Five Ways to Get Involved in Your Child’s Education

By Ian Gross | Parents Avenue’s Columnist 
Ian Gross is the Principal at Kinabalu International School, Sabah, Malaysia and is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education through Bath University, UK.
As a child gets older, parents find themselves less and less involved in their lives. The first few years and your child is dependent on you for everything, as they get older their school becomes another focus for them and they develop friendships outside of the family. As they get older still and become teenagers they deliberately want to move in different circles. Then, as young adults, they move away, university, work, relationships, their own life.
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School is such an important part of their young lives and at times it can feel as though you have no idea of what they’re doing or how they’re doing. When they are younger, they want to show and tell you everything and when they’re older it can feel like they are shutting you out. It’s important that you understand what they are going through and being in a position where you can support and guide them. Many schools have changed since we were in school. They recognise the important partnership between school and home. A 360 degree approach is needed where parents and school work together for the overall benefit of the children. School should not be seen as a place where you drop your children off in the morning and pick them up again eight hours or so later. Educating a child does not just happen but needs involvement. At the same time children need to be nurtured, not smothered.

 

Quite often schools (and children) experience one of two extremes, the first is an absence of parental involvement, parents are busy, very busy, so a maid / driver brings children to school. School contact like emails and phone calls remain un-answered. Parent’s evenings and events go by with no attendance. The opposite extreme also exists with parents constantly following their children at school, bringing them extras everyday just so they can see them and see what they are up to, a term now called ‘helicopter parents’, initially observed in the US.

 

There needs to be a balance, children need to be given room to grow and develop as individuals and they also need to know that parents are there to support and help them when they really need it. Parents need to be involved in their child’s education, they need to understand what the education is and how they can help their children. All too often many parents assume or expect their child’s education to be the same as theirs and they try and relate their experiences to that of their child.

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There are many ways to support your children whilst at school and it would be a very long and dull article to list all of these. I aim to focus on what I believe are the five main areas to support and better understand your child’s educational journey whilst at school. It’s difficult also to generalise as different support is needed throughout different parts of the journey, whether your child is just starting school, moving into secondary education or sitting exams. 
 
The purpose of this article is to support you in supporting your child’s learning. Your involvement can have such a huge impact, negative or positive, and that is up to you.
 
#1 Understand the Curriculum and Where it is Headed

 

Whatever the type of school your child is in, they will have a curriculum, this is the content of what they will be learning and the style it is taught and how it is assessed. It may be a state curriculum, set by the government with National examinations at set points. It may be American based, leading to a high school diploma and Advanced Placement tests (AP) or UK based with IGCSE and A levels, it may be an international curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate (IB, PYP, MYP) or it may be the International Primary Curriculum (IPC). It could even be a combination of all the above.

 

Regardless, do your research, learn the language of the school so you can understand what teachers (and your children) are talking about. Schools use lots of acronyms and you need to understand them to know what is being said. When choosing a school for your child think about where you want them to be when they finish i.e. university or work. For university, local or overseas. Which curriculum would be best placed to get your child where they are going? Most good schools explain their curriculum through their websites and explain them during open evenings.

#2 Know Who’s Who in the School and Who to Talk to

 

All schools have a hierarchy of staff to cover a wide variety of aspects in the school. Smaller schools may well have staff that have multiple roles. It’s important you know who is who. Surprisingly, the Principal is probably the person you would need to see the least. For younger children, the class teacher is usually the person you would be in contact on a regular basis, a good relationship with them makes your communication with school so much simpler. As children get older and are in their secondary education, the form tutor (or homeroom teacher) is a good reference point to help get information as your child will probably see them every day. Know who the subject teachers are as they can help with simple subject issues.

 

Does the school have a counsellor? They are there to support your children with any issues they may be facing, they should be non-judgemental and should listen to your child and support them with dealing with any day to day or longer-term stresses. Who in the school supports children with moving on to higher education? Guidance counsellors will support the difficult choices and move on to university. From time to time issues are not resolved straight away, so who in the school is the next in line to help? It may be Heads of Department; it may be Assistant Headteachers. Check the parent handbook, this will guide you to who the best person to contact is at the different stages of an issue if unresolved. Be sure to have contacts saved in your phone so you know who to call, or who is calling you. Don’t forget the school nurse but hopefully you won’t need to speak with them too often, if at all.

#3 Understand the School’s Expectations

 

Most good schools will produce parent handbooks and have published policies available in school or through the school website. These policies explain the school’s expectations or how it will deal with different events. They may be curriculum, health or behaviour related. They may explain how the school operates and what expectations it has of students, parents and visitors etc. The policies are a great source of information and whilst there may be many they will help you when dealing with the school and understanding what your children are experiencing.

 

Have you ever had a problem with your child’s school and when you contact them, they say it’s because of our policy on such and such? It can be frustrating to hear at times, especially when you realise the policy is freely available and you just didn’t know it existed. It may seem daunting, particularly as good schools have numerous policies, but you should find the time to read school policies and keep up to date with changes when the school publishes them.

#4 Understand the Homework, But Don’t Do It

 

Parents want their children to do well and get good grades, naturally. When your child is working on schoolwork at home, see what it is and then let them do it by themselves, or have them explain it to you. Seeing what the work is helps you understand what they are learning and how they are doing. Doing the homework for them does not help, they will not learn anything other than they don’t have to work. If your child is always struggling with work at home, inform their teacher, this is a learning opportunity and the school needs to know what your child doesn’t understand so they can help them. If you do the work for your child and they get a good grade, how does your child learn? I always remember an irate parent coming to see me to complain about a teacher, “that teacher is terrible, they gave my son a C grade for the homework, it’s worth more than that, I know because I spent all night doing it”.

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#5 Get Involved

 

Schools are a great community in their own right and they often have events at school or outside. Assemblies, Prize Ceremonies, Sporting Events, Music Recitals, Art Shows etc. and that’s not including Parent Evenings or Teacher Consultations. Make the time to go, show your child they are supported, it will give you more opportunities to discuss their learning and school experiences with them and give you a better understanding. It will allow you to get to know the school and its staff on a different level and you’ll be surprised how easy communication becomes through these events. If the school has a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) why not lend a supportive hand. It doesn’t mean you have to talk about your child all the time, its simply getting to know those people who know your child.

 

There are other ways to be a part of your child’s journey and many opportunities will arise through understanding the five above or from your child themselves, at the right time. Listen to them and hear their needs. A good (or bad) education will be with your child forever and will impact how they are with their own children when the time comes. There are no shortcuts, and if approached properly can be an enjoyable rewarding experience for everyone.

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