Originally published at www.parentinvolvementmatters.org, this blog by Lauren Landes emphasizes the value of parent engagement. Although it is based on U.S. experiences, the recommendations are relevant to Canadian parent involvement in their children’s education.
What would you expect to be the biggest problem facing the American public school system? Is it poor teaching? Lack of proper facilities for inner-city kids? Wasted resources down the infinite drain of petty politics and bureaucratic snafus? In fact, research shows that lack of parental involvement is the biggest problem facing America's public schools. Children enrolled in the education system spend 70% of their waking hours outside of the classroom, and decades of research consistently demonstrate that parent involvement is of cardinal importance with regards to their child's success in school. Students with engaged parents, on a whole, tend to have lower rates of suspension, fewer instances of violent behavior, decreased rates of drugs and alcohol, better school attendance, increased motivation, better self-esteem, and higher grades, test scores, and graduation rates. I argue that parenting, like teaching, requires talent and social aptitude, not the least of whose tenets revolve around self-insight and the active pursuit of furthering a child's prospects of success in an increasingly competitive world.
"When parents are welcome in the school and are consulted about decisions affecting their children," Project Appleseed elucidates, "an atmosphere of trust and collaboration develops between school and home." The school is at the center of its community, as the quality of its services determines not only the success of its students, but the insurance of its own future, as well. Indeed, the earlier parents get involved in their children's education, the more powerful the effects.
Seven Ways to Increase your Engagement in your Child's Education
Establish a Daily Household Routine
Studies show that when parents encourage reading at home, students fare better in class and progress more rapidly than if they were only to read in school. Be firm with bedtimes, leisure time, and household responsibilities, but not stringent to the point of authoritarianism. In a world defined by flux and social upheaval, the importance of providing stability and encouragement for children at home cannot be stressed enough.
Monitor Extracurricular Activities
Children spend the vast majority of their time with parents, either at or near home. Surely, parents need time to work and run errands, and families can't always afford babysitters or day care. Get your kids involved in extracurricular activities like sports, school clubs, and community support groups for children. With some targeted research and effort, you'll find that a wealth of community resources are available to provide your children with enriching, fun, and collaborative environments, even if you can't be there to participate.
Be a Great Role Model
Being a parent is more than just being a caretaker. Communicate to your children that self-discipline ranks up there with eating properly and getting good grades, and explain to them why this is so. Demonstrate, through your own hard work and conscious decisions, that achievement and happiness come from a self-directed desire to succeed.
Set Expectations and Encourage Progress
"If you expect [students] to be losers," admonished the revolutionary calculus teacher, Jaime Escalante, "they'll turn out to be losers. If you expect them to win, they will." Express high expectations for your child, but don't overdo it by piling their little plate so high with the fruits of academia that they can't see the reasons for, and benefits to, working toward lofty goals. Recognize their talents, and encourage their progress in a way that will bring sustained joy and a sense of commitment to their lives. Without embarrassing your children, share your pride and satisfaction in their efforts with family and friends: statistically, children are inordinately more likely to stick with activities and routines if they recognize their social importance.
Communicate with School
While maintaining a progressive, learning atmosphere at home is critical for the longitudinal success of any child, these efforts become undermined if you fail to maintain communication with their school. Stay in touch with teachers and other faculty members who may be doing interesting things in their classrooms, but don't harass them by hoarding all their time or droning on about the glories of your child. Be supportive and communicative, and open yourself up to the needs and wants of both the school and your children.
Volunteer your Time and Effort at School
Unfortunately, learning institutions across the nation are presently facing drastic budget cuts and obstacles to methodical, effective teaching strategies. The nature of volunteering is quickly transforming from optional to necessary. Teachers need to know that their students have concerned parents at home, but they'll shy away from seeking parent involvement if they feel it will be too burdensome for their lesson plan or psyche as a whole. Instead of worrying about your level of involvement in your student's academic track, encourage your school to use volunteer scheduling software like Parent Booker. Such programs conveniently facilitate parent-school interactions on many levels, allowing faculty to organize and publicize events, while parents coordinate their own schedules with the needs of the school.
Spend Time with your Children, Individually
Kids need their own space to be with friends or turn over rocks by the creek, but they also crave and necessitate the focused support of adults. Make sure that you take enough time out of your daily schedule to be with each of your children. Whether you teach them to make the perfect pasta, learn how to use an iPad together, or just listen to them talk about their daily activities, be a sounding board for your kids.
The benefits to getting involved with your child's education are clearly apparent, and it is of cardinal importance for schools to generate parental support; oftentimes, parents feel left out of the whole equation, insinuating that their children would be better off in the hands of professionals. This misguided, "leave it to the teachers" attitude negatively impacts students' education. It is well-documented in cross-cultural studies that a parent's socioeconomic level, race, ethnicity, religious creed (or lack thereof), and even their own academic history have little bearing on their child's academic success; there are myriad ways to impact the development of your child's life, but being there for them when they need you is far and away the most important one. Children won't be able to recall every line of the songs you sing together, and they won't remember every art project you helped them glue together, but they'll remember a feeling: "my mom and dad were always there for me," or; "my parents just didn't really care, did they?" Simply by showing them that you genuinely have a vested interest in their world, and not just the extension of your own ego, you'll be the most important role model in your kids' lives. This factor alone will ensure their success above all others.
Lauren Landes Lauren is a writer and editor for Parent Booker, a website that lets you schedule volunteer opportunities and drive attendance to school events. She studied history and creative writing at the University of Wisconsin.
(Reprinted with permission from the author. For permission to reprint articles, please contact the author directly.)