While the education system has changed a lot since 1921, one factor - family engagement - remains critical to student achievement
While the education system have changed a lot since 1921, one factor - family engagement - remains critical to student achievement
THROUGHOUT MY 10 YEARS
as an international educator, the most frequently asked question from parents is, “How can I support my child at home?” I have spent much of my free time drafting letters with activities and websites parents can use to engage their children, however, most parents are looking for a fast and easy fix where the teacher waves a magic wand and… POOF! Their child is fluent in English, suddenly focused and organized, or performs well on tests. Trust me, there is no simple way to boost your child’s performance in the classroom without laying some groundwork at home. This is where you, the parent, come in.
Parent involvement does not necessarily mean talking to the teacher each week, sending children to school after regular school hours, baking cookies for the PTA, or spending hours with repetitive paperwork, which I call ‘busy work.’ Providing extra handouts on a topic your child has demonstrated good understanding does not improve achievement. In fact, it’s detrimental. Children require time to process new information in order for it to be committed to long-term memory. The brain needs adequate ‘down time’ for this to happen. If you are steadfastly determined to enroll your child in after school activities, try a sports class.
Club sports can build teamwork and a sense of community. Other sports such as martial arts are known to improve focus, drive and perseverance as well as gross motor skills. Additionally, try completing a puzzle at home, or playing a board game. These activities can improve fine motor skills. Provide your child their own space to draw, keep a journal, or do crafts. Enroll them in music lessons; research shows a correlation between academic achievement and participation in music, especially in language acquisition. Basically, allow them to explore their own interests outside of academia to promote personal, emotional and social growth.
Get involved from the beginning of the school year—now is the perfect time! Occasionally, nearly an entire school year can go by with little or no parent interaction, then suddenly with only one month of school left to go, I have a line of parents queuing up outside my classroom door. While teachers are happy when parents become involved, the ‘too little, too late’ syndrome should be avoided at all costs. Putting that much pressure for a child to become successful in a short period of time is stressful, for all involved.
Parents can easily become involved from home. Doing things like; creating a set routine and sticking to it, ensuring your child goes to sleep at the same time every day at an age-appropriate hour, turning electronic devices off a half-hour before bedtime, and reading to them plus having them read to you are beneficial. If you are not available, perhaps a family member can substitute. The language of the text is not important, it’s the time spent making those connections between concepts and the written word. Pause while reading to ask your child to make predictions, summarize/retell, or for you to ‘I wonder….’
Asking questions daily can be valuable as well, but stay away from simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Look at your child’s schedule and ask what they did during a specific subject that day. Open ended questions aid in recall and help to commit new knowledge to long-term memory. When you are interested in what your child does at school it sends the message that school is important to you. As a result, it will become important to them.
Let’s talk about making mistakes. Many are unwilling to attempt something unless they can do it perfectly the first time. This is a disadvantageous, or fixed mindset. Making mistakes or being confused are time-tested methods of learning. Parents, please impress upon your child that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process; it does not mean they are not intelligent or capable of growth. It means they are risktakers who are willing to learn through trying. Helen Hayes, an American actress, once said, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.” No one masters a topic straight away, so build into your child a growth mindset mentality. Instead of saying, “I can’t do it,” “It’s too hard,” or “I’m just not smart,” your child should be saying things like, “I need to try a different strategy,” “This will be challenging but I’ll keep trying,” or “I need to think about this some more.” The brain is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it grows, or, the greater the neuroplasticity. Also, provide them the space to make mistakes. By assigning daily, age-appropriate chores at home you not only build confidence and independence, but also responsibility. These are qualities that translate into the classroom. Have your child make their bed, put their laundry away, help set the table, serve dinner and clear the table, or put groceries away. Remember, if your child can use a smartphone, they can push a broom!
Learning does not stop once the student steps out of the classroom, and you as parents can be the cheerleader from home. Through a collaborative relationship, we can work together to ensure your child’s current and future success.ensure your child’s current and future success.
Catherine Mihowich is a Grade 3 teacher with an M.Sc Education at the International School
Saigon Pearl (ISSP).