A new school year is about to begin and the teacher in me is all nostalgic. Remember that scene in You’ve Got Mail when Tom Hanks sends Meg Ryan an IM that says “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address,”? Well, apparently pencils are my love language because that line made me swoon. I don’t have a classroom this year (I’m taking time off to be home with Graham) but I still want to buy school supplies and I miss that first day back with the kids. So I thought I’d give y’all some tips on how to make this school year the best one yet. Even if your child is a senior in high school, it’s never too late!
1. Try not to ask “how was your day?”. It’s not always easy, but try to ask specific, open-ended questions like “what are you learning about in social studies right now?”, “tell me about your PE teacher,” or “what’s your favorite thing about chemistry?” Not only does this send the message to your kids that you really care about what they’re doing (even if you don’t understand all of it yourself!), it also requires them to open up to you a little bit. The older they get, the more important this is. It can also help you determine if they’re really doing well or if they’re struggling a bit (which is key for early intervention, if they need it).
2. Encourage learning outside of the classroom. Think aloud to your kids “I wonder where the word ‘somersault’ comes from,” or “how tall do you think the tallest building is in Orlando?” Then try to find the answers. Modeling learning and making it alright not to have all the answers (but knowing how to research them) are two of the most important things you can do for your child. I can almost guarantee they’ll be lifelong learners if you do this.
3. Communicate with your child’s teacher(s). Now, here’s the key to this one: don’t do it TOO often. Most teachers are happy to talk to parents about their child’s progress and what they’re learning, but unless your child has consistent academic or behavioral concerns, don’t e-mail her teacher every week. A couple times a quarter (unless there are concerns) is plenty. It also ensures that if the teacher feels there are any issues that need to be addressed you’ve already got comfortable, open lines of communication to take care of things quickly – and that’s helpful to everyone. I can’t tell you how much easier it was to address a concern when I already knew the parent and their expectations for their child. There were also times when a parent would be concerned about a “low” (maybe a C instead of an A – gasp!) grade on a test and I knew how to talk them off the ledge because of our previous interactions.
4. Encourage your child to be involved in something extracurricular. Whether it’s a club or a sport or SGA doesn’t really matter, they just need to be involved in something. This will help them feel connected to their peers and a part of a community. And no, it doesn’t need to be a huge time commitment. There are plenty of clubs that meet once a month right after school, you just have to find what works for your family.
5. Go to school events with your child. It’s easy in elementary school to attend the few events like Science Night or the third grade play, but as they get older we often feel less compelled to go to school events. Maybe it’s because there are so many more or because they’re just not as cute as they were when they were five, but it’s important to make the effort. Go to a soccer game, a chorus concert, or a play (most of these are WAY better now than when we were in school) even if your child isn’t in it. This sends the message that it’s important to support their peers as well as giving you cheap entertainment!
6. Declare a homework time (and enforce it). Obviously you’ll have to figure this out based on your schedule and your child’s workload, but I recommend that homework time be right when they get home from school every day (yes, even Friday). Get them a snack and let them work on homework so the evening can be spent with family. It’s easier to keep this in place if you start young, but it’s never too late to come up with a plan that works for everyone.
What have you found that helps your family get off to a good start with a new school year? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!