There is no end to the research and statistics that tell us that if we are involved with our children, they will have increased success at school and in life.

The Michigan Department of Education cites much of what research says about parent involvement in children’s education. The Parent Teacher Association notes decades of research show it results in higher grades, test scores and graduation rates. Other referenced studies indicate family participation in education is twice as predictive of students’ academic success as socioeconomic status

The real questions for each of us are not whether we should be involved, but how and, with limited time, what matters most.

As a working mom who who feels educational success is really important to my kids, I’ve tried over two decades to find ways to make a positive impact on each of our four kids’ lives. I’ve discovered there’s no single recipe, but there are consistent ingredients:

Communication

There is no rule for exactly what to do in order to make your child more successful in school. But the ingredients in the recipe are pretty clear.

There is no substitute or shortcut for this. Time matters and conversation matters, whether long or short. Ask open ended questions and then listen. Listen hard. Discuss things that matter as well as things that are just fun. Don’t lecture. Be respectful of their opinions whether your child is 6 or 16. The better you are at that, the more you’ll hear.

Talk in the car, over dinner, or while you wait for the bathroom.  If we want our kids to talk with us when they are adults, we must get them in the habit while they are young. If they communicate with us, their skill at communicating with other adults (read: teachers and bosses) will improve and they will be better at seeking assistance and asking questions.

Family Activities and Interests

Whether it’s sports, movies, music, hiking, or just playing board games together, being part of a “permanent team” that will always care about them and be invested and interested in them matters. Doing things together fosters a sense of trust and shows them that even adults can learn, laugh, fail, succeed and are, shockingly, human…just like they are. Whether you take karate together or scream with them at your favorite sports team on TV, every second builds relationships that foster lifelong security. We know that secure kids succeed at a higher rate.

Read for Pleasure and Learning

There is much to be said for being a role model of the things we value. A friend once asked if I could help her boys become better readers in school. She couldn’t understand why they didn’t want or like to read. A quick glance around her home followed by one single question gave me an idea what to suggest. There was no reading matter of any kind visible in their living space except the school books near her boys’ desks and when I asked if the kids ever saw her or her husband reading, she told me that they rarely did, since neither of them enjoyed books.

Having a print-rich environment is imperative. Make sure all kinds of books are available everywhere in your home. Anytime you can read in front of your children is important. Whether it’s a blog, newspaper, book, magazine, email, cookbook or pamphlet, let your kids see you doing it. Let them witness you learning things through the written word. Doing this daily matters. Don’t hesitate to read aloud to them as well, both before they can read and after. Hearing someone else read aloud can vastly impact their ability to read fluently, both orally and silently.

Be a role model. Great readers are more successful academically and socially.

Step Outside the Box

No parent I have ever met has said that they would like their child to be just like everyone else.  Encouraging our children to be themselves and to try new things gives them an inclination to try new things and to be creative. Creative problem solvers succeed in school and life at a  higher rate.

Teach your child that it’s OK to not do what everyone else does. If everyone else signs up for soccer, but your child seems interested in archery, let them try it. If the world is taking piano, but your child says more than once that they’d love to learn the bagpipes, find a bagpipe teacher! As a family seek out and encourage unique activities and interests. Remember to express your own interests and to be interested in what the kids are doing. Expressing your support for their exploration of new things matters.

Join the Team

Your child’s school would love to have you involved, whether as part of the PTO/PTA, or a classroom volunteer.  Find a way to plug in and share your gifts and skills. If time is of the essence (as it is for most of us!), make time each week to reach out via email or phone call with your student’s teachers. Keep things positive. Ask questions and express your interest in what’s being taught and how your student is doing.

Letting both your child and the school know that you are invested in education and in making school into a positive experience will impact your student’s success and confidence. You don’t need to be there daily or even weekly, but being present and positively involved at reasonable intervals shows your child that their education and success matters to you.

There is no rule for exactly what to do in order to make your child more successful in school. But the ingredients in the recipe are pretty clear. More than money, travel, expensive electronics, or even outside influences, your time, modeling, ears and support are what matters most. YOU matter and you make the real difference.

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