Kids are back in school and you have high hopes for this school year. But working with your child’s school isn’t always so cut and dried. Wouldn’t it be nice to have some you who could turn to for some answers to your specific question?
That’s me! I’d love to answer your question about how best to help your child learn and work with your child’s teachers. I was a teacher for nearly 10 years but I have been a parent for 12. So I have assigned essays and I also sat at the kitchen table and battled homework with my three children. I have watched my kids walk into a new school in a country where we don’t speak the language. I have felt the angst of a parent who sees their child struggle to read.
And I love chasing down answers. Here are samples of a few questions readers have asked:
Reader Question: How do I really know what’s going on all day with my kids at school and stay connected? This is a familiar feeling. You ask your child about their day at school and they sum up the 7 hours of school with “fine.” So we talked with Elizabeth James, M.Ed. a School Counselor at Irving Elementary School in Bozeman, Montana to get some ideas. Here are some things we talked about:
- Get better at asking your child questions about their day. Try some of these questions (and if you can, they go well with an after-school snack)
- What was the highlight of your day?
- What did you play at recess?
- What are you learning about?
- Pretend I’m a student and teach me what you learned in math today.
- What was something that made you laugh today?
- What book are you reading? What happened?
- What was something that was confusing today?
- Tell me five things that happened today and scramble them up in order. I want to see if I can guess what happened first.
- Pretend you took a picture today. What would the picture be of?
- Get to know your child’s friends. Your child spends a lot of time with their classmates. Get to know their names and ask specifically about them (I had to make myself a list to keep the names straight). If you can, invite them over to play.
- Ask the teacher. Be a squeaky, patient and persistent wheel.
- Ask what the class is studying and a few questions you can ask at home. If your school does class websites, check it. If they don’t, ask the teacher for a quick picture, maybe once a month, that you can discuss with your child at home.
- Ask the teacher what books they are reading aloud and check them out from the library. This will likely jog your child’s memory and they may have more to say.
- Ask the teacher if your child can bring home one of their workbooks or text books for you to look at.
- Some schools have the students keep a daily diary. If your school doesn’t, talk to the teacher about starting one.
- If you can, go into school. Most schools welcome parent volunteers. So volunteer to read a story to the classroom, help out with an activity, or do a classroom observation. Or go in and eat lunch with your child a few times. Seeing your child during their day will help you get a better sense of what school is like.
Reader Question: How do I help my child learn a language that I don’t speak? Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, French, Hebrew–many schools offer awesome bilingual programs. That is wonderful and it is such a gift to give your child another language. But you may feel a little intimidated. What if you don’t speak that language? How can you help your child learn it? To answer this question I turned to my language learning/ bicultural-celebration expert Christina Thuli. Ms. Thuli is an expert English Language Learner teacher and approaches learning any language the same way–with enthusiasm and joy. So I asked her to give me some tips.
- Make it a family affair. Remember, you aren’t bilingual….YET. It’s never too late and learning alongside your child is a GREAT way to support them.
- Use an app like Duolingo to get some basics down.
- Ask your child to teach you some of the words they are learning.
- Show your child what “fearlessly practicing” looks like and try to use the words you are learning in conversation with your child.
- Buy a few bilingual children’s books.
- Turn on the Spanish subtitles as you watch a movie on Netflix.
- In short, support your child by learning alongside of them.
- Keep it playful. You may have taken a foreign language in middle or high school and you probably have not-so-fond memories of conjugating verbs. No offense to your teacher but this is not the best way to learn. Although grammar instruction has it’s place, songs, skits, books, role playing, and silly rhymes will help make that language stick a little quicker. Consider making a sock puppet and calling it your family bilingual expert. Even reluctant children will try out new vocabulary if it’s a “puppet” doing the talking.
- Seek out experts: There is a good chance there are people in your community that are native speakers of the language you are trying to learn. Reach out. Put up flyers in the library. Meet them for an after-school coffee and practice your conversation skills.
- Think bi-cultural and not just bi-lingual: The truly wonderful thing about learning a new language is that it is a key to unlock a new culture. With your child, research the country where the new language is spoken. Look at maps, pictures, and try new foods. Consider setting up a family savings jar and make a visit to the new country a goal.
Reader Question: How do I navigating the balance between “tough love” and “helicopter parenting” when it comes to homework? This is a dilemma faced by many parents. When do our kids need to fail and when do they need our help to succeed? We talked with Elizabeth James, M.Ed. a School Counselor at Irving Elementary School again. Here are the things we talked about.
- Remember that natural consequences are a parent’s best friend. If your child has to miss recess because he didn’t do his homework, that lesson will stick much longer than you nagging at them to get their homework done. And the younger your student feels these natural consequences, when the stakes are low, the better. So letting your child fail is not necessarily a bad thing. Talk to the teacher to make sure the natural consequences are in place and make sense.
- Get to know your child and the reason she is not doing the homework. If your child is consistently not doing homework, take a closer look at why. Is the work too hard for your child? Could she need some extra support. (Read about IEP’s here) Is she stressed out about something else? Is she overly busy? Does she not give herself enough time? Is she having trouble with motivation? Give your child the kind of support they need instead of bailing them out.
- Speaking of support, see yourself as the step stool. When your child was little, you probably had a step stool in your bathroom in order for him to wash his hands. You didn’t soap them up, but you did provide the support he needed to wash his own hands. It takes longer to help a child with his homework in this way, but in the long run, it’s better. For example, if my child is having a hard time with his math homework, we take 10 minutes to watch a math video on Khan Academy (you can easily search by topic). Then, I try to only ask questions instead of making statements. Ask the teacher for help, if you need to.
- Set up your child up for success. Don’t over-schedule your kids. Get a homework system that works and model and teach time management. Make sure that the reason your child isn’t doing their best work isn’t out of their control.
For the answer to more questions, including: My child has a classmate who has serious behavioral issues and is very disruptive to the class. He is very upset about it. What can I do? and Is it Ok to text a teacher at night? Go to Q&A blog on BuildingtheBridge.org. Want to ask your own question? I’d love to answer it!
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Anna Jenkins.