During the school year, it’s the most-asked question in American homes, echoed by millions of parents, five days a week: “How was school today?,” usually followed by “Is your homework done yet?” And the inevitable, droning answers: “Fine.” “Nope.”
At this point, some tired families acquiesce; others brace for homework meltdowns; and still others jump in and overdo it.
Most parents know it’s important to participate in their children’s education, and scores of studies from major American universities support the finding that kids do better in school when their parents are involved. But what does getting involved actually mean? What’s the best way to connect to your child’s learning with the little time you have? How do you help your kids succeed in school without getting too close to the process?
While our children soon will sweat through their initial benchmark tests, it’s only fair that parents take their own back-to-school quiz. How do you score when it comes to being involved in your child’s education? Take this test and see.
1. Three of the following statements are true. Which one is false?
a. Teachers hold higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in their education.
b. Reinforcing at home what your kids are learning in school has a greater impact on their education than attending a fund-raising activity.
c. It’s helpful when parents correct their child’s homework before they turn it in.
d. The gifts teachers appreciate most are thank-you notes from parents or students and classroom wish-list supplies.
Answer: c. Correcting your child’s homework gives teachers a false impression and ultimately hurts your child; teachers use homework to gauge which students need more instruction, which are ready to move on, and whether the lesson was effective.
2. The best strategy for raising a child who likes to read is to:
a. Remove all picture books from your child’s bookshelves.
b. Introduce a phonics-based program to your child before kindergarten.
c. Prod your child up the ladder of early readers through first grade.
d. Read to, with, and in front of your child at least 15 minutes every day until they’re in middle school.
Answer: d. Research confirms that reading daily (anything — books, magazines, sports pages) with your child in a fun, bonding, and expressive way is the most important thing you can do because kids will associate reading with pleasure.
3. New brain studies indicate the most effective way to study for a test is to:
a. Highlight key facts and read the material over multiple times.
b. Write out the concept or questions with answers and examples in your own words; quiz yourself regularly for at least a week before the test.
c. Review the answers at the back of the chapter orally.
d. Both a. and c.
Answer: b. Because the brain is a muscle that grows stronger with use, having students write out questions, then retrieve information and connect the dots repeatedly is more effective than passively reading or listening.
4. New public-school standards for learning (called the Common Core State Standards Initiative) will launch this fall in Massachusetts. What changes will this trigger in your child’s curriculum?
a. More nonfiction reading and persuasive writing in all grades.
b. Showing more work in solving math problems.
c. A higher level of critical thinking and deeper understanding.
d. A new standardized test in English and math.
e. All of the above
Answer: e. The initiative, which has been fully adopted by 45 states, seeks to standardize and improve education across the nation. Common Core benchmarks will be supported by one of two new standardized tests in the 2014-15 school year.
5. Which of the following strategies will not help you build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher?
a. Filling out forms and permission slips on time.
b. Reading the class newsletters and reiterating key messages at home.
c. Making sure homework is finished every day.
d. Sending the teacher a comprehensive e-mail detailing a problem along with your proposed solution.
e. Volunteering to help in the classroom or with trips when possible.
Answer: d. E-mail is not an effective way to discuss issues. When there’s a conflict with your child that needs to be resolved, send a brief e-mail to the teacher stating your concern, your questions, and a request to talk or meet.
6. Match up learning style with corresponding characteristics. Which characteristics are associated with: visual (spatial) learners, physical (kinesthetic) learners, and auditory (language) learners?
a. Process and learn through what they hear; they prefer to verbalize ideas.
b. Learn best through images and words they see; they tend to notice details.
c. Learn best by what they do and experience; they prefer hands-on projects.
Answer: Visual learners learn best through (b.) images and creating pictures in their mind; physical-kinesthetic learners like to (c.) touch, feel, and use their hands; auditory learners learn by (a.) what they hear and prefer to recite spelling words orally. Most children learn in a combination of ways but lean toward one style. Understanding how your child learns can help you support homework, projects, and studying.
7. Overloaded school backpacks cause more than 20,000 back injuries per year. Which statement is not true? The ideal student backpack should:
a. Weigh no more than 10-15 percent of your child’s total body weight when packed.
b. Have wide padded shoulder straps and a hip strap to distribute weight.
c. Not hang below the waist or hip line.
d. Include wheels so it can be pulled around school or carried.
e. Keep the heaviest books closest to the back.
Answer: d. Many schools don’t allow rolling backpacks because they’re a hazard in crowded hallways.
8. Praising hard work and effort leads to a more confident, competent child. True or false?
Answer: True. Research shows that simply praising a child’s “smarts” is counterproductive because the child may develop fear that they could lose their “smart” label if they fall short on difficult challenges — and begin avoiding them. Praising progress and hard work motivates kids because effort is a factor they can control, and it reinforces the message that learning and improvement is achievable.
9. Which statements are true about fueling your child’s brain and body?
a. An overload of simple carbohydrates (sugar cereals, juice, junk food) negatively affects concentration and behavior.
b. Some research suggests foods like blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, fish, eggs, whole grains, walnuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds may enhance your child’s brainpower.
c. Chemicals released during exercise help improve concentration, motivation, and learning.
d. Elementary age children need 10-11 hours of sleep per night; teens need 9.25 hours to optimize learning.
e. All of the above
Answer: e. Diet, exercise and sleep affect your child’s ability to process, learn, and retrieve information.
10. Which three statements or questions are more likely to result in a constructive conversation with a teacher?
a. “What are you doing to stop that bully from beating on my child?”
b. “I’m wondering what else we can do to make sure Emily doesn’t fall further behind?”
c. “I know many other parents in this class who feel the same way I do.”
d. “Sam feels intimidated on the playground; he doesn’t feel safe at lunch.”
e. “We’ve noticed Alex finishes her homework very quickly; are you seeing this in class?”
Answer: b, d, e. Keep communication positive and professional by sharing your child’s feelings, behaviors, or your own observations. When teachers feel accused or blamed, they are more likely to focus on defending their actions instead of helping your child.
11. Which strategies help minimize homework meltdowns:
a. Help your child break down work into sections so it’s not so overwhelming.
b. Carve out time for play or unstructured activities so your kids can process their busy day.
c. Alert teachers if your child’s homework takes far more time than the accepted 10 minutes per grade (e.g., 40 minutes, fourth grade) without breaks.
d. Encourage your kids to use online videos and podcasts and also their siblings to explain or reinforce lessons rather than mom or dad.
e. All of the above
Answer: e. In addition to involving your child in the decision about where and when homework is done and providing a well-stocked homework supply bin, all these strategies will help keep thingson a positive track.
12. What are the two best ways to help kids stay organized for the school year?
a. Preview, review, and remind — but don’t rescue.
b. Invest in an agenda notebook in first grade, so they begin writing in a calendar and develop early habits.
c. Pack your child’s backpack before school and clean it out each week so they have a fresh start.
d. Display visuals that show kids what a clean desk, backpack, picked-up room, and “ready to go” look like.
Answer: a, d. Many kids need to make mistakes before they can take full responsibility for their schoolwork and belongings. Don’t do for your child what they can do. Even 6-year-olds can pack their own backpacks.
If you got 11 or 12 answers correct, congratulations! You’re doing a terrific job of supporting your child’s education. If you answered eight to 10 questions correct, don’t fret, because most parents are right here with you. If you managed seven or fewer, the good news is that you probably picked up some tips to give you a hand in helping to make your child a better student. And the beginning of the school year marks a great time to start.
ML Nichols lives on the South Shore and is director of The Parent Connection, a nonprofit parent-education group. She is also author of “The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5: How To Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.’’