After the first-day hugs at the bus stop, parents across the suburbs will be returning to their school-year routine. That routine should include involvement in their child's education.
For decades, research has shown that children whose parents participate in their schooling get better grades, attend more regularly, have higher self-esteem, are more motivated and use drugs and alcohol less. This should come as no surprise, and typically suburban school districts have seen higher rates of parental involvement than do schools in urban areas. But what may be surprising, studies say, is that family participation is a greater predictor of academic achievement than household income. In other words, it's not how much money a family has, it's the time and effort spent on supporting education that counts.
Despite suburban successes, not every school is a hive of interaction between parents and teachers, and in some buildings a small pool of volunteers does much of the work. It's a challenge for parents with demanding work schedules or single parents working two jobs to assist in the classroom or plan activities.
In our story earlier this week, Riley Simpson and Jamie Sotonoff collected advice from parents to parents on navigating the back-to-school maze. As students settle into their classrooms this week and next, busy parents should heed the advice of experts and recommit to staying involved in their children's education beyond getting them out the door on time (and that's important, too).
There are some simple ways.
At the top of the U.S. Education Department's list is encouraging your child to read, independently or with you. Reading together not only supports what is happening in the classroom, it creates family bonds the way only time well spent with children can.
Also important is to monitor homework and set a regular time for it to be done. If the subject area is beyond your ability to help with questions, go online. The Illinois State Board of Education and individual school websites are resources for homework help.
Set realistic expectations, and then talk frequently with your child about them. Realistic is the key word, as every child is different, but remember that kids can stretch a bit.
Read letters sent home from teachers in their entirety. If they are important enough for them to write, they're something you should know. Call or email a teacher if something doesn't seem right with your child; act before a problem gets out of control.
Seize upon "teaching moments" -- count out change at store, evaluate a TV commercial together, use big words and then explain them.
If you cannot help in the classroom during the day, consider attending a PTA meeting, chaperoning at a dance, taking tickets at a weekend event or contributing to a bake sale.
Kids know when their parents take an interest in their schooling, and -- though some wouldn't admit it -- they like it. But if involvement isn't a priority, it's not going to happen. Make the commitment. The hugs at graduation time will come before you know it.