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10 Back-to-School Tips for Parents

Posted by: Commissioner Deborah A. Gist on 8/23/2013
As I visit with of students, teachers, and parents in schools and communities across Rhode Island, I hear many folks talk about the importance of family involvement. I agree. Parents are a child’s first, most-important and lifelong teachers. 

Parent sometimes ask me for advice about how they can best help their children succeed in school. There are 10 simple things we can do for our own children and for children we care for and love:

  1. Emphasize the value of education. Education matters, and parents are the most important voice to reinforce that throughout a child’s life. School should be considered a priority, and students should hear over and over again from parents that education is important. 

  2. Talk to your children. Even before they are old enough to talk, children benefit from parents who talk, sing and play with language with rhyme and silliness. Parents who speak primarily a language other than English should feel comfortable using their native language. As children grow older, conversation is important for maintaining a positive relationship and for ongoing language and vocabulary development. Storytelling is one way to engage, whether it is fond memories retold as stories or made-up tales.

  3. Read to your children. Reading aloud to children every day is one of the most important things a parent can do to foster learning. Reading aloud books that are above a child’s reading level but of interest helps to build vocabulary and increase knowledge. Regular trips to the library can keep a rich supply of wonderful books in your home. 

  4. Read with your children. Even parents who have a hard time with reading themselves can enjoy looking through books, having their children read, and telling familiar stories to their children.

  5. Turn off the television. Make a plan for how much TV your children will watch each week and stick to it. Keep the TV turned off the rest of the time, and fill the time talking, reading, doing homework, and playing games. 

  6. Get your children ready. To be ready for school each day, children need a good night’s sleep, a healthy breakfast, and completed homework in hand. Make sure that you have a designated place at home where your children complete their homework, and set those habits early. The kitchen table works just fine!

  7. Avoid assigning labels. How often have you heard a parent say, “My oldest is such a talker and the younger one never says a word.” Or “She is not good at math—got that gene from her father not me.” These kinds of statements often become accepted by the family and the child as fact, when it may have just been a moment in time or a phase. Celebrate what your child can do well, and keep supporting improvement. 

  8. Speak up. Sometimes you may have a question or a concern. Your school should have a way in which you can share those concerns. It is best to start with the teacher and then talk with the principal if you need to. Remember, you are your child’s best advocate.

  9. Become involved. Know your child’s teachers and the school principal. Don’t wait until something goes wrong to reach out to them. Communicate regularly and ask about your child’s progress. Be sure you understand the way in which the school communicates with parents, and do your part by checking the backpack or the website to stay informed. 

  10. Celebrate success. Be sure your child’s academic successes, however large or small, are celebrated with the kind of fervor we tend to reserve for sports. Did he get an “A” on a test? Have a toast at dinner in his honor (cups and juice work fine)! Did she receive an award or a great progress report? Order a pizza and have a family game of charades. Whatever the gesture, the message is: Education matters.
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