Back to School: Helping Parents Help Students

Let’s just be honest at the start – we, in the school community, do not spend enough time teaching parents how to best help their students succeed at school.  While a significant amount of time is invested in working with kindergarten parents – who are sending their students to school for the first day – that focus is lacking as students mature and move through grade levels.  That fact needs to change.


Think about the disconnect between expectations and standards.  When parents were in school, the requirements and educational tools were so different than they are today.  The school has a responsibility to ensure that parents know, understand, and do specific things to support their children.  After all, every parent wants their child to be successful. 

We must continue to support and guide our parents to participate actively in their child’s learning and in the school’s overall success. Welcoming them into the educational process is a powerful factor that will pay dividends for the future.

As we write these tips, we are approaching it from the perspective of the school sharing ideas with each parent; so, keep that in mind as you read.  Feel free to take these ideas and expand on them as they best fit your community and stakeholders:

1. Create a positive learning environment at home. This means providing a quiet place for your child to study, free from distractions. Typical places of distraction include their bed or in front of the television.  Other than the necessary supplies, offer them a desk or chair in a place with good lighting and in a spot where you can quickly check that they are making progress (instead of wasting time). There will be moments when your student is frustrated with a challenging lesson or homework, so have them step away and take a quick mental break.  If you are noticing consistent struggles in a particular content area, then take the opportunity to share that observation with your child’s teacher and see what steps you can take to support your student. When students feel supported and work in a positive environment, they can develop and grow.

2. Set clear expectations and goals for your child. Resist the urge to compartmentalize your child by leaving school “up to the school.  One way to help is by talking to your child about what you expect of them in school this year.  Help them set specific purposes, such as getting good grades in particular subjects or participating in extracurricular activities. Set up a goal board or chart so they can track their progress throughout the year and celebrate their success.  This is an excellent way for you as the parent to set up moments of rewards throughout to help students stay motivated and feel honored.  We have a great FREE resource to help you set goals with your child.  

3.  Monitor your child’s progress.
Check-in with your child regularly to see how they are doing in school and do not wait for progress reports every 3 weeks or quarterly report cards. That way, you can spot areas of improvement much faster.  Be preparedyou’re your child to reply that things are “good,” but ask follow-up questions like “how do you know school is good” or “what did you learn in school today.”  Specifically, ask them about their assignments, tests, and grades and have them show you those results.  This step is not because you do not trust your child, but that you simply want to verify their statement.  That way, if they are struggling, you may be able to help them at home or, at the very least, you can communicate clearly with their teacher.  One powerful way is to initiate a meeting with the teacher by including your child.  This step models personal advocacy and includes them in the discussion or solution aspect.  Instead of education being “done to the student,” this type of meeting shifts the focus to “education for the benefit of the student.”   

4. Help your child develop good study habits.
Teach your child to take practical notes, manage time, and study for tests. If you do not know, then ask their teacher for tips to share with your child.  These skills will help them succeed in school and beyond. Be open to the idea that your child will have a learning style that you may not understand or may be different than yours.  Take time to research and listen to them to see their best way to learn so that you can support and help them in a way that works best for them. Everyone learns differently, and it is not one-size-fits-all, so take time to find what works for your child. We also have a great FREE resource to help you and your child set up great study habits.  

5.  Provide positive reinforcement.
Let your child know that you are proud of them for their hard work and progress. Celebrate early accomplishments because that serves as motivation for the future.  Remember, what gets appreciated is replicated.  This positivity relates back to earlier setting of goals, milestones, and rewards.  Let them know what you are looking for and what they can see as a benefit of their hard work.  This point is critical – even if they didn’t get the desired outcome (e.g., the goal was a 95 on a test but they scored a 93), teach them the value of hard work and still celebrate.  Maybe they do not get the agreed upon reward BUT a 93 is not failure!  Ask them to reflect on what kept them from that score (e.g., maybe 1 question) and if they learned anything.  This teaches them that struggles are just as important as successes.                                                                                   
6. Leverage the Real World. 
Parents have many opportunities to show students how to apply school-based learning into the real world.  For instance, here are a couple of every-day applications that reinforce both math and reading:  (1) Grocery Shopping – have your child get the sales flyer as you walk in and have them read portions of it to you and have them look at a sales price of an item to calculate the savings; (2) Eating Out – get your student to read the menu to you to practice reading and have them calculate a 15% or 20% tip on a meal; (3) Driving – have your child call out the geometric shapes they see in buildings or business signs and ask them to read signs aloud as you pass them; (4) Walking around the Area – prompt them to read street signs to you but also ask for simple calculations of a home address (e.g., if the house number is 784 Main Street, ask them to add 7+8+4 and give you the sum).     

7.  Be patient.
Learning takes time and effort, meaning that struggling is part of the learning process.  Take a step back and think about your learning and how you were as a student in school.  Give them a little grace and encourage them to keep trying by reinforcing a growth mindset – you may not understand this concept but give it time.  Now, if that struggle becomes persistent, immediately communicate with the teacher what you are seeing at home and ask for additional support at school as well as tips for you at home.   

In conclusion, parent support and involvement in education plays a crucial role in academic success. By sharing these tips with parents (and others), you can create a nurturing and empowering environment that fosters a love for learning and thriving at school.

As every child is unique, so is every parent.  Be patient, understanding, and encouraging throughout the family’s educational journey.  Celebrate their achievements, offer a helping hand during challenges, and maintain open communication to ensure collaboration. With your dedication and support together with parents, you can inspire students to reach their full potential and prepare them for a bright and promising future.

Together, let’s lay the foundation for lifelong learning and personal growth.

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