The Role of Parents in Building Student Achievement

Learning Begins At Home

Between birth and age 18, children spend just 9 percent of their time in school. That’s why your home environment is so important. Parents help the schools lay the groundwork for achievement in many ways. A work ethic and patterns for academic success are largely built in the home.

Here are some ways you can help your children learn during the hours they are at home:

Establish routines for your child. Children thrive on orderliness. Keep a regular schedule for meals, play, and work time. Set a regular bedtime. When a child is used to a routine at home, he/she can adapt to classroom rules more easily.

Spend time every day talking with your child about his/her interests, hobbies, and friends. Children learn language at home; spoken language gives children the foundation for better reading and writing. As children grow older, they need daily conversations as a way to develop values, test ideas, and share their thoughts.

Give your child responsibilities at home. These might be:
• Keeping the bedroom tidy
• Sharing responsibility for a pet
• Doing at least one thing daily for the good of the whole family – washing dishes or picking up the living room.

Play games that reinforce language skills. Try question/ answer games in which one player tries to learn facts by asking questions.

Have plenty of reading material in your home. Library visits can provide a constant supply of books. Newspapers and magazines can also catch a child’s interest. If possible, consider giving your child a subscription to a children’s magazine. Set a good example by reading instead of watching TV.

Decorate your child’s room with a large map of Connecticut, the United States, or the world. These colorful inexpensive maps help your child learn about geography and reinforce the geography skills taught at every grade level.

Set limits on how much television your child can watch. At least turn off the television during study time. Consider making a rule that there will be no television until all school work is finished.

Display your child’s schoolwork. Many families use the refrigerator door for this purpose. Others install a bulletin board on a child’s bedroom door. Let your child know that you are proud of what he/she has accomplished in school.

Talk about school every day. Ask specific questions-what was the funniest thing that happened today? What was the hardest thing you did today?

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Using the Newspaper - Better Learning

Your daily newspaper provides a source of inexpensive learning activities. Getting children into the habit of reading the newspaper will benefit them throughout life. Here are some ways to use the newspaper to help your child achieve.

Use the weather map to learn geography. Check out the temperature in the cities where relatives or friends live. Use newspaper information to make charts and graphs. A sports fan can track batting averages. A future financial analyst can chart fluctuations in the stock market.

Discuss an editorial on a controversial issue with your child. Discuss whether you agree or disagree with the point of view expressed. Then, listen to your child’s point of view. Encourage him/her to write a letter to the editor in response to what you read. This is a good way to share and explore values.

Understanding sequence is an important reading skill Cut comic strips into individual panels. Have your children place them in the correct order. Or, for older children, follow a story for a week and discuss how and why events unfolded.

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Make Family Time = Learning Time

In today’s hectic world, families often spend more time apart than together. This is why it is important to devote some individual time to each child every day. In addition, spend time together as a family. Here are some activities that will bring your family closer together….and set the stage for better learning in school.

Plan activities the whole family can enjoy. You might try a picnic in the park; a trip to a zoo; a visit to an art gallery; or an afternoon spent fishing. These family activities broaden your children’s interests – and add to their intellectual stimulation, imagination, and academic achievement.

Consider making a family time capsule. To celebrate the new year, a birthday, or another special occasion, consider putting together a collection of items that preserve your family memories. You’ll need to find a sturdy container that will hold your family souvenirs. Invite your children to decorate the container with their artwork, a collage of newspaper articles, or pictures cut from magazines.

Here are some things that you might include:
• Photos of family members and pets
• Favorite cartoons or comic strips
• A favorite T-shirt or old toys no longer used
• Clippings of current events and autographs
• Personal statistics (height, weight, age, school grade level)
• Autographs
• School pictures and copies of old report cards.

Once you have assembled your time capsule, “bury” it in the back of the closet. Then enjoy it in future years.

Read to or with your children daily. Studies show this is the single most important thing parents can do to help their children achieve. Encourage older children to read to their younger siblings. This way, both are developing the habit of reading while they are forming a special bond with each other.

Make reading special. On a winter evening, pop some popcorn and snuggle up together with a book. Or, during the summer, plan a reading picnic under the stars. Give your child a book by a favorite author for a birthday or holiday.

Have your child use his/her imagination to plan a trip around the world. Have him/her think of places he/she would like to visit. Help him/her how to look in the card catalog or use the library computer to find books about the imaginary destination. Ask the librarian if there are fiction books by authors from this country.

