As a parent who wants the best for your children, there are undoubtedly many things that you already do every day to help your children succeed in school. The purpose of this article is to provide some practical ideas for you to try. Some of these suggestions may be new to you, many will be familiar, and some are just plain common sense but, hopefully, they will all serve as reminders of the many simple steps you can take that are too often taken for granted or forgotten about, due to the hectic pace of everyday living.
Read to your kids, whatever their ages
First of all, read to your children. We all know that this is important, but I'd like to point out that reading aloud should begin in infancy. It can contribute to your baby's developing attention span and receptive language skills. In addition, I'd like to encourage parents to read to growing children, even once they are able to read on their own. Don't stop once your kids are in elementary school for, whatever the status of their reading skills, hearing a good book read aloud is an experience apart.
Being read to allows children to focus more on the descriptive passages and the action, rather than having to struggle with understanding every single word. It also allows them to hear great children's stories that are beyond their current reading level, and it's a wonderful way for a family to share a magical experience. Choose a children's book that can also be enjoyed by you as an adult, and have a family reading session each evening or each week. A classic children's story, such as "The Wind in the Willows," or the Harry Potter books might be perfect for your family, depending on the ages and interests of your children.
Encourage independent reading and library use
Offer quality children's literature to your growing children and encourage them to read on their own - at their own level and at their own pace. Fiction and nonfiction can both open up new worlds of knowledge and experience and help prepare kids for success in school and in adult life, and don't forget that online children's stories are an exciting new resource to add to your reading repertoire.
Take your children to the local public library. Be sure that each member of the family has his or her own library card. Help your children see the public library not just as a place associated with homework and drudgery, but rather as an exciting doorway to interesting information and adventure. Encourage library book borrowing related to any special topic that interests your kids - from astronomy to adventure stories, from fact to fantasy.
Get your kids to participate in some of the special free extra activities and programs that are regularly scheduled in many public libraries, like storyhours, craft projects, films, and summer reading clubs. Take your children to museums, concerts, puppet shows and the like. Expose them to any forms of entertainment and cultural enrichment that you may be lucky enough to have access to.
Develop effective research skills and good study habits
Help your kids develop research skills that will serve them well, not only on school projects, but later in daily life as an adult. For instance, if you're planning a family trip, let the kids conduct library and Internet-based research on possible destinations, sites of interest, driving or flying routes, and how to dress appropriately for the climate of your destination spot. If you're thinking of buying a new car, let your kids take part in your consumer research, comparing different car models according to a variety of pertinent criteria.
Nurture good study habits and self-discipline. Set aside a regular, daily study time for homework in a quiet, well-lit room. Be sure that your kids have a study environment that's sound physically, as well as conducive to mental concentration. A quiet room is important, but so too is good lighting, a chair that provides good back support and access to all the materials that your children need to complete projects. Supply them with pencils, erasers, rulers, and so forth.
Encourage kids to keep their desk or other study area neat and well organized. This will prevent lots of time-wasting searches for materials and will really pay off as your children get older and their school assignments become more complex. Good organizational skills, which include the arrangement of physical objects, plus the logical structuring of the steps involved in completing any given project, can last a lifetime.
Take an interest in your kids' day-to-day school life
Take an interest in your children's school projects. Encourage them to show you reports they've written or pictures they've drawn. Make them see that you care about what they're doing and about how they're doing, but don't make them feel like they're constantly being monitored or judged. Don't add pressure, just give them plenty of support, encouragement and praise for jobs well done. Provide them with the resources they need (such as Internet access, library time, books and magazine articles) to do a good job on school assignments, but... resist the temptation to do the school projects for them.
Take the same approach with everyday homework. If your child's having trouble with a math problem, review the rules, explain the procedures, and check the results, but don't just give a child the answers. The learning process is more important than a list of correct answers to hand in to the teacher.
Help them discover their special talents
Set aside some time for engaging in special activities with your children. Build a model volcano together, perform science kit experiments, design a family tree, build your own dollhouse, draw maps, etc. Make learning into a fun and creative process. Help your kids discover their own unique aptitudes and talents, as they discover new subjects that might interest them throughout their lives. Stimulate your children's natural intellectual curiosity and spark their desire to learn more, to take a subject to a deeper level.
Give your kids an opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities: to learn to play a musical instrument or to play team sports, for example. Again, expose your children to as many different skills and pastimes as possible, so that they can discover which ones will really click with them. See where their aptitudes and proclivities lie, but don't force them to participate in something if they don't enjoy it and don't put undue pressures on them. It's a cliché, but don't try to vicariously live out your own dreams through your children.
Go to PTA meetings, attend school plays and music recitals. Once more, it's important to show your kids that you care and that you share their interests and concerns, that you know what's going on in their lives and that you're proud of their achievements. This kind of regular positive reinforcement can help them develop self-confidence and a solid sense of self-esteem.
Go that extra mile
Among the most precious gifts that you can give to your children is your time. Put them first and make time for them. Build a happy, stable home environment, full of love and security, and you've already gone a long way towards helping your children thrive and succeed both in school and in life. Be involved in the big and the small events that make up their daily lives. Offer your support, encouragement, resources and love. Be there for them, no matter how busy your professional life is or whatever other commitments you have. Before you know it your children will be grown up and what they'll become depends largely on you. For their sake, as well as for your own, make the most of their childhood.
There are no pearls of wisdom here, just a refresher course in things that we've all heard a million times, but don't always stop to take them to heart. They're so important that they deserve our attention, to periodically remind us of what really counts in life.