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Parents as Involved Partners

November 11, 2013

By Dr. Bruce Marchiafava

Parents as Involved Partners

Parent involvement is an essential element in a contemporary, up-to-date school today. In all kinds of schools, from public to private and in between, principals, teachers and administrators devote much time and energy to involving parents in their children’s schools. Parents are recruited to help in classrooms, to lend a hand in the front office, to organize fundraisers, and to chaperone field trips and prom dances. Some parents serve on school committees and on the PTA.

These parents are clearly involved. The problem is that they are involved in helping the school but not their own children. A recent book by journalist Amanda Ripley, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, looks at the implications of this kind of parent involvement. She spent a year studying schooling in several countries and found that the results of a 2009 study in 13 countries were true: the children of parents who volunteered in their school performed worse in reading than children whose parents did not.

The explanation is fairly simple: most parents today have limited free time. The hours parents devote to helping the school operate could be better spent helping their children at home.

Dr. Herbert J. Walberg has calculated that from birth to age 19, the average child spends 8 percent of his or her time in school and 92 percent at home. Whether we choose to or not, our children will learn from us. This learning begins at birth and continues right up to kindergarten. During these years children acquire an amazing amount of knowledge. They learn to walk, run, and play games and sports. They acquire a language (sometimes two), they learn to read, and they develop social skills. They explore their world, starting with what they see in their cribs and continuing through their home and neighborhood. 

This is quite a curriculum. It can be very challenging for many parents. Unfortunately, most schools don’t become involved with these children until they are officially enrolled in school. So parents need to seek help in being the first teachers from social agencies, formal and informal groups of parents, family members and whatever help books and videos they can find.

Once the child enters school, the parent is largely relieved of the responsibility for formal education; the professional teachers take over. The parent’s role shifts to two major responsibilities: supporting the child in learning what is taught at school and advocating for the child with the school.

Supporting learning at home involves such activities as:

Readiness
Insuring good health, seeing that the child eats properly and sleeps enough, making sure the backpack has the required books, pencils, assignments due, etc.

An Environment for Learning
This environment can be a room or a desk in a corner or the kitchen table. It must be free from TV, music, phones, and other distractions. Multitasking rarely works for studying.

Homework
Parents should guide and supervise a child’s homework but not do it. Know the assignment and the due date and check to see what grade the teacher gives.

Communicate
Speak with the teacher on a regular basis, not just when there’s a problem. Advocating for one’s child may require intervening when grades are suffering or if a behavior problem has occurred. This doesn’t mean a confrontation with the teacher or the principal. Most issues can be resolved if the parent and the teacher or principal work together.

Parental involvement shouldn’t be about parents helping the school. Rather, the parents should be helping their children succeed in school as involved partners.

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We Need YOU: Parental Engagement Tips from a Teacher

November 11, 2013

By Kevin Rutter

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As a teacher, I have found that successful students need engaged parents to support them. Parents, as the school year is well underway, I would like to request your continued support of your child’s education. The school year is a marathon and every child needs a strong network of adults to make it through the race to the next grade and eventually to college. Through increased parental engagement, you can help make this school year successful for your child. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Update your information. Sometimes, when a teacher is trying to reach a parent, they find that the contact information available in the school database is out of date. If you have moved or changed phone numbers, please contact your school’s attendance office and provide the new information. Having the correct contact information creates the right environment for a timely communication flow between the school and home.
  • Take advantage of technology. All schools have undergone a technological revolution in the past ten years. There are many more tools available to parents to monitor what is happening with their student at school. Your child’s grades and attendance data should be accessible for review via the Internet at all times now. These systems can also send you text messages if your child cuts class or his or her grade dips below an acceptable level. Technology allows parents to be a much more active participant in their child’s education. Please contact your school’s main office to learn how to connect with these applications.
  • Attend an open house or parent-teacher conference. In November, most schools have just completed the first quarter grades and will host an open house or parent-teacher conference night. Please make a point to attend. It demonstrates to your child that you care about his or her education and provides an opportunity to meet the teachers and staff that work with your child everyday. Schools also use these events to showcase programs and services that are available for parents to help boost their engagement in their child’s education.

Keep communication lines open with your child’s school by providing updated contact information, using educational technology, and meeting with your child’s teachers and school staff. By following these tips, you will get the most out of your engagement and increase your child’s success in school.

