Starting Out Right: Helping Your Child Have a Successful School Year

  • 18 August, 2008

Here we are at the start of another school year: a time of great new beginnings for many children and one of overwhelming anxiety for too many others. What can parents do to help ease their child into a successful new school year—particularly for struggling learners?

  I suggest the following steps.

 1. Talk to your child about school.

  “What did you do in school today, Johnny?”


  Sadly, that is a pretty typical exchange between most parents and kids, and it does nothing for improving home-school relations, for making children feel supported, or for helping both teachers and kids to succeed.

  As a parent and former teacher, I suggest a different kind of questioning, one more likely to elicit a helpful exchange. Most important is being specific; it shows kids that you are really interested, and it is harder to deflect your attention.

  Try questions like, “What are you learning about in math class?” Or, “Tell me about the story that you are reading in your reading class?” The more specific you are, the more likely you'll have a real conversation about school. 

2. Talk to your child’s teacher, too.

  Many parents are WILLING to talk to their child’s teachers. I encourage a more proactive approach.

  Don’t wait for a teacher to call you, but contact the teacher early on. Perhaps ask for an after school or before school appointment in the first few weeks of the year, or make a phone appointment. Let the teacher know of your interest. Ask specific questions about curriculum and homework. Share your concerns and special hopes. And, make yourself accessible by offering your phone number or email address. One thing I can promise is that if you make this contact the teacher will pay attention to your child (and that is a good thing)!

3. Take a look at your child’s school books.

Have your child bring home their school books (whatever they are allowed to bring home). They don’t need to bring them every night but have them show you what they are working on. One key thing to do is to have your child read a page or two aloud to you from the books. Are they making a lot of mistakes and struggling to make sense of the material? If they are having that kind of trouble, they are likely to need some of your help along the way. Better to know that now rather than getting surprised later.

4. Find out what your child is supposed to learn.

  Talk to your child, talk to his or her teacher, look at the books… all of those actions will help you to know what your child is supposed to learn. What kinds of words are they supposed to be able to decode or spell? What words will they be learning the meanings of? How hard are the stories they are supposed to be able to read? And so on. The better understanding you have of what your child is supposed to learn, the better chance you have to help them to accomplish it. Some teachers (and kids) are good at asking for help and others are not; in any event, these requests tend to come once the child is failing—reach out and find out what is needed so that you can provide help now, rather than after it a real problem.

5. Set a positive plan for getting homework done from the very beginning.

  Lay out your homework rules. For example, some parents won’t allow their kids to go out and play until homework is completed. Others prefer that the homework gets done immediately after dinner. In still other cases, parents may want to consider each day's homework demands, making a decision when they see how much work has to be done (this can even be done over the phone if parents can’t be home). In any event, set it up some rules for getting the homework done. One of those rules should be that when homework is being done the television is turned off or in another room.

  These are all small things, but together they can make a big difference in a successful school year. Start with these from the very beginning and you can help your child to succeed.

  Good luck and have a great school year!


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Starting Out Right: Helping Your Child Have a Successful School Year


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.