Steps

By Nola Enge  

Parents outside Arizona may just now be buying back-to-school crayons and calculators, but Arcadia’s children have a month of school under their belts already. While it may be tempting to curtail your parental involvement in September, don’t bow out yet. Now is the perfect time to roll up your sleeves and support your child’s school success.  

In September, your participation can support the big projects teachers dreamed of over summer. If you’ve ever built a paper mâché whale with 25 kindergartners, planned a choir trip, or raised funds for high school teams, you know the value of extra hands. 

There are also plenty of things you can do from home. Here are some ideas for September participation to support your child’s school success: 

 

Preschool

Preschools always welcome involvement. You might read to the class or install a sandbox pulley system. Outside of preschool, as you select (or minimize) items in your home, keep in mind younger preschoolers are in the “sensorimotor” stage, meaning they gain knowledge through all of their senses.  

Older preschoolers through age six or seven are in the “preoperational” stage, meaning they learn best through concrete situations (abstract concepts are still difficult). 

All ages benefit from parents creating a literate home. To do this, have lots of writing materials accessible to little hands; put books in reachable bins. Sing songs while you’re out and about. Point out environmental print everywhere (cereal boxes, billboards, signage).  

Creating a literate home involves lots of talking. Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child offers suggestions on the brain-building “Serve and Return” technique used by many early childhood professionals

(developingchild.harvard.edu). 

Finally, playdates are one of the best ways for preschoolers to practice friendship-making skills and an opportunity for friendships to form between preschool parents. 

Elementary School

Your involvement contributes to good habits. Talk every day about what is happening at school. Help kids be responsible and finish tasks (make it fun, learning shouldn’t be tedious). Don’t let them hear you speak negatively about a teacher but do connect with teachers when you have concerns. Read with your child every night before bed. Support friendships with gatherings outside of school. Involvement in decision-making bodies at the school will help you feel like part of the “village” and may help align your home philosophically with the school.  

Middle School

Homework and projects take on a grander scale during middle school. Keeping supplies and tools on hand will avoid the stress of a forgotten diorama due in the morning. Discussing the “why” of schoolwork will instill that learning isn’t just a series of hoops to jump through, or solely for a grade, but pleasurable with its own merit. Interests shift. 

Your elementary school reader may appear to lose interest as a pre-teen. Knowing their current interests will help you choose reading materials that will keep their faces in a book as their interests mature.  

High School

There continues to be myriad needs at this level: The PTO, sports booster clubs, parent committees for band and dance, assistance in the office and at lunch or help with the many clubs. Think about skills you have. Perhaps you could help students prepare for the SAT, ACT, or with college applications. If you’ve employed or mentored teens, offer to write recommendation letters when they are seniors. Offer a shadow opportunity for high schoolers based on your profession.  

College

Parents of a departing college student will tell you they are very much still needed, albeit in new ways. Fostering independence while staying connected may now be your focus. You probably just schlepped giant Ikea duffle bags to fifth-floor dorm rooms but the actual heavy lifting was done these past 18 years. 

Congratulations. You’ve got this step, too!  

— Nola Enge, PhD, is the director at The Hills School at Shepherd of the Hills,

5524 E. Lafayette Blvd.; thehillsschool.org.