Thirteen ways you can help your children succeed in school and life.
- Read to them from birth, read with them, have them read to you. Read for pleasure yourself. Show them that reading is fun, get a library card for yourself and for them. Without this, no amount of literacy lessons will really help, with it none will really be necessary – but the ones they have will be much more effective. Doesnâ€™t matter what they read, as long as they read lots.
- Dramatically limit TV viewing for yourself and them. In our family we did it the simple way, by not having a TV at all. Iâ€™m not saying thereâ€™s anything wrong with TV in itself, just that itâ€™s a time sink that will tend to mean you donâ€™t do any of the other things on this list, or if you do theyâ€™re cut short. Time is key, and the TV is a black hole for time.
- Eat dinner together at the dinner table and ask them about their day. And donâ€™t accept â€œnuthinâ€™â€ for an answer. Ask questions, be interested, listen, engage with the ideas theyâ€™re learning and talking about. Discuss events and ideas with them. Talk about values and beliefs – and also make bad puns and dumb jokes. Have fun with language and ideas.
- My wife Sue was a member of Toastmasters when our daughters were small, and had to do impromptu one minute speeches. We made it a game with the kids on long car trips, and they learned to marshal their thoughts and present them clearly and concisely, without saying â€˜umâ€™ or â€˜erâ€™ (or â€˜likeâ€™).
- Thereâ€™s simply no substitute for time with them. Maybe one or both parents can work less and spend more time at home? No matter how good the afterschool care centre, their parents are better. Not meant to make anyone feel guilty about what they choose – but itâ€™s just plain fun to hang out with them, why deprive yourself?
- On the same topic, if your job is demanding 60 hours a week, either push back or find a new job. Theyâ€™re only young once and they grow up real fast – do you want to miss it? Thereâ€™s good research to show that more hours at work are not actually productive anyway, but some workplaces and some industries have very dysfunctional cultures. Your kids are worth getting proactive forâ€¦ and itâ€™ll enhance your own life (and make you live longer) too.
- Help them with their homework. Have a time after dinner when you all sit down at the dining table or in some other regular place. You can read or work or play Sudoku, but be there with them and help them with their homework. If you donâ€™t understand it, show them that itâ€™s possible to go to books and the Internet and find things out. Show them that knowledge is a resource available to everyone these days, and help instil the confidence that if they donâ€™t know something they can find out. And youâ€™ll definitely learn some interesting stuff yourself in the process of helping with their homework. Youâ€™ll also have a better understanding of where theyâ€™re up to and any particular learning strengths and weaknesses.
- Teach them their times tables and how to add and subtract. Donâ€™t be scared to chant tables in the car in long trips, create flashcards, test them, drill them. For a variety of reasons itâ€™s no longer fashionable for schools to do this, yet itâ€™s one of the foundations of really useful and comfortable numeracy. In the same way that showing them that reading is important and enjoyable works to enhance their own literacy, modelling the fact that you can quickly estimate the number of eggs needed if you double the cake recipe and talking through the multiplication out loud can make them comfortable with numbers. And if you are not comfortable with numbers yourself, *donâ€™t* tell them so, and *do* take steps to become soâ€¦
- Send them to a school in a suburb you canâ€™t afford to live in. Itâ€™s unfair and something we should work toward fixing for everyoneâ€™s kids, but itâ€™s irrefutable that there is a massive correlation between wealth and academic achievement. So for my own kids Iâ€™m going to take advantage of that. Weâ€™ve always sent the kids to good public schools in posher suburbs than the ones we were living in. Wealthier kids whose parents are professionals are going to take it for granted that they will be professionals too, and approach their school work with that assumption, and that wonâ€™t necessarily be the case in suburbs where many parents are on welfare or working in laboring or service jobs. Schools in wealthier suburbs are also often better maintained and supported by more active P&C committees and so on.
- Do your research. Get into the whisper-stream of parents and find out which schools have good reputations *and for what*. Match that to your own goals and values.
- Get to know their teacher(s). Donâ€™t make a pest of yourself, but being interested and involved, offering to volunteer, asking the teacher about your childâ€™s school life in general, not just his/her grades, attending parent-teacher evenings and so on is all important in building the relationships that support your childâ€™s learning. And if you have been helping with homework you will be able to give the teacher useful information about your childâ€™s particular needs.
- Dream big for them, but non-specific. Lots and lots of heartbreak for both parents and kids when the parents set their hearts on their kid becoming a doctor or lawyer and the kid either doesnâ€™t have the academic ability or just isnâ€™t interested in that particular life. Letting them know that youâ€™ll support them and love them no matter what they do, but that you think theyâ€™re capable of amazing things, is far more productive for all concerned.
- Be amazed by and interested in the world around you. Itâ€™s not necessary to know a lot of science, though knowing some can help make things even more interesting. But take them to museums and science centres and art galleries. If you do have TV, get Discovery, if not get the DVDs â€“ but more important than that, get them out in nature, walking around and looking and observing. Listen to science shows on the radio and discuss the issues with your kids. Itâ€™ll be their world real soon, and better they should know it and love it than ignore it or fear it.
Of course, all of these things work much better if you do them from birth, but no matter how old your kids are now, changing your patterns so that you do some or all of these things will absolutely, positively help them succeed at school and in life.