Most parents want to see their children do well in school—and in life. We know from research, and general observation, that one key to realizing the American dream is a good education.
A good education depends on more than what schools and teachers do—much more. It starts with what parents, families and perhaps others in a child’s life do to help prepare that child for school. It includes both having faith in the child as well as trust in that child’s teachers and school. Children are always learning, but what they are learning and how that learning is shaped can be critical for school success.
I have had the honor of serving as a School of Education dean at four universities, most recently at Baylor (2007-2015). A few years ago, I asked the Baylor education faculty what research-supported suggestions we might share with parents/grandparents to help them “promote positive school outcomes” for their children.
Based on that input, here are nine things (in no particular order except the first) that research tells us parents can and should do to help their children be prepared for success in school. While there is much that can be said about each of these, the kernel of each idea is presented here for consideration.
The single most powerful thing parents can do to help their children (especially ages 3 to 8) get a strong education is to have plenty of reading materials in the home. Books, magazines, newspapers … read all these kinds of things yourself regularly while your child is watching. Read to your child and discuss what you are reading with him/her. Reading to your child and showing your child that you read can have a tremendously positive effect on your child’s language and vocabulary development, reading achievement and school outcomes generally (grades and graduation). This kind of exposure to reading even seems to predict eventual college completion.
Children who participate in quality early (pre-school) education are more likely in later life to be consistently employed and are four times more likely to earn a college degree.
Playing with blocks at an early age promotes language and social-emotional development and has a positive impact on a child’s math learning. You can use blocks to practice basic kindergarten-entry math skills, like meaning for numbers (one, two, three, etc.) and order (first, second, etc.). Simple projects can pack in a lot of learning.
For example, build a tower with blocks of different colors, sizes and shapes and then have your child build a tower that looks just like yours. This helps little ones learn how to analyze things visually and notice differences and similarities. Learning these concepts and skills at an early age is a powerful predictor of later math learning in school. Blocks are a great way to help your child grasp crucial math concepts. The seeds you plant during hours spent on the floor playing with blocks take a while to grow. The benefits of this early learning sometimes become most noticeable in high school.
Parents of 3- to 6-year-olds who read about parenting are better able to cope with child-behavior problems and feel greater confidence and satisfaction with their
After-school and summer programs, clubs and enrichment activities that encourage reading and writing activities make a difference. Children who participate in these kinds of activities three to four times a week experience broad and positive impact on their reading (drawing conclusions, spelling, identifying main ideas) as well as on their writing and speaking skills. This is especially true for younger children who are behind academically.
Children participating in after-school/summer programs that focus on math, science or robotics demonstrate positive attitudes about math and science (especially during intermediate school and above) and have higher high school graduation rates. And out-of-school programs and experiences that involve similar content to what the child is learning in school make it more likely the student will participate in the classroom. This enhances the student’s achievement and outcomes.
Use lots of words. Very young children (ages 1 to 3) who get to talk regularly with adults who have good language skills and who use a wide variety of words have a profound advantage when it comes to success in school. This is especially important for their reading achievement. Vocabulary level when a child starts school is a powerful predictor of school success. The more words a child can use and understand in conversation when he or she starts school, the more likely they are to have success in school.
For children at all ages, involvement with family and community in learning activities of most any sort makes a difference in student success in school and beyond.
Spending at least 15 minutes per day outdoors examining their world (at least sometimes with a parent/adult caregiver) promotes children’s curiosity and creative thinking as well as positively impacts their science education.
Praising children for their schoolwork outcomes in ways that focus on effort, rather than on “in-born” traits has long-term positive impact on their future school success. For example, children perceive that their chances of being successful in school is out of their hands when they hear comments like, “You are so smart, you always make good grades!” or “You are just bad at math; that’s OK, I was bad at math, too.”
On the other hand, children understand that learning is in their hands and that they can usually master a difficult task if they continue to work hard when they receive praise like, “You really stuck with that, and you figured it out. Good for you!” or “You studied hard, and it paid off!”
Children who understand that learning takes work and that by working hard at something they can usually learn it are more likely to succeed in school in the long run.
Versions of this article appeared previously in the Waco Tribune-Herald and actlocallywaco.org.