A question I am asked regularly from parents is: “What can I do at home to support my child’s learning”? At that moment I may suggest child-specific tasks such as reviewing math facts or checking out a specific educational app for your tablet. But here are some better suggestions that might just make the very difficult job of parenting a bit more effective and peaceful for your family:
1. Engage your child
Yes, the amount of time you are able to spend with your clan is an important factor and “quality time” is crucial as well. But the key here is building activities where you are engaged together. Going to the movies or watching TV is fine, but following up with a discussion about what you just watched is much more effective and builds a strong relationship between you and your child. Even better, get outside and go hiking or skiing. Be active and not passive. Lean toward activities that allow you to talk and listen to your child.
2. Get away
Find at least a week a year to travel somewhere where your children can learn about new lands and ideas and encounter diverse people. When I was first married and a young teacher, my wife and I camped all over the country. There are ways of traveling that are not expensive. Research is clear that successful students are those that build a larger vocabulary over time. You have to have experiences to build vocabulary.
3. Utilize the dinner table
Speaking of vocabulary, Harvard Professor Catherine Snow states that rare or more sophisticated words provide the foundation of strong vocabulary development in children. Psychologist Anne Fishel says that this type of vocabulary shows up more at the dinner table than anywhere else. In fact, Fishel just published the book Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids.
4. Respect your child
As adults we have to manage our own stress. Perhaps the most important piece of advice I have for parents is: Don’t ever yell at your children. Sure, hold your kids accountable, don’t try to be their best friend, and set strict guidelines on their behavior, but don’t yell. It doesn’t work. It wears you and the family out, and it damages the trust you have with your child.
5. Read with your child and model literacy routinely
Model your own learning with your children by creating a literature rich home environment. You’ve heard this before. Read with your kids and talk about what you’re reading about. As the kids get older, have a family book club so you can share your experiences and challenge their thinking. If you’re a student yourself, share your own learning with them. Given the nature of our transforming economy, we should never cease learning in any career that we choose to pursue.
Parenting is really hard. When I first became Principal at HMS (and it feels like yesterday) I had three elementary aged children. Now my kids are all in their 20s. The journey is fast but it will go much smoother if you engage, respect, and listen.