Teach your child how to write for information about other places. For example, most states have a department of tourism to whom he/she can write. Most countries have an embassy that can provide you with additional information. The local video stores also have videos about the country you’ve chosen.

Don’t think you need to have all the answers. Kids ask “zillions” of questions. That’s how they learn. Say, “I don’t know-let’s go look it up.” (That way, you’ll both learn.)

Learn a new sport or activity with your child. Show your child that learning is a lifelong activity. As your child grows older, let him choose the activity you will learn together.

Sing favorite songs with your child. Children love the rhythm and the rhyme of music. Whether you sing children’s songs or your favorite music, you’ll be introducing your child to a love of language and music. Teach your child patience. Let him/her know that sometimes he/she has to wait for something. It is not always possible – or advisable – for parents to give children what they want. Teach your child that rewards often come after hard work and effort.

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Building Self-Esteem

Kids who have high self-esteem are willing to take chances in school. They’re able to stay with a difficult subject until they master it. Here are some ways you can boost your child’s self-esteem.

Know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. All children are unique. Even in the same family, one child may love math and find it easy. While another finds it a challenge. Some may have trouble concentrating on reading while another constantly has his/her nose in a book. Challenge kids in their areas of strength and provide support in areas of weakness. One way to better understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses is to talk regularly with his/her teacher(s).

Praise your child’s efforts as well as accomplishments. When he/she sets the table, say “I appreciate the fact that you met your responsibility without being asked. You’re a harder worker.” If you child is doing his/her homework, say, “You are working hard. I know your work will pay off.” Studies show that students and adults who make persistent efforts are most likely to succeed.

Help your child be proud of your family’s ethnic heritage. Learn as much as you can about the culture of your ancestors. Read books to learn more about your family’s roots. Find out about famous people who share your ethnic background. Talk with older relatives to gather family memories.

Ask your children, “What do you think?” Then really listen to the answers.

Teach your child how to set goals. First, help your child choose one goal that is both challenging and attainable. Examples might be, “I will complete my history reading every night” or “I will receive a grade of 90 on my spelling test.” Next, write the goal. Post it where your child can see it. A visual reminder will help keep your child motivated.

Now talk about strategies for accomplishing the goal. These should be concrete steps that help your child move purposefully toward the goal. For example, a child trying to improve a spelling grade might:
• Set aside 15 minutes of study time every day
• Make flash cards of the difficult words
• Ask family members to give practice tests.

Check progress. If your child completes each step, be sure to celebrate his/her effort. If he/she encounters problems, help him/her get back on track.

Finally, evaluate your child’s progress. Did he/she reach his/her goal? What did he/she learn from his/her experience? Praise your child’s efforts in trying to reach the goal, and teach him/her that even though he/she didn’t succeed as he/she had hoped, he/she still made positive progress. Then help him/her set another achievable goal. Every time your child reaches a goal, he/she is building his/her self-esteem so he/she can try to reach another one.

Find ways to help your child feel important. One study by the National Family Institute found that the average parent spends 14.5 minutes a day communicating with each child. Of that time, 12.5 minutes are devoted to parental criticism or correction. Not surprisingly, those behaviors lead many children to believe they do not matter to anyone, or that they can’t do anything right. Make a special effort to tell your child every day that he/she is special.

Pick your child up when he/she is down. Remind him/her that striking out in the baseball game doesn’t mean he/she is a failure at home. Let him/her know that a poor grade on a spelling test doesn’t mean he/she isn’t smart.

Be aware of your expectations. Parents who assume boys are “naturally” better at math or sports – and girls better at reading – may be limiting their child’s future accomplishments. A recent study by a University of Colorado psychologist found, for example those parents’ beliefs may lead girls to drop out of math courses. That, in turn, can prevent them from entering many high-paying careers. “Girls don’t get worse grades than boys at any level of math.” The author of the study said. “But they drop out of it much sooner, and here’s where parents’ expectations are having an effect.”

Encourage your child to take part in extracurricular activities. After-school drama, athletics, music, service, language and other clubs give kids a chance to try new skills and receive recognition for a job well done.

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Improving Academic Achievement

By showing your interest in your child’s learning, and by holding high expectations for your child, you can develop attitudes that lead to school success. Here are some ways you can improve academic achievement.

Make homework a priority. Provide a quiet, well-lit place for your child to study. Make sure you have some basic “tools of the trade” - a dictionary, a ruler, pens and pencils.

Establish a regular study time. Expect your child to spend some time on schoolwork every day. On days when there are no assignments, your child can read a book for the allotted time. During study time, the television should be off and telephone calls should be returned later.

