Raising engaged students is not only the responsibility of the teachers and the administrators at your school, it’s a job that starts at home with every parent. You may have anxiety, fears, or merely first-day jitters about your child going to school. But if you can muster up your courage and take a one-good-day-at-a-time approach, you will find that raising a child who loves school is easier than you might have imagined.
Just follow these four simple guidelines, keep your interactions with your school’s employees constructive and upbeat, and watch the magic that occurs when your child loves learning.
1. Share to prepare. Tell your child what you enjoyed about school. If your spouse enjoyed school, encourage him to share stories, too. But if you had a difficult time in school, share those stories with someone who is not your child. Talk to another adult about the ways you struggled, and how those struggles might color your expectations of what school will be like for your child. Get your fears and biases about school off your chest and let them go so you won’t unwittingly pass them on. Remember, your child is not you. That was then, this is now. By confronting and releasing any back-to-school skeletons in your closet, you open the doors to a positive school experience for your child today.
2. Step back. Some parents have trouble trusting that a school will care about their child as much as they do. And it’s true—teachers won’t treat your child like a parent would. They will probably expect more. And they will care about your child as educational professionals, who want to challenge your child so she can realize her potential, so let them do their jobs. Smart parents know that school is not just about academics. When your child is in school, she is learning how to be a member of a community. She is learning how to socialize and enjoy playtime. She is learning how to express herself through art, music and physical activity. So take a leap of faith. Remind yourself that the folks who run schools are trained professionals. Trust them with your child’s daily education and wellbeing. Then your child will experience every day as an adventure in learning and growing.
3. Be positive and proactive. Try to find something to like about your school on a regular basis. If you don’t know what to like then you might not be aware enough. Have a working knowledge of the school layout. Introduce yourself to teachers on open-house days and meet the folks who work in the front office, including the principal. Make sure the teacher knows you are on her team. If you have a miscommunication or misunderstanding with a teacher or administrator, strive to work things out in a calm, pro-active manner. Don’t hang on to negative perceptions or try to create negative consensus with other parents. Confident, secure parents seek solutions not squabbles. Put yourself in the teacher or administrator’s shoes before you pick up the phone or shoot off that e-mail. Remember, the way you would like to be treated is the way to behave, always, no matter how you feel in the heat of the moment.
4. Give without strings. Whether you work full time or not, there are typically two types of parent volunteers: those who willingly pitch in and help and those who don’t want to spend time at school but do it for their kids. Be honest about the kind of parent you are, so you can find ways to be a cheerful contributor to the school.
If you like to pitch in, join the PTA or sign up to be a room parent. You will find plenty of opportunities to contribute, but do so without expectations of payoffs for your child based on your involvement. The benefits for your child come when you happily contribute, not when you use your position as an insider to create an ongoing list of how you would do things differently and better. Remember your role as a helper in the larger scheme of things. Be service-minded, looking for opportunities to match the school’s needs with what you have to offer. Do your best not to criticize parents who are less committed to volunteering than you, unless you wish to be judged back.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of time at school, acknowledge that your child could benefit from seeing you at school once in a while whether you enjoy volunteering or not. Break the school year up into three parts and try to pitch in to help or chaperone at least once each season. Don’t forget to get your spouse involved. Two reasonably involved parents are better than none. And don’t feel guilty about not being a parenting association volunteer. There are plenty of ways to contribute that don’t funnel through the PTA. Give money to financially support the programs of the PTA, if you can swing it. Then go to your child’s teacher when looking for ways to contribute in proximity to your child.
No matter how you choose to contribute, when you give the way you want to give, you set a great example for your kids. Parents who invest energy cheerfully and proactively in their child’s school stand out in the crowd for all the right reasons, paving the way to success in school for all their children.
Year-long Teacher Appreciation Ideas
If you are waiting until May each year to say thanks to your child’s teacher, consider stepping up sooner. Pay attention to teacher-appreciation activities and try to celebrate your teacher all year long. Catch a teacher or administrator doing something right and express your appreciation with a quick thank-you note. Here is a list of inexpensive gifts that make a nice gesture any time of year:
A pair of movie tickets
A small bouquet of flowers
Gift card to an art supply stores
Something for her sweet tooth
A potted perennial
Restaurant gift certificates
Bath salts or bubbles
Gift card to a bookstore
Your best cookie recipe with the cookies
An iTunes card
Water bottle or travel mug
A pot of assorted herbs
Office supply gift card
Gourmet food basket
Coffee or tea shop gift card
The Cure For The First Day Jitters
Show up and smile. Even if you are scared to death about your child starting school, fake it until you get over it. Do what you can to get your child off to a strong, positive start and keep paying the positive forward throughout elementary school and beyond. If you do, the second seven years of learning will be smooth and sunny.
Did You ‘Love’ School?
Maybe you think ‘love’ is a word that should be reserved for family and religion. But if your child does not love learning by the time he or she graduates from elementary school, you may be in for a long uphill climb in middle school, high school, and college. Keep your attitude towards academics upbeat if you want to instill a lifelong love of learning in your child.