Our Views: 10 ways to help your children make the grade

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Friday, August 30, 2013

This Labor Day weekend, parents of school-age kids can be divided into two categories. One batch is enjoying time with their children during these last few days before school starts. The other group can’t wait until Tuesday, when they can send the kids back to class and get them out of their hair.

Parents, however, also should be considering how they can best help their children succeed in school. Teachers have big impacts on our kids, but they must work with the raw materials they’re given. If your children are a little behind on the learning curve, it doesn’t foster their education.

Given that, parents should heed these 10 steps:

1. Make sure your kids get enough sleep. Many parents let bedtime routines slip in summer. Getting kids off to bed at a decent hour—and ensuring that they’re not in bedrooms watching TV or using cellphones—is crucial to classroom alertness and attentiveness.

2. Help your kids eat right. Encourage them to eat nutritious breakfasts and choose healthful foods at home and school. If your child carries a lunch, make sure salty, sugary foods don’t dominate it. Meals and snacks of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes reduce risks of obesity, diabetes and other health problems.

3. Encourage your children to read because reading is the foundation of all learning. Reading with younger children helps them build vocabularies. Discuss these readings with your children. In school and on tests, they will need to analyze what they read and write about those thoughts. If you think your child is struggling to read at grade level, discuss options with teachers.

4. Get to know the teachers and let them know you care about your child’s education. Share insight about your child. Attending school open houses and parent-teacher conferences shows your children you value their education.

5. Volunteer at school or join the parent-teacher organization. Perhaps you have a skill or knowledge you could share with a class that fits the curriculum at some point. Offer to bring healthful classroom treats or to chaperone field trips. Many teachers use their own money to help students lacking supplies, so ask what you could donate.

6. Help with homework when need be, but don’t make it your responsibility. Provide a quiet, regular place away from TV and other distractions. Encourage responsibility and independence, but make sure homework is complete. Let teachers know you want to stay apprised of assignments. Make it clear—perhaps through a contract you write with your child—that failure to complete schoolwork means loss of electronics privileges. If frustrations between you and your child about homework build, take a break. Discuss persistent problems with teachers.

7. Limit weeknight TV. This will ease homework battles and provide more time for reading. Consider making TV a reward for finishing homework.

8. Encourage your child to get involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, theater and clubs. Attend related events whenever you can.

9. Ask your child what he or she is learning. Don’t accept simple answers of “nothing” or “not much.” Delve deeper. While your child might at first be annoyed, consistency demonstrates you care.

10. Be a good model. Children often follow our examples. So eat right, exercise and get enough rest. Don’t spend hours in front of the TV while demanding that your child finish that homework. Read at home, and visit your public library. Discuss current events. Speak positively about your job, and your kids are more likely to be positive about school. Join organizations.

Follow these steps, parents, and you’ll boost odds that your children will make the grade.

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