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As children settle in to school, I’m getting lots of questions from parents about how to support their children throughout the school year. Here are some key ideas that will help you support your child for the next many years.
 
Above all of these, remember to evaluate what success means to you, and to think carefully about your WHOLE child. I’ve sometimes heard parents say, “School comes first, no matter what,” and I question that. What about health? What about learning? What about travel? What about friendship? What about family? Of course, we hope that school promotes ALL of these elements of a child’s life, but there will be times when you need to take responsibility for your WHOLE child…times when school can’t know or provide the life balance that your child needs. Many of these suggestions address the bigger picture – how school fits into your child’s life, rather than how your child’s life fits around their school experience. 
 
1) Choose your child’s school carefully. There are many, many options available to you in most cities and towns these days (and certainly in Calgary). Take your time to learn and explore the possibilities, so that your child sees you excited and fully trusting of the school you choose.
 
2) Plan fewer “activities”. Children need downtime to integrate what they are learning, at school, in activities, and in life. Consider choosing zero to one once-weekly activity at any time (ie swimming in fall, piano January-June, dance the next fall, etc). Ages from 6 to 12, when children are most likely to be active in activities, are NOT ideal for specialization, but a time for planting the seeds of culture. Give your child a taste of many things, over time. If she chooses to specialize, eventually, that is fine. If your child is resisting going to school, cut back on other activities, slow down, and spend more time outdoors or at home.
 
3) Get to know the teachers, administration, parents and kids YOURSELF, as soon as possible. Get out of the car at drop off and pick up, go into the school often, hang around the school entrance, stay and play after school. Every child has an attachment umbrella, and YOU are its apex. Your child can connect most easily with people he or she knows that you know, like, and trust. 

4) Get to know the teacher especially, and find out his or her strengths. A teacher who seems cold and distant to you may be incredibly gifted and deeply inspiring when she presents math concepts, and may earn the love of her students slowly but surely with fairness and love of her subject matter. Focus on strengths and the opportunities they bring, when you are talking with your child and with the teacher. Remember that teachers are people, imperfect and vulnerable. Give them every opportunity to shine, by appreciating them, supporting them, and understanding that they are learning, too. Help your child to develop this perspective, as well. 

5) Help your child connect to other children for ease during class time and at recess. For preschool children and up, learn names and point out the children they’ve seen before. Plan playdates for 5-year-olds and up. If possible, get an extra carseat in your child’s size so that you can take a friend along with you easily. Get to know the parents (see step 1), exchange phone numbers, and follow through. In traditionally structured classrooms, older children may go so far as to disrupt class because of their intense developmental need to get to know the other children – make it easy for them.

6) Walk or bike to and from school if at all possible. If not, park 10 minutes away and walk. This opportunity to connect with self, you, and Earth is a great way to slow the experience down and give everybody a little space to breathe. Preschool children especially are highly sensitive to the physical environment, and knowing where the school is in relation to home, the park, a friend’s house or other familiar place, is very comforting.

7) Orient your child. Children attach to people that orient them. Know the school, visit the playground, share your observations of people, interactions, and systems, with your child to help her understand her experience better. Let your child know, in as much detail as possible, why things at school are the way they are. Give detail. Encourage questions. Tell it again. For older children, review tips for playing with friends, basic playground etiquette, playing in turns, etc.  

 
8) Make school prep a “we” thing, as much as possible. Your child will feel more responsible and connected to the school experience if he is an integral part of the preparation. Get buy-in by inviting your child to make a list, to shop, to choose, to prepare, and to carry his own things – to do whatever and as much as possible under his own steam, or together with you. With a young child, ask your child to walk, holding your hand (rather than carrying him), ask him to lead you to the door, show you his hook for his coat, etc. Talk less, observe more, and step back so your child can step up. 
 
9) I guess I’d better say something about homework. I, personally, do not believe in homework. I think if the school has the child for 6 or 7 hours per day, and they can’t cover everything necessary, then the child should not have to take away from family time and personal time to cover it. If your child’s school gives homework, consider doing some research (stophomework.com or The Case Against Homework are two great places to start) and starting a conversation with the school about reducing or eliminating homework. If, through this exploration, you decide homework isn’t cool, then you also have the option to help your child do, or be okay with him or her not doing assigned homework. Remember that your relationship with your child is first and foremost. If homework is affecting your family’s happiness, don’t assume it’s your child’s fault, and do remember it’s okay to have a candid conversation about your opinion about homework with your child, the teacher, and the school administration.
 
10) Well, I guess I’d better say something about report cards, too. Most report cards evaluate the child and/or his or her work with a single letter or number and a few words. In my mind, report cards actually evaluate the school’s ability to inspire the child, not the child’s ability in any area. The more attention YOU give to results on the report card, the more your child will focus on the fear or pleasure of external evaluation. To build your child’s connection to exploration and love of learning, focus on deepening conversations about the work your child is doing, not the result the report card is showing. Focus on your child’s interest, passion, and strengths. There will be plenty of time for building complementary skills when the inspiration and motivation is there.
 
School can be a wonderful part of a child’s life. May your child experience community, friendship, adult mentorship, teamwork, skill-building, a feeling of belonging, and more!