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School Success 101

How parents can support academic achievement through the years


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Just as your child acquires new skills at each stage of development, your role as a partner in her education evolves. One thing remains, though: Right from the very start, you should be involved in your child’s learning, whether that means establishing and enforcing routines at home or stepping aside as you gradually release your level of responsibility.

As you guide your child’s journey toward independence, here are some ways you can help promote educational success—from the early grades through the teen years.

Elementary SchoolElementary School

In the early grades, your child will receive a lot of support from school, and the best way you can help him is by establishing routines at home.

Set up a “school spot” that will be the hub of your child’s academic success. This will be a visible, well-lit area where your child can do homework and store school supplies. Make it a rule that her backpack, lunch box, library books, and gym clothes are always stored in this spot. This makes it convenient for everyone in the family to know where these items are, and where to find them in the mad morning rush. Make it a policy that if your child has notices or tests requiring your signature, they are left out in the school spot for you. You can check the school spot when you get home and see what needs to get done. The time you invest getting your family to use this spot consistently will pay off in pleasant mornings and fewer trips back to school with a forgotten lunch box or homework.

Try to schedule homework for the same time every day. Right before or right after dinner usually works best for most families. Be sure to remove distractions. Also, while you may not know everything about the subject your child is learning, you can support him by making sure he has the supplies he needs. Keep materials such as pencils, erasers, markers, scissors, a ruler, glue stick, and dictionary along with index cards stored at the school spot.

Later on, you may want to add a morning checklist to the school spot to increase your child’s responsibility.

Make sure your child isn’t too tired to listen to the teacher or focus in class. Insist that your child get enough sleep and keep a regular bedtime. Reading a bedtime book is fun, but make sure your child reads regularly at other times each day. The importance of reading can’t be overemphasized. Your child will learn so many new things through the world of books.

Finally, in the last year, New Jersey and 45 other states have joined in adopting the new Common Core Standard, an initiative to establish a single set of rigorous standards for kindergarten through grade 12. Schools have been required to implement big changes regarding curriculum and materials. At the elementary level in math, you can help your child by building fluency in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. In language arts, you should assist your child to practice writing a solid paragraph with a topic sentence, 3–4 detail sentences, and a closing.

Middle ScholMiddle School

Middle school is a difficult transition for many kids. They will likely have multiple teachers and move from class to class, and teachers will increase the level of responsibility. At this level, parents should help their child develop organizational skills and maintain regular attendance. Lessons are covered quickly, and in math, missing even one day can set your child back.

Make sure that your child has a notebook to record homework. You should check her agenda daily to see that she is recording her assignments and doing them, and contact her teachers periodically to confirm. Regular communication with teachers sends the message to your child that you value her education and efforts, and continue to expect quality performance.

Work with your child to help her learn the value of maintaining an organized binder. Check with her teachers to see what kind of organization they prefer. At this age, and with several classes and teachers, keeping an organized binder is challenging, so it will be important to check your child’s binders and notebooks weekly. This way you can see if notes and/or study guides are missing or out of place that will make it difficult for your child to study.

This is the time to teach your child to be proactive, asking questions in class when she doesn’t understand material. You can also contact the teacher or school to find out if they offer extra help study sessions before or after school, or at lunchtime. Many schools will already offer some options, or you can set something up with the teacher independently.

As your child begins to form her own opinions and be influenced by others, you want to make sure that her friends share a positive attitude toward school and learning. Knowing her friends, and being aware of the types of conversations they may have, will help if you need to intervene. You can also assist your child in making arrangements with friends to pick up each other’s classwork when absent.

You can encourage your child’s success in math by helping her practice problem-solving. Teach her to recognize key words, such as “combined,” “decrease,” or “product,” that will clue her in to the operation to be used. At this level, students are often required to use bar models to draw a picture and must include a written response to explain their solution. In language arts, your child should be able to write an essay. The mnemonic RACE (Restate the question asked, Answer the question, Cite evidence, and Extend your response through personal experience) is important for her to apply.

High SchoolHigh School

High school is a time for your child to learn self-management, but he will still need your support. Reading continues to be essential, as it will assist your child in developing the strong vocabulary needed to succeed on the SATs and in college and job interviews.

A busy social life may impede your child’s academic success. You will need to strictly enforce no TV or texting during homework or studying. Your child will benefit in keeping a list of projects and progress, or a timetable to study for a test. You may need to help him break the notes into chunks and assign days for studying.

The large amount of material to study may seem overwhelming. This is the time to step in and help. You can quiz on vocabulary or historic terms with the words and definitions written on index cards. The amount of assistance a parent may need to give a child at the high school level varies from child to child. The key is to gradually release your level of responsibility as he takes on more, but be ready to step in as needed.

Terry Tunkel has taught for over 20 years, and currently teaches 5th grade in Bridgewater. She has three children of her own, ages 19, 17, and 8.

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