Parents: ways you can help your child flourish in school

By Worcester School Committee member John Monfredo

“We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.” – Edith Lovejoy Pierce

Study after study shows that parental involvement is the key to how well all children, regardless of their financial background, succeed in all areas of life, especially school. But it takes work on many fronts: physical, emotional, social and more. Let’s start off with some high-quality health ideas:

• Get in good shape: It’s no secret that we are an overweight society and obesity is a problem. Encourage your child to exercise for about 30 to 60 minutes each day. These activities can be as simple as taking walks to putting on some music and having your children dance.
• Make Healthy Choices: As parents you control the environment at home so start by insisting that the family eat together at least four times a week or more. Eating together leads to good conversation and makes family togetherness a part of the daily routine.
• Eat Healthy: Eating healthy should be discussed and encouraged starting in 2010. Start by making sure that the family eats a good breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day. By skipping breakfast, you’re setting your child up to be tired and hungry throughout the day.
• Can the soda! A 12 ounce can of regular soda has at least TEN TEASPOONS OF SUGAR in it. Diet soda still contains artificial ingredients as well as caffeine. The bottom line, it’s not good for you! Encourage drinking water each day, four glasses would be great and of course milk.
• Fast foods are fat foods: If you are eating out, make healthier choices such as veggie pizza, small plain hamburger, a grilled chicken sandwich or a salad. Deli sandwiches are healthier alternative when you need to get a meal in a hurry. Keep in mind that even entrees at sit down restaurants can be loaded with fat as well.
• Snack time – when preparing snacks for school or at home try fruit or dried fruit, low fat yogurt or unsalted roasted nuts.
• Good Hygiene: Take care of your teeth and have good hygiene– Encourage your child to brush his or her teeth twice a day and wash the hands after going to the bathroom and before eating

More ideas

• Television – limit the television and video games to only one to two hours each day. Yes, it can be done by you sitting down with the children and working it out. Remember, you’re the parent and we’re talking about a new year with healthy ideas. Use TV and video games productively as a way of getting your child interested in reading. For example if your child is interested in video games that involve fantasy or science fiction elements, find books that correspond to that interest. Good choices of books in that genre for ages 10 and up are the Artemis Fowl and Eragon series.

Mental Health suggestions:

• The Internet – never gives out personal information such as name, address, and school name or telephone number on the internet or to strangers.
• Cyber bullying – If your child receives harassing or inappropriate text or E-mail messages remind them to never respond to the sender and report the message as soon as possible to a trusted adult. If that person doesn’t help, tell others until someone does. Also, save or print the message to keep a record. Also, only keep contact information of close friends and family in their address book.
Parents need to talk to your child about cyber bullying and set rules about the kind of behavior that is not acceptable on a cell phone or anywhere else. Remind your child of the rules often.
• When your child feels angry or stressed, try and give him/her strategies in coping with the situation. Talk to your child about exercising, reading, or a journal or discussing the problem with a parent or a friend to reduce the stress.
• Sports are great in helping with mental health – Find a sport or an activity such as skipping rope, dancing or a special sport that they would like to do at least three times a week.
• Encourage your child to take up a musical instrument, Studies have shown that children who play a musical instrument develop better focus and concentration skills than students who do not. With the recent spate of music games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band, many children might be interested in learning how to play guitar. This is a relatively inexpensive instrument to purchase and can offer a lifetime of enjoyment.

• Difficult decisions – Encourage your child to talk to an adult about choices.

• Need for Consistency – Children need to feel loved and need to know that there are rules to follow. Be sure that you have established routines for children to get enough sleep (depending on the age – between 8-9 hours), eat regular nourishing meals (fruits and vegetables daily) and receive sufficient exercise.

Making School a priority:

• Create an environment in your home that encourages learning. This will be a major influence on how well your child does in school. Provide them with a variety of opportunities to become excited about learning. Have puzzles, paints, drawing paper and computers available for them. Do all that you can to stimulate their curiosity.

• Read to your children every day (seven days a week). ( If you are a regular reader to my columns, you know this idea is must) Most of the learning your child does in school centers on reading. Children need to read for enjoyment, read to expand their vocabularies and broaden their experiences. There is no higher goal than to pass on literacy and the love of reading to the next generation. Parents are a child’s first and influential teacher and therefore you need to model good reading in the home. Be sure that your child has the opportunity to read each night before turning in for the evening.

• Encourage your child to read often. As your children progress through school, research states that as much as 75% of what they learn will come from the printed page. The more children read, the better their reading skills become. Make sure there is a wide variety of interesting materials in your home to encourage the reading habit. The National Adult literacy Survey stated that children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out in later years.

• Show your children the importance of being organized. Children who are organized find in much easier to succeed in school. Adults need to be the models and show their children how to use such organizational tools as assignment pads, calendars, notebooks, binders and backpacks. One specific idea is before bedtimes have your child place all completed homework and books into the backpack and then place the backpack on the kitchen table or next to their coat. This ensures that when leaving in the morning there will be no looking for books or homework assignments.

• Teach children effective study skills and how to tackle homework. First of all encourage children to have a regular time for studying and provide a study place that is free of distractions. No excuses, for the bedroom or even the kitchen table may be used. Designating an area of the home that can be identified as the “Homework” Area will develop the discipline needed to form good study habits. The key is having everyone in the house know that it’s study time and the TV needs to be shut off! Make sure your children understand their assignments for they this will prepare them for future tests. Teach them to use their time efficiently, and if you can, quiz them on any work to help them understand their assignments.

Doing homework reinforces what your children learn in school. Show them how to do it so that homework quickly becomes their responsibility. If they seem lost, contact the school and ask for help. Help your children learn what assignments to do first and how to plan their time. Encourage them not to rush their homework but to consider every assignment a learning experience. Teach them the importance of “pride” and have them always give their best effort. Again, it’s essential that you establish a set time each day for doing homework. Don’t let your child leave homework until just before bedtime.

Another good strategy is to have your child do the hard assignments first. This will mean your child will be most alert when facing the biggest challenges. Easy material will seem to go fast when fatigue begins to set in.

• Talk to your children about school. When asking about what they did in school today, don’t be satisfied with the answer, “Same old thing.” Your children spend six hours a day in school and a great deal of learning goes on during that time. Show that you are genuinely interested in their day by asking questions about what they did and review their papers that are sent home. One idea at meal time is to have the conversation center on what’s happening in school. Be sure to encourage your child to discuss homework, class work, report cards, and academic goals with you.

• Develop a good relationship with your children’s teacher. Good communication between the home and school helps children do well in school and makes it easier to address problems. If you can find the time, try being a volunteer at the school even if it’s only a few times during the school year. Be sure to attend parent-teacher conferences, and if there are problems occurring make an appointment quickly to see their teacher.

As with all of us, it’s important to express your appreciation to your child’s teacher and thank them for taking an interest in your child.

These ideas are a common sense approach to assisting your child in school – and life. I hope you consider them and try them out!

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