Total Confusion: it’s a common feeling among parents who have children still in school and seek to know how to best help them succeed. How much help is too much? How much time with their teachers and the PTA is too much or not enough? How strict should I be? How much independence should they have? When do I cross the line into helicopter or tiger parenting? Are those bad things?
While there’s no panacea for these issues, the only things anyone can say definitively are that every child is different and that parents should be sensitive to this fact (for more discussion on this point in particular, you should check out our post on Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother).
However, while there are no clear answers to all of these questions, there are many things that all parents can do to support their children’s education both inside and outside of the classroom:
1. Lead by Example
If you want your kids to read more, then you should make a show of reading in front of them. If you want them to write more, make a show of writing in front of them (whether it’s letters to family members, blog posts, or full-blown fiction). If you want your kids to get out and exercise more, then you should make a show of getting out and being active yourself.
2. Read with Your Kids
Make reading dates with your kids where you and they go out to a coffee shop or public library to simply sit and read together. Plan a daily Reading Hour with your kids where everyone in the house sits down with something new and reads for a full hour (no radio or TV on in the background and no reading from laptops or iPads!). Read a wide variety of things in front of and directly to your kids whether it be books, blogs, or magazines. And be sure to engage your kids in conversations about what they’re reading right now in school and/or in their personal time. Then take things a step further by sharing with them points that you’re enjoying or learning in the reading you’re doing yourself.
3. Take an Interest in Your Kids’ Interests
This doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to be fascinated by robotics or Batman, but it does mean that you should be glad and excited to ask your kids about what they’re learning/studying/reading/doing lately. What was the best part of their day? What did they learn that was truly surprising that day? What didn’t surprise them? What would they like to learn more about?
4. Host Family Field Trips
Sometimes kids aren’t interested in things because they simply didn’t realize those things existed for their interest in the first place. So, planning a family field trip to museums (local and out-of-state), to historic sites (local and otherwise), to libraries, to your local county clerk’s office (sometimes those clerks have truly fascinating historical records and documents for kids of all ages to interact with), nature hikes, national parks, etc., can often be a terrific opportunity for kids to discover things they never knew they could be interested in.
5. Don’t Over-schedule
It’s always important to keep kids motivated and to maybe force them into trying the occasional new hobby or two (such as music or scouts) in order to help them push through initial obstacles, but it’s just as important to let them have some bored time as well. Bored time doesn’t mean TV time – this is a very important distinction. Bored time means time that’s totally unstructured and isolated from general technologies – time that kids can spend exploring the outdoors, playing with friends, reading for fun, or making up games and songs for themselves. Basically, it’s time for kids to entertain themselves by finding and creating activities of their own that interest them. This helps kids to develop their sense of creativity while also enabling them to discover those topics and activities that most interest and captivate them.
6. Learn New Things for Yourself
The best way to show kids the joys of lifelong learning, of education in and out of the classroom, is to demonstrate your own interest and desire in learning new things every day. So be sure to take care of yourself by investigating new places, hobbies, activities, languages, and ideas as often as you can. Then go out and share those discoveries with your family. Your kids won’t only benefit from your new knowledge, but from your own desire and enjoyment of the learning process.