School works. We know that. Our children get an education – whether we are in a traditional brick and mortar setting or homeschooling. As we start off another school year here in the US, we know that this one is different. No one really knows for sure what is going on with COVID-19 and schools have debated back and forth as to what to do. Some have started and are starting with a mix of virtual and classroom time, some are purely virtual. Whatever it is, it is not easy for the kids and parents alike. Masks? No masks? Virtual schooling? A mix? How many days? So many questions. What is the best way forward for starting school off right?
But here is my list of things I like to tell parents when it comes to starting off the school year right, to make sure that school works for you. I will always preface it with my usual statement of “Do what works for you” but these are some good underlying practices to help make your school year successful right from the start.
SET REALISTIC GRADE GOALS
There is no point in establishing that your children must maintain all-As if they are not all-A students. Talk through the subjects and how much work they might entail. Let your children be part of the discussion as they are the ones who will have to do the work. Don’t be afraid to revisit these in a few months and maybe tweak the goals.
REMEMBER: A NUMBER DOESN’T DEFINE YOU
I think this is very important for our children. A number doesn’t define them – whether it is the grade, the time they run around the track, their weight. When we can help them to see who they are outside of the numbers, which are just guides, then we help establish healthy views of themselves.
SET YOUR NON-NEGOTIABLES
What is it that is not ok for your children to miss? It could be something like “it is not ok for you to struggle and not tell me” or “It is not ok for you to not do and not hand in your homework” or “Disrespect to any teacher is not allowed.” These will be different for each child and family, but it can help our children be responsible, caring members of their schools.
BE YOUR CHILD’S ADVOCATE
Get to know your child’s teachers. Make yourself known. Not in a domineering way, but rather in a supportive and friendly way to the teacher. Let them know that you will be a voice for your child, but will also do what you can to support the teacher. Don’t be afraid to contact the teacher if things are coming up that you don’t agree with, or if you see your child struggling. Clear communication is a good thing. I know that as a teacher I liked it when I knew different parents and knew that they were supportive – of me and of their child.
If your child has a 504 plan or an IEP, make sure it is being implemented. Ask how you can assist to make it happen.
If you do not agree with the amount of homework being given, then talk to the teacher. It may be too much and the teacher doesn’t realize. I am not a believer in homework in the younger grades but it happens and it shouldn’t take a long time. Tell the teacher the maximum time you think your child should take and work towards a solution.
LIMIT EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
This might sound drastic, but many of our children are overextended, overstimulated and just plain tired. I know that there is a push for extracurricular activities because they look good on college applications. But we need to be protective of our children’s time and family time. When we are constantly running from one thing to the next we don’t get time together as a family, homework is being done late at night, and this performance drive is taxing on everyone. Decide on one, or maybe 2, activities per child (depending on time commitment, practice, etc.) Try to protect at least one evening a week for the family.
WATCH OUT FOR SCREEN FATIGUE
This is something that we need to be careful about, especially if our children are doing virtual schooling. I am a big proponent of getting them off the screen for large chunks so their minds and eyes can rest. I do not personally like homeschool programs that are all online either for this reason. As adults we know what it is like when we are at a computer all day. Our children need fresh air, breaks, and opportunities to move.
I wish you all the best as you navigate these unchartered educational waters as we are starting school once again. I know that it won’t be the easiest, but we will all get through it and our children are going to be ok! Remember that no matter which road you are taking this year (or any year) school works – whether at a school desk or at your kitchen table, or anywhere in-between.