1. Create an After-School Routine
Putting structure into place is key to after-school routines. Start with a designated spot to put books and backpacks the moment your child walks into the house. Most children need an after-school snack, and some may work better after releasing some energy. Have your children begin their homework soon after school, if possible. As a rule, homework shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes per day per grade—30 minutes of homework a night for 3rd graders, for example. In addition, plan for some read-aloud time each day—reading to an adult or sibling helps kids with fluency and comprehension. Older elementary students also need to read daily, and children learning to read can listen and read along as they are able.
2. Keep a Family Calendar
Be sure to get the school year calendar and post it in a visible spot. Note parent-teacher conference dates, report card distribution dates, and other school events, and record them into your personal calendar, as well. One advantage of keeping a master calendar is that you can help your child plan ahead—especially when a major school project is due at a time when a family event or extracurricular activity takes up lots of after-school or weekend time.
3. Focus on Friendship
Take the time to find out who your child plays with on the playground, talks about, or sits with at lunch. Show an interest in your child’s school friends. Help him build friendships by setting up a playdate. Such relationship-building steps also enhance your child’s emotional health, sense of security, and confidence while reducing stress and anxiety about school. When a child feels a sense of belonging and connectedness to his environment, he will learn and develop with greater ease and comfort.
4. Look for Quality Activities
By offering a variety of extracurricular experiences, parents can build a child’s skills in many areas. Extracurricular activities, from Scouts to music to sports, also help your child find what she enjoys and is good at doing. These activities can even offer learning that will result in lifetime work and professional choices—such experiences are invaluable! However, parents beware: Do not overschedule your child (and yourself) to the point of stress and exhaustion. If a child finds that she has joined an activity she doesn’t like, always encourage her to finish out the season, year, or class. You want your child to develop skills of perseverance and patience and to give the activity a chance before quitting.
5. Spend Some Time at School
Most teachers and principals are delighted to have parents lend a hand in the classroom and around the school campus. Even if you can only spend one day a semester helping out, do try to schedule that time. By being at the school, you can observe other children and gain perspective on developmental behaviors firsthand. Children are also very proud when they see their parents helping at the school. It provides an additional sense of connectedness to strengthen their village of care and support.
6. Create Two-Way Communication
Be sure the school office has all of your family contact information, including that of neighbors and grandparents. If there’s an emergency, the school needs to be able to reach parents. Find out from your child’s teachers what their contact preference might be—phone, email, notes with the child, daily school agenda, or other method. Most schools provide an agenda or weekly calendar that lists homework assignments. After checking to see whether your child has accurately completed her homework, take a moment to initial the agenda or school planner to let her teacher know you have reviewed the work.
7. Read the School Newsletter
Find out when the school newsletter is sent home (weekly, monthly, etc.). Read it and comment at dinner on the various news items and event dates. This shows your interest in the school community and your willingness to be a part of that connection. Also, place events on the calendar for the family to see. These actions are good reminders. They also let your child know that school is an important part of your family life and convey a feeling of family-school partnership.
8. Don’t Ignore the Parent-Student Handbook
Of all areas of family-school life, this is one that is probably often overlooked. There is a great deal of good general information in this manual. Be sure to read the handbook and discuss pertinent areas with your child. If your school does not have a parent-student handbook, ask your principal about it or check with your district’s main office. This document is a convenient and informative reference tool for parents and students. Ask questions and understand the schoolwide discipline and management programs as well as other policies identified in the handbook. Once you have done so, support those policies and clarify why the school has those expectations. Be supportive of your school, and your child will live up to your expectations, as well.
9. Become Familiar With School Professional Staff
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. Schools are tremendous resources and offer a broad-based variety of professionals who can help parents not only in times of crisis or emergency but also in addressing smaller issues and questions based on parents’ observations. Learn the names of professionals like the school counselor, reading coordinator, and nurse and what services each provides.
10. Develop Healthy Habits
Good physical health, proper nutrition, and enough sleep are the most important elements for school success. In our current rush of daily life, the eat-fast-and-nibble-often syndrome may set in without parents intending for it to happen. As a family, research the basic food groups and how each category helps us be healthier and happier. Ask your child to list two or three healthy foods he might like to eat daily—and perhaps even something new. Then build those choices into the daily menu. It’s also important to keep sugary snacks to a minimum and to help your elementary-age child get 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night.
11. One More Thing
Enjoy yourself and your child’s elementary years—they go by fast!