How to Help Your Child Succeed in School

Fifty-five percent of 6th- through 12th-grade students say they are actively engaged in learning.
—Data from Search Institute’s Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey.

Children and teenagers spend more time in school and learning settings than in any other structured activity. It’s easy to assume that educating our kids is the sole responsibility of schools. But education is most successful when parents and schools work together.

Here are ways you can jumpstart your child’s academic success on the home front and at school:

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Read to your child every day. As she grows older, ask her to read aloud to you. Always keep plenty of books around—on a bedside table, in the car, and in the family room—and make regular trips to the library for more.
    • Model your own ongoing learning. While you may not be in school, it doesn’t mean you’re not learning. Talk to you child about what you’re learning on the job. Take time to “learn for life” by reading a new novel, watching an historical documentary, or taking a community education class that intrigues you.
    • Turn learning into “play.” Kids this age love to count, identify colors, and find letters of the alphabet in funny, unexpected places. Help your child find them on cereal boxes, shampoo containers, billboards, and elsewhere.
    • Volunteer as often as possible at your child’s preschool or daycare to stay in touch with the caring adults in these settings. You’ll enjoy getting a sense of how your child learns in a group.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Give your child books and magazine subscriptions as birthday and holiday presents.
    • Make it a family ritual to read together in the evening—with the television, cell phones, and computers turned off!
    • Kids this age are beginning to identify their passions or “sparks.” Try to separate your own interests and abilities from your child’s. He may not be the sports star or pianist you envisioned. Enjoy discovering who he is becoming and find ways to be supportive of your child’s unique gifts.
    • Find ways to volunteer with enrichment programming at your child’s school (such as a chess club, drama production, book club, or science event), or start a program if you see the need so that your child makes the connection to the “the big picture” of learning.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Learn something new together—sign up for a cooking, art, photography, or language class with your preteen or teenager, and enjoy the connections it brings you both.
    • Review your family homework set-up. If your teen has trouble completing and turning in homework on time (and doing it well), evaluate how and where schoolwork is being done. Good concentration usually requires a quiet place, a clean desk or table, good lighting, and school materials. Now may be the time to find a tutor if your child is struggling with a particular subject.
    • Limit solo leisure time on computers or video game systems. Your child’s curiosity and education happen best in interactive relationships with others.
    • Ask adults at school about opportunities for you to become involved in school events or after-school programming. Your participation signals to your child that school matters.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Don’t wait for academic problems to occur before you build relationships with your teenager’s teachers. E-mail, visit, or call teachers with questions, praise, or concerns, visit counselors at the career and counseling service, and don’t miss parent conference nights, even if it means rearranging your work schedule. Let teachers know how important they are to you and your child. Ask how you can support your child’s learning.
    • While some teens are shy or have trouble making friends, don’t let the computer or video gaming become your teen’s “best friend.” Set limits, and find other activities in which they can engage (music, fencing, chess, creative writing, volunteering).
    • School becomes progressively more challenging for teens, whether they plan to go to college or try another career path. Falling behind at this age is to be avoided! Check in with your teen to see if a tutor might take some of the pressure off. Sometimes extra one-on-one attention can help a teenager master a skill or subject. Often, tutors become one of the “five caring adults” whose influence we say every child benefits from.
  • Keep looking for that passionate “spark” that engages your teen. Caring for the environment, supporting service projects, joining a youth council, or taking apart engines—whatever it is, support your teen’s enthusiasm any way you can.

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