You’ve memorized the names of your son’s teachers and most of his classmates, and you noted that he likes the cafeteria’s corn dogs but not its spaghetti. But do you know how well he follows class instructions or whether he plays fair at recess?

The more you know about what’s expected of your child and how he handles challenges at school, the more you can help him excel. Finding out the answers to these key questions is a good place to start.

1. What is my child expected to learn?

Before the school year starts, find out what your child will be expected to learn in her new grade. Ask the school office for a copy of the grade-level curriculum requirements or where they can be viewed online. Find out how your child will be tested to determine whether she meets the requirements, as well as how you will be notified of the results.

2. What are the teacher’s rules?

Your child’s new teacher will likely have rules about completing homework, making up missed work, and grading that are different from his previous teacher’s. Find out the teacher’s policies at the start of the school year, and make sure your child understands them, too.

3. What behavior is expected of my child?

Read the school handbook and familiarize yourself with the dress code, attendance policy, and guidelines about the behavior expected of students. Explain to your child how she is expected to behave and the penalties for breaking the rules.

4. How does my child behave at school?

Kids often behave differently at school than at home. Ask the teacher whether your child follows the rules and whether his behavior is appropriate for his age group. Does he talk too much in class or is he exceptionally quiet? Does he need to be reminded to do things several times? Ask the teacher to notify you if she notices any significant changes in your child’s behavior.

5. What is my child’s attitude toward school?

Does your child enjoy learning new things, or does she get bored in class? What are her favorite and least favorite subjects? Does she look forward to seeing friends in class, or does she dread being teased on the playground? Talk to your child frequently to gauge her attitude toward school, her peers, and her teacher.

6. Is my child giving her best effort?

Check with your child’s teacher before report cards come out to find out whether she is motivated to learn. Ask whether she pays attention in class or is easily distracted, and whether she is more interested in some subjects than others. If she is not trying her hardest, see whether you can get to the root of the problem. Does she lack confidence, or is she easily frustrated by new challenges?

7. How is my child doing in class?

Grades are important, but they’re only part of the picture. To get a better understanding of your child’s academic performance, ask the teacher how he is performing compared with the rest of his class or grade level. How does he handle test taking—does he stay calm or choke? Be sure to find out whether the teacher has noticed any changes that may indicate an emotional concern or a health issue, such as difficulty reading the chalkboard.

8. How is my child doing socially?

Developing social skills is an important part of school. Talk with your child and her teacher to find out how she is doing on a social level. Does she make new friends easily? How does she handle conflicts with other kids? Is he being picked on, or is he mean to other boys? Do other students have a nickname for your child, and does she like it or hate it?

9. What does my child have trouble with?

Make sure you know your child’s problem areas and why she is struggling with them. Is her social studies grade suffering because she is a poor reader or because she has trouble concentrating right before recess? Ask what you can do to help your child improve, and find out whether the school has any resources for struggling students, such as tutoring or counseling.

10. What are my child’s strengths?

It’s just as important to know where your child is doing well, whether it’s winning a relay in PE class or working well in small groups. Ask your child’s teacher what areas he has shown the most improvement in, and be sure to praise him for his achievements.

Emily Graham is a senior editor for School Family Media. She lives with her family in Oklahoma.