Textbooks and teachers aren't enough. Each student trundling off to school next week will need more assistance than all the paper, crayons, notebooks or fancy pocket calculators could ever provide.
Parents can give that needed help. Plainly stated, the interest a parent takes in a child's classroom experiences contributes to the success of that student's schooling.
"If only I could find the time" has become the battle cry of parents in these days when the war between inflation and family budgets often demands holding down more than one job and spending more time away from home.
However, taking an active part in a child's education does not necessarily mean parents must relinquish all their spare moments. Often, parental involvement in education simply means asking questions, offering some encouraging words and, above all, listening.
The first few days of the school year are ideal for setting in motion a year-round pattern for student success. For instance, parents should put aside other pressing tasks for a few moments and ask their children:
How did their day go? What are their teachers' names? What are the classroom plans for the year? Are friends from previous years in their classes? What new friends are they making? Do they find the first assignments easy or perhaps too difficult? Are there activities outside the classroom the children want to join, such as athletic teams, student government or interest clubs?
Intently listening to the answers children give to such questions not only conveys parents' genuine interest in their children's hours spent away from home, but also signals any potential trouble spots.
During the first weeks of the school year, parents also can support their children's learning and school progress in the following areas:
* Homework. Set expectations the first week of school. Homework or a study period will be scheduled every day. Parents should review, if only briefly, completed work. Simply asking, "Have you finished your homework?" does not impress upon children that their work outside the classroom is important.
Provide a space and designate a specific time for children to do their school work daily. A kitchen or dining room table can suffice as a homework area provided the space is well-lighted and free of distractions.
* Friends. Parents need to meet their children's friends and playmates. Know their names, where they live and, when possible, meet their parents.
* Reinforcing school learning. Even when specific homework assignments are not given, use designated study time for learning activities. For example, have children cut letters and words out of newspaper headlines to make messages for their friends; have children play number games like dominoes or bingo; play a survey game by estimating the lengths of household objects and then measuring them; ask children to read signs, posters and billboards that they see on family drives or walks.
* Parent-teacher conferences. Schedule visits with the children's teachers. Before the meeting, talk to the children about any concerns or problems they may have about school. Write down questions to ask the teachers during the visit.
At the meeting, find out about children's behavior as well as work habits in school. Ask to see samples of the children's work. Find out how to help the children at home. Ask questions about anything not readily understood.
After the meeting, talk to the children about the meeting. Encourage the children, tell them their strengths and point out areas in need of further work. Set specific goals for improvement, and present additional study activities not as punishment but as challenges.
* Supporting the schools. Join the school's Parent-Teacher Association or Home and School Association. Each school also has a Neighborhood School Council (NSC) that advises the principal on the use of school resources, staffing and curriculum. NSC members are elected annually.
For more information on these organizations and other ways to support the schools, contact the individual school principal.