Children benefit when their parents take part, so become actively involved in all aspects of your child’s education. Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher early in the school year. An in-person introduction is best. A simple letter, e-mail, or note is second best. Just let the teacher know that you are a parent who wants to take an active role, and that you want to work together to ensure your child becomes a successful reader who maintains their skills.
Does your child’s school have a parent advisory board? Some federal legislation, including the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015) and Title I, have required this. As a member of the parent advisory board, you’ll help to create some valuable ideas, and you’ll help your child’s teachers to follow through with their goals and objectives. What is the benefit to you? When you take part, you gain some insights into what happens at school and why it happens. You might even take home some ideas to use with your child.
Do you have time to volunteer in the classroom? Ask your child’s teacher if there are any ways you can help in the classroom that would make a real contribution. Offer to read to children, to listen to children read to you, share a particular interest you may have, oversee a group activity, or present a teacher-designed lesson. You needn’t necessarily work with your own child. Working with other children will give you a constructive and different perspective related to your child. When you are in the classroom volunteering, pick up the teacher’s language and learn how he or she presents to the children. Follow through similarly at home. Volunteering works best when you can commit to one consistent time every day or once a week, some sort of dependable schedule, or an on-call arrangement.
Can’t take time off from work or volunteer during the school day? Contact your child’s teacher to see if there is anything else you can do outside of school hours to help out. Perhaps you can help with special events or see if the teacher has some specific requests. What is the best part here? Your child might be able to assist you, and learn while doing so.
Make a special effort to attend all school events. This may include Parent Information Nights where you can learn what’s going on the classroom along with what you can do at home for support. This also includes Open Houses, special events, and other activities where your child may showcase his/her work or skills. Simply showing that you are interested in your child’s education will help your child see that learning in general, and learning to read in particular, is most important. He will work harder towards learning to read, and learning to read with you. It’s also important to attend parent and teacher conferences when offered. Remember that the goal is to work together with the teacher on how to help your child succeed. Start the conference by listening to the teacher’s concerns. You might find that you have similar concerns, or might be surprised about something completely different. Be as specific as possible about your concerns. Share what has already been tried in past years both at school and at home. Remember that you have a larger history to share because you have relevant and vital information from the previous years. Try to determine what helps and what doesn’t help. Be ready to learn more about what you can do at home. At some point, make a plan with the teacher. Agree upon what the teacher will do at school and what you will do at home to address any problems. Be sure to follow through. Consider scheduling a follow-up conference in order to monitor progress.
CLiF Note: The teachers we surveyed for CLiF Program Director Meredith Scott’s recent article in Parent Express titled “I Wish Parents Knew…” overwhelmingly agreed that attending opportunities for students to share their work with their parents is extremely important!
Most importantly, remember that once a child starts improving, it doesn’t mean that the child will continue to improve forever. There may need to be changes in the plan in order for continued success. Likewise, do not assume that only reluctant or struggling readers deserve parent and teacher conferences. Sometimes successful readers benefit from that parent and teacher connection in order to continue to succeed as readers.
It is possible that the only way you will be able to attend parent and teacher conferences is if you can bring your child and/or siblings along. This presents an interesting situation. Do you want your child to take part in the conference? Some children are ready for that. Do you want to meet with the teacher alone? Bring some activities your child(ren) can complete while you are talking with the teacher, such as an assortment of books to read, paper, pencils, crayons, letter magnets, reading-related games, other games, age-appropriate puzzles, and some toys. The more choices, particularly appropriate for a child’s short attention span, the better. This will allow you to talk with the teacher uninterrupted.
Does all of this seem overwhelming? Please recognize that you spend numerous hours working with your child at home. A few hours taking part at school, or meeting with your child’s teacher, will help you to get the most out of that time. Do you feel a little bit nervous about stepping into a school? Some parents do, but eventually they overcome that nervousness. Basically, the more you work on taking part, the more comfortable you will become. What will be the result? You will be rewarded with a more successful reader.
Finally, does your child’s teacher or school send home weekly or monthly newsletters? Read these because there may be some tips for parents. There may be a list of favorite books that children in your child’s class are interested in or engrossed with, and you can search for those books for read-alouds or reading practice at home. There may be some information about what’s being taught at school like letters, vocabulary words being worked on, or specific comprehension skills you can practice at home.
If possible, take your child to the school playground from time to time. Are there community youth sports that take place on the school fields or inside the school gymnasium? Then attend and watch, or attend and participate. For more fun, invite a friend along, too. This will show that the school property and the school itself is great place to be. You may be surprised about how well this carries over into school success. What’s most important is talking about school and reading, taking part in your child’s reading development, and making that connection between home and school.
CLiF Note: We know it’s important for parents to engage in what’s going on at school, but we also know parents are busy! That’s why our Year of the Book sponsorships include family literacy nights, where families can share a free meal at the school together, learn about the special literacy programming going on at school, as well as tips and strategies for reading together, and take home free books! Pictured above is a family at the Newport Town School in Newport Center, VT during their Year of the Book family literacy event in 2015.
Bruce Johnson is an educator, reading specialist at the Merrimack Valley School District in New Hampshire, member of CLiF’s Advisory Board, and author of Helping Your Child Become a Successful Reader: A Guide for Parents. Learn more at www.guidesforparents.wordpress.com.