new first grade, and children are being bombarded with testing and instruction that seems excessive for 5-year-olds. “They hate school ... there are kindergarten children that are getting up every morning saying, 'I don't want to go,'” says Lynn Gatto, director of elementary education at the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education. School fatigue is setting in at a young age, so don’t forget to set aside the academics and college aspirations for your kindergartner, and just let them play.
4. Read to – and with – your child. We all know that reading to your child is important, but do you know how much reading is recommended? Scholastic says you should try to read with your child at least three times a day, and to make sure you also talk about the book, discuss characters and settings with them, too.
5. Check in frequently, and keep the lines of communication open. Sure, it’s cliche, but asking, “How was school today?” is still a good way to get your kids talking about their day. (You can always try alternatives, too.) Just make sure that when you ask the question, you actually listen to their answers and pick up on clues as to what is really happening in their classroom and with their classmates.
6. Pay attention to their social skills. Speaking of classmates, become familiar with and get to know your child’s classmates and friends. When talking to your child’s teacher, remember to ask about how your child is doing socially, not just academically, since their peer relationships can have a huge effect on their overall school experience.
7. Expose them to experiences outside of school. Make sure your child has a rich and interesting life outside of school. Make books available and expose them to music and art. Take them to the park, encourage them to participate in sports if they’re interested. Help them discover a hobby. Studies have shown that students who consistently participate in high-quality after-school programs show improvement in academic performance and social competence, and have better grades and improved behavior.
8. Stop making excuses for them. No one believes when a kid says, “The dog ate my homework,” but how about some of the excuses parents come up with? Ron Clark, a teacher from Atlanta, says that parents who constantly interfere on behalf of their kids are only hindering their growth. “Some parents will make excuses regardless of the situation, and they are raising children who will grow into adults who turn toward excuses and do not create a strong work ethic,” he said. So, parents, let your kids own up to their own mistakes – and make them responsible for keeping their math worksheets away from the dog.
9. They still need you. Parents often make the mistake of thinking that their job is done once kids enter high school. But this is a critical time for kids; they’re making important decisions about their future, and they can still use their parents’ input and guidance. Social interactions are at their trickiest, and pressures about college and finding a job will intensify during the four years of high school. Knowing that you are there to offer support – when needed – will help make this time less stressful.
10. Listen to them. Yes, they still need you, but sometimes they don’t want anything to do with you, either. It’s important to listen to them and be ready for them to push back. “Truly listen and heed their point of view, even if you disagree vehemently,” says John Duffy, clinical psychologist and author of “The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.” “We all want our point of view respected, and your teen is no different.”
11. Come to campus. It’s no secret that parent volunteering drops way off the older that kids get. Gone are the days of bringing cupcakes to the class party, but that doesn’t mean that teachers - and often your kids – wouldn’t like to see you on campus. Although it seems as if high schoolers are embarrassed at the thought of seeing their mom in the school hallway, you’d be surprised at how many kids say that seeing their parents at school once in a while makes them feel supported. They might even appreciate those cupcakes.
12. Don’t put too much pressure on testing and college. Pressure to perform well on tests and gain entrance to a “good” college is at an all-time high (as the recent cheating scandals prove). But experts say all of this stress is robbing our kids of finding out what they truly want to do in life. Robert Clagett, a former senior admissions officer at Harvard who is now the director of college counseling at a college prep school, suggests students take a gap year so that they can be less concerned with “how will this look on my college application,” and instead explore ways “to just do something for the pure love of doing it.”