We all want our children to be successful in school. Children need to know that they are loved, safe, and sacred to us. There are many ways to demonstrate this to them. Words are one thing, but action is key. One simple way I want to discuss is volunteering your time in your child’s classroom.
Children spend their days at school, and we at home or at work. When we let them go into the world, we have to be absolutely committed to remaining a presence in their lives even as we are physically apart.
When a parent makes the effort to come to school and volunteer, even for half and hour in the classroom, you are giving your child the gift of your presence, by way of your time spent in his or her world. I must also stress the importance of Dad’s going in and helping out as well. My son lights up like a Christmas tree when my husband or me comes in to help out. He says, “I feel so … special, Mama. Just like, I can see you are always caring about me.”
That’s the truth; kids see that you are there with them, aiding the teacher, acquainting yourself with the staff, the other children, and their lives, as they know it at school.
Many of us did not have present parents in any sense of the word. I come from an abusive family. I can vividly remember never having a parent come to school for anything. When I was in a school play in the second grade, I was so excited I could barely stand it. I was a doll, and my job was to sit on the stage for the whole play! I got to wear a special dress and special doll make up. When no one showed up, I felt such a deep sadness, and sense of invisibility. This is a mild example, but a poignant one nonetheless. I vowed years later that my children would never feel such feelings; stinging rejection and the humiliation of being stared at when your name is called and no parent stands up for you in the crowd. I know many of you have had similar experiences. If this is your legacy, it can stop with you.
A good compass for parenting with presence is getting as involved in your child’s classroom as much as you can. I understand parents work. As a stay at home mother, it has been a challenge for me at times to find childcare for my youngest so that I can get to school. I have seen parents who come in once every two weeks on a lunch shift. Children talk about it all week and are overjoyed when their mom or dad comes in. What a gift! One that we can give just by showing up. Isn’t that true for so much of life? Just show up. Showing up emotionally, not just physically. Here are some simple and easy tips for fostering presence in your child’s life:
Make friends with the teacher, every year. Whether you talk on the phone, by email, or in person. Just talk. It’s all about communication. Some teachers are better at this than others. If you have a teacher who is not so hot in this area, voice your concerns calmly. If you are blessed with a teacher who is on the ball, be sure you thank her or him often.
With my son, who is a second grader, I am co-room parent. I was sole room mother in kindergarten and chaperoned every field trip. This year I talk three or four days a week with my son’s teacher. If you wait until conference or progress report time, you may end up having a much bigger mess to clean up. Kids can fall behind in a flash. It’s all about being a maintainer, a sort of diligence cop. If your child is behind, it falls on you as much as your child, because it is our job as parents to set rules and boundaries and enforce them, they need us to be on their backs all the time. Resist as they might, that is to be expected and is even more reason to get in there and stay in the process with them. Some suggestions:
Join the PTA, try to go to meetings. Your PTA needs you. You need the PTA. It’s a win-win.
Go to as many school events as possible. We go to almost every one. This gives my son an extra dose of belonging in his school community.
Offer to bring in extra supplies for the class. Yes, they always need supplies. It could be Kleenex or disinfectant. Small or large, it will be appreciated.
Have an ongoing conversation with your child’s teacher about how your child is doing. Read the lesson plans if you can. Ask for handouts on exactly what they are learning. For example, for reading levels, most schools have certain levels your child needs to be at in order to be making adequate progress. Your library should have corresponding handouts with age appropriate books that aid in your child reading on the correct level. If they do not have this, ask them to provide them.
Stress the importance of education, in general. Education is the key to the future. My son knows it is fundamental right and also a responsibility he must take very seriously.
Let me preempt, you think you do not have the time? Prioritize. Make the time. Don’t talk about it, be about it. The laundry can wait. Start early, kindergarten, even preschool if your child is in one.
As a mother who makes an effort to be a present force in my child’s life at school, as well as home, I pop into class early. I help organize, along with the my co-room mother, Learning Experiences, Center Time, Book Fair, and the volunteer list. It’s sort of like being a detective. It’s a fun way to be in the know. I can see Dominic’s self-esteem and sense of self value rise each and every time I reach into his life at school by being there. Yes, sometimes I am simply stapling their journals together for the week. I sit and staple and watch and listen. Every few minutes Dominic will look up and smile at me. The other kids do too, and I feel so blessed to be a source of presence for them. Other times I am working with groups, and at times I am assigned to some one on one time with a particular child. I have made an effort to know each child in his class beyond their names. Dominic loves this. In this way, you get to be a sort of Earth Mother to all of your child’s friends. The hugs and hi-fives I receive from his classmates when I come in makes my day!
On the research side, in study after study, researchers discover how important it is for parents to be actively involved in their child’s education. Here are some of the findings of major research into parental involvement:
When parents are involved in their children’s education at home, they do better in school. And when parents are involved in school, children go farther in school—and the schools they go to are better.
The family makes critical contributions to student achievement from preschool through high school. A home environment that encourages learning is more important to student achievement than income, education level or cultural background.
Reading achievement is more dependent on learning activities in the home than is math or science. Reading aloud to children is the most important activity that parents can do to increase their child’s chance of reading success. Talking to children about books and stories read to them also supports reading achievement.
When children and parents talk regularly about school, children perform better academically.
Three kinds of parental involvement at home are consistently associated with higher student achievement: actively organizing and monitoring a child’s time, helping with homework and discussing school matters.
The earlier that parent involvement begins in a child’s educational process, the more powerful the effects.
Positive results of parental involvement include improved student achievement, reduced absenteeism, improved behavior, and restored confidence among parents in their children’s schooling.
Involvement in your child’s education can mean:
- Reading to your child
- Checking homework every night
- Discussing your children’s progress with teachers
- Voting in school board elections
- Helping your school to set challenging academic standards
- Limiting TV viewing on school nights
- Becoming an advocate for better education in your community and state
We are witness to our children’s lives. We need to band together as parents and be a strong, stable, encouraging presence in their school life. For me, it is really about being there in mind and body. This is parenting with presence.