Back to school
Uniforms are washed and ready to wear; iPads are fully charged; and backpacks are laden with fresh stationary supplies – it’s time to head back to school. My children are still a couple of years away from taking part in this yearly ritual, but already I feel the pressure. Will they like school? Will they do well there? Will they have good teachers? Will they make good friends? Will they feel like they’re part of a community?
As a researcher at a think tank, I am very fortunate that part of my job is not only reading and analysing the most rigorous and up-to-date research on education but also being in regular contact with people who know a thing or two about the elements that can make for a successful school experience for children.
It’s a pretty well known fact that the strongest single predictors of how well a child will do in school is what goes on in their home. Feeling loved and secure, having enough good food to eat, and being read to and talked to are necessary for creating a solid foundation for learning. As parents it’s our responsibility to aim as high as we can in ensuring these things for our children.
But our role doesn’t stop there. I’ve been surprised to learn that parents continue to play a vital role in their children’s success in school even outside the walls of home.
Children whose parents are involved in their schooling—whether that be in the form of volunteering in the school, attending sporting events or club activities, or even just asking how the homework’s going in the evening—do better at school than their peers whose parents are not involved. The involvement doesn’t have to consist of hundreds of hours or hundreds of dollars—it just has to be there.
In fact, a study I read last year from sociologists Keith Robinson of the University of Texas, Austin and Angel L. Harris of Duke University reported that there are three things that every parent can do to improve their child’s performance at school: expect them to go to university, discuss the activities that they’re involved in at school, and request particular teachers for them at their school.
The common theme in all of these things is to send your child the message that school is important; do this early and often. Raise the expectation of further study after high school, talk to them about where they might go when they get older and what they might study there. Ask them daily how things are going at school: that assignment, that class, that game, or that concert. Finally, get to know the parents of older children at the same school, and ask questions that help you figure out who the best teachers might be for your child – and ask the school if they can accommodate your choice.
It’s back to school time for them and us.