If your child has difficulty with one subject, have him/her begin a homework session by completing that assignment first while he/she is fresh. He/she can save his/her favorite subjects for last.

Do your own “homework” while kids are studying, if possible. Pay bills, write letters or balance your checkbook. When your kids see that study time applies to everyone, they’ll be more likely to take it seriously.

When your child begins to study history, help him/her create a timeline that will be displayed in his/her room. One year, have him/her fill in important dates in American history. The next year, he/she can add important dates in world history.

Today’s news is history in the making. Watch the evening news together. Talk about current events at the dinner table. Choose one or two stories to follow closely. Read more about them in newspapers and magazines.

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Help your child do better on tests. Make sure to encourage your child to:

  • Study for several days before the test. Kids need time to absorb information.
  • Get plenty of sleep …. And a good breakfast.

Also encourage your child to:

  • Listen carefully to directions. Teachers may deduct points if students don’t follow instructions.
  • Look over the test before answering any questions. Nothing is worse than discovering a 15 –minute essay question when you have only 5 minutes remaining in class.
  • Don’t spend too much time on any open questions. It’s usually better to answer as many questions as possible. If there’s time, your child can return to questions that have him/her stumped.

Turn your child into the teacher. You play the part of the student. As he/she teaches you, he/she will be absorbing important information.

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Promoting Your Family’s Values

Parents today are worried about the values their children are exposed to in society. The schools share this concern. But schools recognize that a person’s primary values must continue to come from home. Here are some ways to pass on your family’s values to your children:

Talk about your values. If you choose to visit a relative or spend time with your child, rather than work overtime, say, “I believe people are more important than things.” If you give money to support a cause you believe in, tell your child why you’re doing it.

Encourage your child to talk about his/her values too. Whenever possible, try to support your child’s values by taking positive action. For instance, many children are as concerned, if not more concerned, about protecting the environment than adults. If this is the case, you could work with your son or daughter to promote recycling in your family.

Think about the messages you send with your actions. It’s hard to talk about honesty if you brag about cheating on your taxes. It’s hard to teach the value of human kindness and fairness if you condemn other races or peoples.
Teach your children how to make decisions. Ask your child to think about what might happen if he/she chooses one course of action over another. But let him/her make some of his/her own decisions – and discover his/her own consequences.

Let your children know you are always there to listen. Teens sometimes say they don’t talk with their parents because they don’t want a lecture. If your son or daughter starts discussing a problem, make an effort to listen more than you talk.

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Peer Pressure

As children grow older, they spend more time with friends. This is a necessary part of growing up as teens learn how to get along outside their family. But peer pressure can lead to unhealthy behavior, including early sexual activity, drugs, and alcohol. Here are some ways you can limit the negative influence of peer pressure on your children at an early age:

Get to know your child’s friends. Invite them to spend their after-school hours in your home. For the price of a few refreshments, you’ll soon learn about who your child is seeing …and you’ll be able to make sure no drugs or alcohol are used. Parents are usually surprised at how early children think about experimenting.

Teach your child how to say ‘no’. You might role play a situation in which your teenager is offered drugs or alcohol. Here are some responses.

  • “No, thank you. ”
  • “I don’t need that to have a good time.”
  • “I have to stay sharp for my team.”
  • “No means no.”

Talk with other parents. You might learn that “everybody” isn’t allowing kids to have unsupervised parties. As children move to middle school, organize your own Parent Support Network with the parents of your child’s friends. The group should agree:

  • Not to allow parties in their homes when they are not present.
  • Not to permit the use of drugs in their homes or on their property.
  • To follow certain guidelines if a party is held at their home, including calling the parents of children who possess drugs or alcohol.
  • To call the host parent to verify the occasion and location.
  • To allow their children to attend parties only at the homes of parents who have signed the agreement.
  • To call host parents who have not signed the commitment to discuss the guidelines about social gatherings.
  • To tell their children they have signed the agreement, and to discuss it with them.

Turn peer pressure into positive pressure. Encourage your child to work with other teens to tackle a problem in your community. He/she might volunteer at a soup kitchen, develop a performance for senior citizens, or clean up a stretch of highway. He/she will be improving the community and boosting his/her self-esteem.

"The family is critical to success in school. Indeed, the 'curriculum of the home' is twice as predicative of academic learning as family socioeconomic status …. [and] parental influence is no less important in the high school years."

What Works: Research About Teaching and Learning
US Department of Education