Boost Your Child’s Learning

By Anna Conkey   Dec. 10, 2015

Story Highlights:

  • Instill a love for learning by being involved with your child’s education
  • Parents can enhance children’s learning outside the classroom by using online programs
  • Reading is one of the best ways to improve a child’s learning

SAN DIEGO—If you were to ask teachers for the best thing you could offer your child, their answer would be simple: your time.

“There is a noticeable difference in students whose parents interact with them, and those who don’t.”

—Lauren Valot, kindergarten teacher

Parents as Teachers

For parents with children in their primary learning age, from ages five to seven, teachers say that parental involvement in their children’s education is vital for their success.

The Labios
Photo by Anna Conkey. Llewlyn Labio asks her son Nico, 3, about his day after picking him up from preschool at the San Diego State University Children’s Center.

“It can be as simple as asking their child what they did at school, keeping up with what they’re doing, and attending [parent-teacher] meetings,” said Thrive Public School teacher, Jamie Pekras-Braun, who teaches first and second grade. “The biggest thing is reading. Practice reading at home: that involves parents reading to their kids, and listening to them read.”

For parents with children ages 10 to 18, it is better to help less with homework, but focus more on guiding the homework routine and reviewing homework after it is completed. Parents who practice this technique have children who score higher in standardized tests, according to a review by Anglia Ruskin University.

Sascha Longstreth, an assistant professor in child and family development at San Diego State University, said one major lesson she has taken away from her research and personal experience as a mother is that parents need to focus on teaching the process of learning to their children.

“A lot of kids today do not have the skills to problem solve, to be persistent, or to know how to approach difficult problems,” Longstreth said. “What I have found is the most important thing is to make time to sit with kids, and not necessarily instruct them on how to do it, but instead, talk to them about the process.”

Parents can guide their children by asking basic problem-solving questions, for example: what step should we take first, what is the hardest part about this or what information do we need to get. Longstreth said this kind of questioning teaches children how to think for themselves.

Another key is to build good relationships with teachers. Longstreth said this is important because it sends a message to the children that the people around them really support them, and that their education is important.

Make the Most of Family Time

After a long day of work or school, many parents may be tempted to throw a movie on to entertain their children, however, teachers encourage parents to make homework a priority.

“Parents can instill a love for learning in their children by being involved in their education,” Valot said.

One way teachers suggest parents do this is by knowing what their children are learning in school, and practicing those activities together at home. So put down the remote and pull out a chair. Or a laptop.

Valot said that while many schools follow either standardized or project-based teaching styles, much of the Common Core teaching is now done through online programs, which can be accessed from home.

One common program used by public schools in San Diego is Raz-kids.com, which Pekras-Braun said helps develop reading fluidity. Lexialearning.com is another site often used for Common Core studies. A free site for phonetics and math is starfall.com. 

The final thing teachers suggest is spending time working on projects that interest your child.

“Find out what your kid is interested in and get them access to that information,” Pekras-Braun said. “That is something I hope all families are doing.”

The Baltazars
Photo by Anna Conkey. Joseph Baltazar and his daughter Eleanore, 2, use a computer game designed for toddlers at their local library.

Stay Involved

Teachers often send out weekly newsletters, email updates and lesson plans to parents. Reading and staying up-to-date with what your child is learning can help you stay involved, and promote further parent-child interaction.

Another thing teachers ask is that parents attend school functions and parent-teacher conferences.

“There are students whose parents I have never met,” Pekras-Braun said. “I suspect that is why they are struggling.”

One parent, Kristyn Moses, said her son used to attend a school that mandated parent involvement, but he now attends Thrive Public School, where it is not required. Since switching, she said that she has noticed a major difference in her child.

“My son went to Montessori Elementary, which is also a charter school, but it makes parents come by the school to do sit-ins with the class,” Moses said. “From what I saw when my son attended there, and what I’ve seen here, you definitely see a difference when parents are involved. When I’m in there with him, he’s more excited, and does better because he knows I’m watching.”

Being involved in your child’s education helps in understanding their skills and abilities, which shapes your expectations and aspirations for them. That in turn encourages their aspirations, according to the Institute of Education University of London.

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A survey in November of 65 parents with children ages two through 12 showed that 18 of the parents spend the majority of their family time playing games with their children; only eight parents selected reading as a primary activity. Other primary activities parents selected were eating meals (14), watching TV (14), arts and crafts (10) or exercise (1). Click here to view full survey results.

Some of the parents who participated in the survey (left) marked zero minutes spent on educational activities because they had children not yet in school. However, reading to your child still counts—and you do not have to wait until your child enters school to begin.

Joseph Baltazar, who works from home, said he and his wife—who is also a full-time worker—spend a few hours each day reading with their daughter Eleanore, 2. They once read 1,000 books in a month as part of a book challenge given by their local library.

“We’ve read so many books now that she’s gotten to the point where she gets the books down from her little shelf and—although she can’t quite read yet—she knows the sequence of the books, because we’ve read it to her so often,” Balthazar said.

A study from the Institute of Education backs the idea that reading is one of the most beneficial things parents can do with their children, stating that “children who read for pleasure are likely to do significantly better at school than their peers.”

Teachers also stress that reading to children, and participating in what they are doing in school, is what forges a love for learning in their lives.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important parent involvement is,” Parkas-Braun said. “As someone who taught at a school where parent involvement was mandatory, I’ve seen students progress so much more when they were involved.”

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