Back to school: Let's start it off right

The initial attitudes pupils have toward school, their teachers and their subjects go a long way in determining a successful year. There are many things parents can do to start things right.

Back to school 370 (photo credit: Flash 90)
Back to school 370
(photo credit: Flash 90)
School has started for most Israeli pupils this week. Many of you have bought new clothes and a variety of school supplies, taking advantage of the multiple sales in many stores. Now is the best time to prepare your children for success, intellectually and emotionally. The initial attitudes pupils have toward school, their teachers and their subjects go a long way in determining a successful year. There are many things parents can do to start things right. Here are several of the best.
1. Teach your children to say to their friends, “Class is starting, let’s talk later,” or similar words. Then teach them to go to their desk or table. This simple procedure does more to win teachers over than most things this early in the year. It’s not enough to teach this procedure. You need to convince your children to actually do it when the pull of friends is stronger than anything the teacher has to offer.
2. Show your children how to sit with their backs straight up, to sit in front if that’s an option and to ask at least one question per hour by respectfully raising their hand. Research shows these simple procedures, especially with special needs children, can raise scores by at least 10 points.
3. Teach your children how to answer the question, “What did you do in school today?” with more than, “Nothing.” It is important for you to know what your child is learning. How it is going for them and especially if they are being bullied.
4. Talk to their teachers as soon as possible about any special learning needs your children may have; from needing to be close to the front to see, help in hearing, issues in the family that may affect learning, like a death in the family. Share whatever you are comfortable with that might affect your children’s behavior. Also mention any helpful teaching tips related to your children’s style. Some like group work; others hate it. Some are more visual; others more auditory, still others more tactile.
5. Play “How it helps” at dinner. You can use how it helps Israel, or how it helps your child. Each child and adult has to think of how math, English or any school subject helps Israel or the target of your choice. For example, science helps Israel become a world leader in cell phone technology.
6. Everyone at the dinner table, even guests, has to tell one thing they learned that day before eating.
These last two “games” are designed to create or amplify how important learning is to the family.
The more learning is important to you and other family members, the more important it will be to your children.
7. If your children regularly get homework, start the year with good homework habits. Set a place that can be set up for no or few interruptions. Have good lighting, no TV or food except a drink, and no visitors or phone calls allowed. Set up a regular time.
If days vary with activities, set a Monday time, a Tuesday time and so on. Check to see that homework is done each day. If you have a homework concern, now is the best time to contact your children’s teachers and resolve it.
8. Do not reward good grades with money, candy, games or anything. That only weakens the value of learning and equates grades with a commercial gain.
It leads to cheating, shortcuts and forgetting what was learned as soon as the reward is given. While this concept might sound inaccurate to some readers, it is research proven, experience proven and realworld proven.
9. Finally, appreciate effort more than results. All children can do their best and try hard in difficult subjects. Not all children can get high grades in everything. Grades are teacher controlled. Effort is student controlled. Show your children which of these two you value more and they will soon learn to do their best.
I wish every parent and child a great and successful year. I hope these ideas are a good way to get started.
The writer is the director of the behavior disorder masters program at David Yellin College and the coauthor of Discipline with Dignity