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Thanksgiving Lessons for Kids

November 11, 2013

By Amelia Orozco

Thanksgiving Lessons for Kids

New learning opportunities for your children abound on a typical day, but when a special holiday approaches, it can be one of the most memorable ways to teach some of life’s greatest lessons. A holiday such as Thanksgiving can provide abundant ways to learn. From teaching its origin through stories and activities to developing emotional and social activities that, in time, become cherished lifelong traditions, you can use this time to connect with your child in meaningful ways.

If your family or your children were not born or raised in the United States, it is a great way to learn Thanksgiving facts and traditions. Appreciating the intricate details of history makes for a greater understanding of your immediate community and the world.

Here are some ideas of Thanksgiving activities for you and your child to enjoy together: 

Tell Stories
Share the story of the first Thanksgiving dinner with the original English settlers and Native Americans. This story can help even your youngest child remember the true meaning of the holiday. Use words like “exploration,” “feast,” “celebration,” “families,” “neighbors,” and “sharing” when discussing the story. In my family, we pause before each meal, whether it is a holiday or not, to reflect on what we have, which makes it a more natural practice at Thanksgiving. See National Geographic Kids for a brief story, which includes photos of people and artifacts.

Give Thanks with Notes
As the holiday approaches, hide thank you notes for other members of your family to find, and encourage your children to do the same. These notes can say anything from, “Thank you for taking out the trash,” to “Thank you for being a good listener.”  

Draw Pictures
If your children cannot read or write yet, they can still participate by creating a special picture by tracing leaves and then coloring the shapes in. You can leave them notes with smiley faces. These will remind him or her how much you appreciate them. Read this inspiring article of how writing shapes your child in more ways than you may think.

Donate to Charity
It is also a wonderful time of year to make a list of local charities. Your children can help organize a drive for food, toys, or clothing at their school or playgroup. Inspiring them to take action will make them conscientious citizens who aspire to help others. It is exciting to see how these activities awaken a desire to ask more questions.

Share the Cooking Process
Making a list of ingredients, shopping, and finally, preparing a favorite Thanksgiving recipe will give you together time, a learning opportunity, and unforgettable memories. 

Memories are made through these emotional and social activities, but they are most remembered by the hands-on activities during the holidays. By using age-appropriate tasks, everyone in the family can feel they have contributed to the Thanksgiving feast, and when the food is finally served, it will have taken on a much deeper significance.


Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.

 

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Helping Your Child Choose a College

November 11, 2013

By Kevin Rutter

Helping Your Child Choose a College

Every year I work to support my students in finding the right college or university for their future studies. The most important thing I try to emphasize is that it is a process. It requires a great deal of planning, determination, and adult encouragement. In other words, we need you!

There are three areas in the college application process that cause the most trouble for students and provide the greatest opportunity for parents to assist.

Personal Statements 
A personal statement is a short and focused essay where a student writes about who he or she is and where he or she wants to be. These statements are often required as part of the application to a college or scholarship to help the selection committee "see" whom the student is. It is a great chance for the student to showcase who he or she is beyond what is shown in his or her transcripts. Writing a good personal statement is also a process that needs plenty of time for thinking, writing, editing, peer review, teacher feedback, more writing, and more revision.

Parents, get your student to write a personal statement when he or she is a junior in high school. Writing about yourself can be very difficult and I often have students who have no idea what to write about. As a parent, you are uniquely qualified to help define your child’s best qualities and provide a story or two where you have seen your child using his or her positive characteristics.

FAFSA 
FAFSA stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. It is the most important part of the college process because it will determine how much grant money will be available to your child. A grant is the amount of money a child can receive toward their educational expenses without having to pay it back. There is a limited amount of government grant money and it operates on a first come, first serve basis. If you submit the application too late, the money will be gone.

Parents, you have a critical role in completing the FAFSA. The forms will require you to provide evidence of your family’s income by using your tax documents, W-2 and 1040 forms. You will be able to submit the FAFSA sooner if you have this information available. All schools offer free services to parents to help prepare these documents, so take advantage of them.

Comparison Shop
Students have no idea about how much things cost and often fall in love with a school or program without regard to the price tag. Shop around! For example, community colleges sometimes offer the same certifications at a very discounted price.

Parents, I need you to help your child look at every option before deciding which school to attend and have a serious discussion with your parenting partner and child about costs. Taking these first steps should help get your child on the right path to choosing a college and financing his or her education.

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