A new school year is upon us – or at least it’s upon me! My students arrive in two days from when I’m writing this. Before this is posted I’ll be well underway in my 17th year of teaching elementary school. I’m part excited, part scared, part nervous – all normal feelings for me. At the beginning of the year, I often share tips for a great school year: things like ‘do your homework, read, and get some good sleep.’
However, as a teacher I often want to say other things to the parents of my students that I can’t – it simply isn’t my place. But as an author of a blog, I can say such things to the blogosphere and see if my words land on receptive ears.
Help Your Child Be Successful
Below – in no particular order – are my top tips for parents of elementary school students (some of them apply to older students as well)
- Make them read daily, even if nothing else gets done. Daily reading – and reading together is even better – is the single most important thing you can do for your child’s academic success. Reading at home and with parents is linked to higher grades, larger vocabularies, higher reading levels, attending college, and having greater self-confidence in school settings. If you cannot afford to purchase books for your child – or even if you can – make a regular trip to the library. Your local library is a treasure! Use it.
- Unplug from all media at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime – an hour is even better. Media – whether tablets, phones, TV, computers, or video games – keeps the brain in an alert state, making falling asleep and getting sound sleep harder. You may have to discipline yourself to put your own phone away for a while, but it’s worth it. When your children are grown and gone, you won’t remember who posted what, what team won the September 3rd game this year, or what the TV show was that you couldn’t pull yourself away from. But your children will remember you read to them and prayed with them every night at bedtime.
- While we’re on the subject of bedtime – have one and enforce it. I’ve had second graders tell me they were up past midnight. It’s no wonder they couldn’t focus or learn anything! You are only hurting your own children if you don’t have and enforce a bedtime. They need a lot of sleep – learning is hard work.
- Control your child’s media exposure at times other than just before bed as well. I’ve written before on this topic, but it bears repeating. Yes, technology is here to stay, and yes, it can be a useful tool. But it should not be a parental substitute. Again, like with turning it all off before bed, you may find the biggest hurdle you face in this task is yourself. Be stern with yourself and your entire family will reap the benefits.
- Don’t enroll them in afterschool activities – ballet, football, karate, soccer – every day of the week. They need time just for unstructured play. Let them have it – they get very little free play time at school. Let them decompress after school and just relax. Kids relax through playing. And playing is important for creativity, imagination, and critical thinking skills. That’s not to say a little isn’t acceptable. My own sons chose one activity every season except winter – we decompressed as a family most winters by not having practices and games to attend. The key was, they could only choose one!
- Let them play outside before doing homework. They’ve just spent several hours learning, sitting, following directions. It’s tough. Let them relax before getting out the homework. This might mean changing some rules: dinner earlier so there’s time after dinner for homework or no TV/media on school nights. Playing outside is very important for healthy development of body and mind.
- Finally, don’t tear down your child’s teacher – or any teacher – in front of him or her. Teachers have a hard job and if you don’t respect them neither will your child. Give the teachers in your child’s life support by treating them with the respect you expect for yourself and for your child.
I hope you and your child or children all have a great school year – and their teachers do as well!