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Back to school: Many modes, one goal

By Wade B. Mumm

Some will walk, others will ride bikes, many will travel in the family vehicle, while some make the trek in a large yellow bus — many modes, but all with the same goal of returning to or starting at our nation’s many schools both public and private.

Just as the modes of transportation to school will differ, the attitudes about school will be varied. Some kids will have been waiting with great anticipation for the return of school while others will dread that first, and every subsequent, early morning wake-up. Student success will also be different, as some students will excel while others will struggle just to keep up.

What happens in the classroom may have less to do with school and much more to do with what happens at home. In fact, parents can have a significant impact upon a student’s academic success.

Samuel Bennett, Florida’s 2006 Teacher of the Year, explained, “Education should begin in the home. As we develop homes into true learning places, learning will improve in the schools. Parents need to become teachers in the home. … Quality parent involvement improves many aspects of the student: attitudes toward school, better homework habits, school attendance and positive academic success.”

When it comes to being a parent who supports education, it is important to understand there is not a one-size-fits-all remedy to supporting education within the home, but the goal is certainly the same — to educate our nation’s children.

In recent interviews, three professionals offered their advice to parents of elementary-aged children as they look to the coming academic year. Samuel Bennett is the new dean of education at Southeastern University (AG) in Lakeland, Fla. Gwen Diaz is a nationally known author of books on parenting ( Lizbeth White is a 12-year veteran elementary teacher in both public and private schools.

Mumm: How does a parent’s attitude about learning and school affect a child’s attitude about school?

Bennett: Children are swayed by parental attitude. Until children reach the age when they challenge their parents’ morals, beliefs and values, they develop their views and attitudes based on their parents’ views and attitudes. Children will like or dislike people and programs based on what they have heard in the home.

Diaz: Parents must show that they themselves are excited about education. Students will then naturally pick up on the parents’ excitement about school.

White: Whatever a parent says about a project, a teacher or about school has a profound effect upon a child’s attitude. I find the students who say their parents love a particular school, subject or teacher are the same children who have a good attitude. And their positive attitude has a direct correlation with their success in the classroom.

Mumm: How can parents best support what teachers are trying to do in the classroom?

Bennett: Parents need to become part of the triad partnership of parent/teacher/student. Parents need to be open-minded, not defensive, and allow their child to become accountable and responsible for his or her actions. Research has proven the more the parent is involved in the educational process at home and school the better the child performs and positive educational outcomes are developed.

Diaz: It’s important that each day parents show they are excited about school and that they take the time to ask their children what they have learned each day. By doing this, the parent is validating the teachers and their efforts in the classroom.

White: Parents should make a special effort to communicate with their child’s teachers on a regular basis. They should ask the teacher about their child’s academics, behavior, and other classroom expectations. I find the children of parents who communicate with the teachers have a wonderful year.

Mumm: As we go into the next school year, what do teachers wish parents knew?

Bennett: Teachers wish parents knew it is not “them against us,” but rather a team working together. Parents need to fend off the manipulation of their child when children try to build wedges between parent/teacher relationships. Parents should develop the attitude with teachers of “Don’t believe everything you hear about me and I won’t believe everything I hear about you.” Teachers need parents to learn to be proactive rather than reactive, and to continue working with the teacher for the production of the best possible student.

Mumm: What advice can you give a parent when it comes to ensuring a student completes his or her homework?

Bennett: Parents should develop a homework routine that encourages the child to be self-motivated. They should provide homework supervision, but continue to allow the child to be the responsible party. Intrinsic and extrinsic incentives may be used to achieve quality homework completion.

Diaz: We always used the dining room table for homework. With four children, it was much easier for me to be actively involved with them as they did their homework if they were in a central location — otherwise they were spread all over the house. I felt while my children were doing homework it was important I be there to re-explain concepts the teacher may have covered that same day but because of large classroom size hadn’t been able to take the time to explain in-depth. Bottom line, I needed to be active in my students’ academics, particularly at homework time.

White: Parents should establish a set time and place away from the television and other distractions for homework. If a child struggles concentrating on homework then I suggest the parent incorporate short breaks during homework studies.

Mumm: How does proper sleep/rest play a role in a student’s academic success?

Bennett: Lack of proper sleep/rest leads to decreased concentration, lack of attention, lack of focus on learning tasks and irritability that can lead to classroom conflicts with the teacher and other students. Proper sleep and rest allow the body and mind to be ready for those opportunities of learning to take place.

Diaz: I spend an entire chapter on the subject in my book Mighty Mom’s Secrets for Raising Super Kids. In that chapter, I make the argument that bedtime rituals are vital and sleep throughout the week is critical, as children cannot “catch up” on sleep on the weekends.

White: I can’t teach a student who is asleep in class. Parents must ensure their child has proper rest, as most children won’t self-regulate when it comes to bedtime.

Mumm: What can parents do to reduce the stress levels for students?

Diaz: They can understand a child is not going to excel in all areas of academics and that it is OK to be average. Also, I suggest parents limit a student’s participation in extracurricular activities during the school year to a manageable activity level. This not only benefits the child, but it is also conducive to family time and activities.

White: If a student is attending a school for the first time, I suggest parents take the time to visit the school before the first day of classes. Most administrations will honor such requests. Also, don’t wait till the day before school begins to purchase school supplies. Purchase them early, if possible. You would be surprised to know how anxious students are about getting their school supplies.

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It is imperative the home be a place of refuge and support. Diaz recommended that at the end of each day parents should take time to reaffirm their children — to remind them that regardless of their struggles, God absolutely loves them and has created them for a special purpose.

Just as the modes of travel to school this fall are sure to vary, the parenting of young students will also be varied; however, through strong parental involvement, good communication and positive attitudes about academics, parents can do much to support their student’s education this year.

Wade B. Mumm, Ph.D., is chair of the Department of Language and Communication Arts at Southeastern University (AG) in Lakeland, Fla.

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