Many parents do not get to spend a lot of time with their children at school. This is normal – we all lead busy lives! However, it can mean school feels a bit foreign to some parents; a place where kids have separate identities and learn about topics that might be different to the subjects we encountered in the classroom years ago.
But school and home life do not have to be divided and experts say they shouldn’t be. In fact, there are huge benefits to both children and parents when the two mesh together successfully. Many things taught at school can help parents at home immensely, and in turn, there are plenty of practical things parents can do to help their children learn more effectively.
Madonna Lawrence, a teacher at St Joseph’s School in Atherton, says there are plenty of ways for parents to make learning fun at home. “Ask questions, answer children’s many questions, discuss things, be honest, ask how they feel, play, look things up, get the extended family involved,” she said. “Read books together, ask your child to teach you something they’ve learned or use online learning platforms that the school offers to practice skills at home.”
“There are so many ways to enhance learning to ensure it is fun and positive, and to show children that education is valuable and important.”
“Now more than ever, schools are investing in the emotional and social wellbeing of students.”
“Talking through emotions at home can help children develop vital life skills and values such as kindness, respect, tolerance, confidence, persistence and resilience”, Madonna said.
“Children need to learn that their emotional range is not limited to simple words such as sad, bad, or mad, but is better explained by more definitive words such as shy, embarrassed, disappointed, unwell, impolite, hurt, disgusted, excited or overwhelmed,” she said. “It’s surprising how quickly a child’s vocabulary will expand if it is modelled to them, and if they’re given the chance to use these words. Building the social emotional stamina of our children is essential and critical in this crazy, busy modern world.”
Following a simple framework modelled on classroom guidelines may also help to keep conversations and behaviour on track at home.
Andrea O’Grady, Head of Religion at St Mary’s Catholic College in Woree, said the “P rules” she uses – “Punctual, Prepared, Polite, Participating” – can be easily reinforced by parents.
And the “sieve questions” (Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?) may also be helpful for families when discussing others or posting on social media.
So, what are some other practical steps parents can take to blend school and home life successfully?
Andrea says families need to figure out their own unique “rhythm”. “It is important to set aside regular time for homework each night, but equally important to get outside and play with the dog, kick the football, or hang out with friends face-to-face,” she said.
“We increasingly see sleep-deprived students or students showing behaviours associated with addiction to technology. These students are unable to focus during class time. Phones and laptops need to be charged overnight in “public spaces” of the house like the dining room, entry hall or lounge and not in children’s rooms.
Another idea is to use the car travel time to debrief the day – practice spelling lists, chant times tables, chat about friendships and what happened at lunch.
In our house, home study is completed at the dining room table, that way I can help if necessary, keep an eye on what is on the computer, and my kids feel they are being held accountable, all while cooking dinner or folding the washing.”
Andrea says “There is no “right” time to do home study, other than regularly. Work out what works for you. I run early in the morning, so I wake my teenage son to do some homework before school each day from 5.30 – 7.00am. Every family has a rhythm, work out what yours is and use it.”
“Consistency and routine are key”, Madonna said, “because they help children to understand boundaries.”
Visual timetables on fridges, reward charts for helping out at home, and having responsibility for jobs or tasks to help the family out is a great way to give children purpose and encourage children to be involved and responsible,” she said.
“Schools and classrooms will have rules, tasks, expectations and boundaries and if children are used to having consistent routines and expectations at home this helps them understand the value of these things at school.”
“Another skill essential to a healthy life is the ability to take time out, to relax, to meditate, or to appreciate the world around us.”
Renee Grima, a Year 2 teacher and Leader of Learning and Teaching at St Gerard Majella Primary School in Woree, agrees routine and structure at home help to support students at school. “For upper primary students who are close to transitioning to high school, have a visual timetable based on when they do homework and set aside a particular time or amount of time to get them into the habit,” she said.
Renee also believes parents should contribute to reading at home. “Sound out the words, interpret what is happening in the story through the images and talk about what is happening in the story while reading and after reading,” she said. “Talk to students about everyday events and improve their general knowledge.”
Schools, teachers and parents all want children to succeed.
“If parents and school staff can establish positive partnerships, everybody is working towards a common goal”, Madonna says. “That goal is to help children learn and grow, to be happy people who are resilient, and who have the skills and values they need to help them achieve happiness, fulfilment and success in their lives,” she said.
Renee says good communication between parents, children and teachers ensures everyone is on the same page. “Encourage children to seek support if needed and that this doesn’t mean failure,” she said. “School is all about learning and not about being able to do everything.”
Tips and Ideas
- Libraries are full of books and resources
- Find online programs and apps that align with curriculum, such as Reading Eggs, Mathseeds, Spelling City and Study Ladder
- Take time out to relax and meditate
- Use car travel time to debrief about the day
- Implement visual timetables and reward charts at home
- Try a diary that includes wellbeing and organisational sections, such as a timetable and positive mental health tips
- Talk to kids about everyday events and improve their general knowledge
Story by Caitlin Francis, Catholic Education Cairns