Resources for parents and teachers about parental involvement in schools
Getting your kids to talk about school
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, authors of "The 10 Commitments: Parenting with Purpose," offer these tips for getting your children to fill you in on their school day:
- Don't play 20 questions. Ask a few questions each day and rotate them.
- Ask questions that require more than a one-word response, such as "Tell me about the most interesting thing that happened to you today" or "What surprised you about school today?"
- Use the "Say some more" technique to encourage your child to expand on a brief answer.
- Don't seem desperate. It encourages the child to cling on to whatever it is she has that seems so valuable to you.
- Use your parenting network to glean school information. Rely on the other parents in your child's classroom to provide information - and share what you have learned, too.
- Encourage your child to invite friends over; your child will talk more freely in the presence of peers. Be still and listen.
- Don't ask questions to which you already know the answer. Instead, tell him what you know and ask for further clarification from his point of view.
- If your child starts talking about school, stop talking and listen intently and non-judgmentally.
- Don't expect your child to tell you everything that goes on at school. Be active and involved. Find out what is going on by being present.
- Create family times where conversation predominates.
Rob and Jamie Hulse have a system.
Every day when their sons get home from school, the couple sit down with the boys and go through their backpacks.
"We ask open-ended questions about the things they brought home," Jamie Hulse says. "It's relaxed and low-key. If they have homework, we discuss how much time is needed and help them plan the rest of the day to get it done around what our family has going on, if anything."
The ritual is just one of many ways the Hulses stay engaged in their children's education - a move, research shows, that helps students perform better academically, graduate from high school and go on to college more often, and have a positive attitude about the whole experience.
In Lawrence - where public school classes start this week - there's no citywide initiative for parental involvement, says Julie Boyle, communications director for the district. But principals encourage it.
At Sunflower School, where the Hulse boys - Trey, 6, and Nate, 10 - will be first- and fifth-graders, respectively, teachers send home a folder each week with papers for parents to sign, as well as a newsletter and updates from teachers, the PTO and other staff members. Some instructors also send home daily folders marked with "Things to keep at home" and "Things to return to school," Jamie Hulse says.
She believes it's important to get to know your child's teachers so that, if a problem arises, you've already established the connections required to help solve it.
Sending a message
That means showing your face once in a while at school, says Bob Gent, especially at the elementary level. Gent is father of seventh-grader Ian and 10th-grader Helen, both of whom attended Cordley School and will be entering Central Junior High and Lawrence High this year.
"Don't drop your kid off and drive away," Gent says. "Walk your kid into the school and walk in the hallway and say hi to the people you see. It really makes a difference if you can walk in and say hi to the teacher and tell them what you can do to help in the classroom."
Gent used to read to third-graders at Cordley two afternoons a week.
"I liked it because it let me get to know a lot of the kids that my kids went to school with," he says. "And you keep your finger on the pulse. That way the teacher knows you're really accessible."
Of course, making regular appearances at school can be difficult for working parents with traditional schedules. Those limitations might require other approaches, such as developing an e-mail relationship with a teacher, volunteering to help with evening activities or donating treats for testing days.
It also becomes all that more important to attend parent-teacher conferences, says Chuck Smith, a child development specialist with K-State Research and Extension, who notes such visits can become more taxing as a student advances to middle and high school and has several instructors.
Making an effort to see one or more of your children's teachers sends them a positive message, he says. He recommends talking to your children about their teachers and asking them which teachers they would most like you to speak with.
Some parents might worry that they're getting TOO involved and, occasionally, that may be true.
"There's a term in education these days called helicopter parents," says Trish Bransky, principal at Southwest Junior High School. "When parents are extremely involved, we try to help them understand that their child needs to gain independence and learn to make decisions.
"As parents, as much as we would like to clear the path and make sure absolutely everything goes well for our child every minute, it's not feasible and it's not (always) developmentally appropriate."
She notes, however, that each child has different needs, and some require more guidance than others.
Although students tend to share less with their parents as they enter adolescence, it's still a good idea to keep the lines of communication open, Bransky says.
"Kids should know that parents are supportive and that if they run into problems, they have somebody they can count on to help them out," she says.
Short of doing their homework or telling their teacher how to teach, Jamie Hulse isn't sure it's possible to get overinvolved.
"Success in education is the best way to ensure a child's success in the world after school," she says. "We're here to support them to be their best."