6 Simple Ways Parents Can Make a Teacher's Job Easier
Summer vacation is well under way, but make no mistake: the back-to-school season is right around the corner. If you want to make the transition back into the classroom easier for both your child AND their teacher, there are a few things you can do while school's still out.
We spoke with a few teachers and asked them what kinds of things they wished every parent would do over the summer to prepare their kids for the upcoming school year. Here's what we learned...
1. Spend some time each week reviewing the skills they learned in school last year.
Chicago-based elementary school teacher Rachel Alexander told me that some of her students' parents are under the impression that summertime skill reviewing has a negative effect on kids:
"I had a parent tell me that she heard it was bad for kids to review their school skills over the summer," said Alexander. "She thought it would make them regress. I was like, um no! Please work with your child during summer vacation!"
This is a dangerous misconception, as studies have shown that once school starts up in the fall, students whose parents make them review their school lessons over the summer tend to have a significant advantage over students who were not made to do so. This is especially true when it comes to reading and language skills, and is one of the many reasons for the ever-growing achievement gap in these subjects.
Alexander recommends parents take a look at the Common Core website and spend a few hours every week going over the skills their child should have mastered during the previous school year. It might not be the most fun summer activity (although there are ways to up the entertainment value), but it will help your kid retain the knowledge they spent nine long months learning, and give them a leg up once school starts up again.
2. But let them be a kid, too. Because free-play is important.
While you definitely want to keep the lessons of the past year fresh in your child's mind over the summer, it's important to give them time to play and socialize with others. Playing outdoors can help keep them active and healthy, and spending time with children their own age outside of a classroom setting nurtures their social skills and can spark life-long friendships. Even alone time is helpful to child development, as it helps build imagination and gives children time to really get to know themselves.
3. Read to your child. Every day.
This was at the top of the list for every teacher I spoke with. Countless studies have shown that reading aloud to children helps build their vocabulary, makes learning to read easier, teaches them critical thinking skills, and makes them more likely to enjoy reading and writing for pleasure as they grow up. It might not always be convenient, but working even just a half hour of reading into every day can really make a difference in the long run. And if your child is in the process of learning to read in school, reading with you can help streamline that process.
4. Keep them on a schedule.
I'm not saying you need to have every minute of the day planned out, but keeping your kid on some semblance of a schedule will help them adjust once they're thrown back into the rigidity of the school year. If you're letting them sleep until noon, eat at all hours of the day, and stay up until 3 a.m., chances are they're not going to take too kindly to those first few weeks of school. Wake them up at roughly the same time every morning, schedule daily mealtimes, and make sure they have a clear and defined bed time. Enrolling them in day camp (check with your local park district for free options) or organized sports can help to establish a fun summer routine that will help your child stay on track when school starts.
5. Don't let them get lost in their phones.
Micheal Thompson, a high school principal based out of St. Paul, Minnesota, says that as technology becomes more mainstream, his teachers are finding it harder to get their students' attention.
"Parents need to teach their kids to turn off their cell phones and all other digital devices in class, unless that class explicitly uses those devices," said Thompson. "That is my teachers' number one complaint right now, and it's coming from teachers of all ages: not just the old-timers. Kids are not learning how to pay attention to what is happening in front of them because their phones are getting in the way."
To combat this, make sure your child isn't spending the summer months completely immersed in their smartphone, tablet, or any other device. Set definite rules about where and when they're allowed to use certain devices, and try to limit their dependence on their screens for entertainment by nurturing their other interests, like art, reading or sports. You can also take it a step further and organize a screen free week for the whole family, which could help you break your zone-out habits too. Alternately, if you want to ensure this won't be an issue for your child, don't buy them a smartphone. If you can't stand the idea of your child not having a way to contact you, set them up with an old flip phone (just make sure you delete Snake cuz man that game is addictive).
6. Teach the value of education.
In order for your kids to do well in school (and, eventually, life), you need to show them the importance of learning every single day. The teachers I spoke with recommended teaching by example--if you're passionate about your job or your hobbies, make an effort to show that. They also stressed that it's important to nurture your child's natural curiosity from a young age.
"Parents should teach their kids to ask questions about things and develop a sense of curiosity," said Thompson. "Don't put them down when they ask things like 'why is the sky blue?' or any other 'why' question."
You can also build a love of learning by taking your kids on educational field trips to the zoo, or art, science and children's museums. Make it clear you value education and reward them when they seek knowledge on their own time. Introduce them to lots of different kinds of people with a range of skills and interests, and encourage them to make realistic goals related to their own skills and interests,
Of course, teaching the value of education is a lifelong process, and not something you can get done over the course of one summer, but it's probably the most important thing you can do to help your child succeed academically. In my previous life as a teacher, I found that the kids who excelled the most were the kids who had a true thirst for knowledge, which was usually a product of productive parenting.
How do you keep your kids learning over summer vacation? Let us know in the comments!