I grew up in the Midwest where school always started the day after Labor Day. Here in New Mexico students have already been back for three weeks. New Mexico kids start school in the middle of August and get out late in May—I’m not sure why—maybe it’s to help plant and harvest the green chili crop (probably not). By the way, if you haven’t been to New Mexico in the fall, nothings better than the smell of roasting green chiles.
The return to school presents challenges for parents and their kids. Kids, used to a summer of play and relaxing times at home, now must return to following rules, learning new information, and (hopefully, from a parent’s perspective) homework.
There’s been a lot of interest recently in the paper about the quality of schools and teachers. Diligent and lucky parents can use that information to find the best opportunities for their kids. However, many parents due to work schedules, transportation issues, or convenience are pretty much stuck with their local neighborhood school. But wherever a child ends up in school, parents and caregivers have great opportunities to enrich and support their children’s education.
Here are some tips:
- Turn off all electronic devices for at least an hour a day. That means all—including cell phones, computers, video games, and televisions. During that time parents should make themselves available for questions about homework. If the child says, “I don’t have any homework,” respond with, “Good, because it’s reading time.” Now, make it a time that all members in the family hold books (so I can’t make anyone read but you can at least pretend). One hour—really. Try it for a month and see what happens.
- Make commute times learning times. Recite math facts, historical dates, or spelling words in the car if you drive your kids around. Try to keep it fun and turn off the radio or CD player.
- Get a kitchen timer that beeps. If your child has trouble staying focused, set the timer for 5 minute stretches of time—then increase very slowly. Let the child have a 5 minute break between study times.
- Vary subject matter. Study for a brief time, then work on something else, repeat. Research indicates that repetition over time helps recall.
- Vary places to study in. For example on a nice day walk down to a park—tell the kids they have to go through spelling words at the park and then they can play.
- Give practice tests at home and follow up with immediate feedback and restudy. The more the brain has to retrieve information, the easier it becomes.
Finally, to parents and caregivers—here’s an assignment. Think about why school is important and what it can do for your kids. Now think about you and school. Why is it important that you can read, write, or do mathematics? What did school do for you? Did you have trouble in school? Do you have regrets? If you could change one thing about your own experience what would that be? And how do you want to make school a different (better) place for your kids?
You might want to jot down a few notes with your thoughts. Now, take this assignment and talk it over with your partner, a friend, or close relative. Spend some time talking to your kids about school and make a commitment to support their education. Good luck and take care.