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Tips from a Veteran Teacher: 8 Ways Parents Can Support Learning at Home

Meg Griswold, Middle School Humanities Teacher


Teachers, like me, know the power of home-learning support both instinctively and empirically. Research has consistently shown that parent involvement in a child's education is positively correlated to student performance. Whether this parent participation takes the form of engagement with the school, homework supervision, or expression of hope and aspirations for your child’s future, it can have a positive impact on student grades and achievement. 

Your child's education is a partnership composed of student, teacher, and parent. Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University has spent her career studying these partnerships. We represent the legs of a three-legged stool. If one breaks, the stool collapses. Therefore, we all need to be fully committed—able to bear the weight. Student success is built on this stable foundation.

Parents are eager and enthusiastic to support their learners at home, but often, they aren’t sure where to start. After 15 years of teaching in US and international public, charter, and private schools, in addition to ten years of parenting, I have found the following suggestions most effective. 

 

1. Make sure your child reads for at least 30 minutes each day. 

Study after study has shown that reading leads to greater academic and career success. All subject areas and fields require reading, and the stronger your child is as a reader, the easier their courses in school and college will be. 

Make reading for 30 minutes each day a part of your routine. Maybe your child reads before bed. Maybe your child reads right after they get home from school or on a long car ride (if they don’t get carsick). However it works best for your family, make reading time a sacrosanct part of each day. 

 

2. Let your child read whatever they want. 

During conferences or at Back-to-School Night, some concerned parents lean in to whisper to me that their child just wants to read—graphic novels! Sports magazines! Books about the zombie apocalypse! While those books may not be your cup of tea, allowing your child to read whatever they enjoy is key to helping your child become an engaged reader. 

According to John Guthrie, “Engaged readers are typically higher achievers than less engaged readers,” and an engaged reader will spend 500% more time reading. “The crisis of our schools today is that too many children are disengaged from literacy. Their disaffection and retreat leads to mediocre reading comprehension, which prevents them from gaining subject matter and world knowledge.” 

Books with lots of graphic elements were written to draw in reluctant readers. Graphic novels and books with images also help readers with learning disabilities. The end goal is an engaged reader who sees the value of reading and will, therefore, embrace challenges posed by books down the road. I promise that your child will move beyond Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Amulet—but only once those books have taught them the joy and payoff of a good story. 

Graded's Middle School Humanities Department makes developing engaged readers a priority, and our classrooms and school library are loaded with tons and tons of books to hook any kid. Cheer them on!

 

3. Read the books your child is reading. 

Yes, even those graphic novels and zombie beat-down novels! But especially the books they are reading for school. Some students struggle to see the value of these books. But when you read alongside them, you add merit and weight to that assignment. 

The biggest benefit of reading the books your child is assigned to read is the resulting conversation. Parents who have read the class novels consistently report to me that they feel more connected to their child because they have something to discuss with each other. And by talking to your child about the book, your child will develop a richer comprehension that they can bring back to class. Not only that, they can share with you their classroom discussions about the book. You will gain a window into their school day, and they will get a moment to demonstrate their learning.    


4. Ask your child to do their homework in the common spaces of your home. 

When I ask students to write an essay or do extended work on the computer, I turn all the desks so that I can see the computer screens from the center of the room. The internet is too vast, and it's designed to hook them like a gambler in Las Vegas. They may not mean to wander into other tabs during class, but suddenly they’ve spent ten minutes playing a game or scrolling through online shopping portals. 

Help keep them honest. Ask them to work in the living room or kitchen where you might also be working or preparing dinner. Your eyes on their screen will not only make them stop and think about their choices, but will allow them to ask you questions or show you some of their work. These are meaningful moments to connect. 

 

5. Set some time as screen-free time. That goes for you, too!

One big inhibiting factor to finding enough time to read is that many of us lose hours of our day scrolling through the internet. Students, themselves, will sometimes tell me that they forget to read, even if they enjoy reading. Their screens suck up tons of their time. 

Create rules about your child’s screen usage. After you set limits on screen time, they may complain they’re bored. Tell them you have a great solution: they could read. 

And if you really want them to listen to you, you have to walk the walk. Set some times as screen-free for the entire family, and that includes you. 


6. Share your own reading.

Even if it’s the Wall Street Journal or a book on popular psychology, read in front of your child and talk about what you are reading with them. Maybe you will even be moved to say, “Oh, you gotta hear this!” and share a favorite passage. 

Show them that books are part of a full and satisfying life. Don’t make them think reading is a chore or something to be done only when there’s an incentive. By seeing a successful adult reading, they will see the connection between reading and a desirable future. 

 

7. Take a long look at your child’s after-school schedule. 

After the pandemic, a lot of us rushed back into after-school activities with great relief and joy. While those activities are enriching and educational, they can, at times, become stressful and distract students from schoolwork. If your child is so busy after school that they struggle to complete reading or homework, there may be a problem. 

Maybe you just need to help your child with time management. For example, maybe they aren’t using the hour before basketball practice to get homework done. Set certain requirements for their participation in after-school activities: all homework must be completed on time, grades must be consistent, and teacher reports must be positive. Since school was invented, parents and teachers have used activities and sports as motivational tools to encourage students to succeed in their classes. Show them how you manage this as an adult: maybe you have to finish a brief before you can go play tennis with your friends.

However, keep an open mind to the possibility that your child may need to scale back their involvement after school. This is a common progression: as school gets harder and students begin to specialize more, some interests will fade. Your third-grader may have once loved playing every sport offered, but there comes a time when they will have to make a choice to focus on one or two of those sports so that they can reach higher levels of expertise. This is a normal part of growing up. 

 

8. Help them to sleep more. 

In my years of teaching, the one thing I hear most often from students is that they don't think they're sleeping enough. Parents will also come to me and say, “My child isn’t getting enough sleep.” 

It’s hard for all of us. But the evidence is pretty clear: your screens are keeping you awake. 

The following advice isn’t that revolutionary, it’s just hard to follow, since we’ve become completely accustomed to being plugged into a screen for many, many hours a day. 

Here it is: Don’t let your child take their laptop and phone into their bedroom. If you’ve established working areas in common spaces, then you can just have them leave their devices plugged in in those rooms.  

They may complain. They may tell you that there is no way they can fall asleep without their phone. But websites like YouTube or social media like Instagram are designed to grab their attention late into the night, and their sleep will suffer as a result. If, on the other hand, they are in a quiet room with no TV, phone, or computer, they will eventually fall asleep. Send them into their dim, quiet rooms with a book, and there’s a good chance they will get restful sleep.

My ultimate goal is student success. I want to work with you toward this goal, and I hope these ideas have been helpful. I look forward to watching your students grow through our joint partnership and efforts. 


Works Cited:

Epstein, Joyce L. "School/Family/Community Partnerships: Caring for the Children We Share." The Phi Delta Kappan, vol. 76, no. 9, 1995, pp. 701-12. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20405436. Accessed 15 Sep. 2022.

Fan, Xitao, and Michael Chen. "Parental involvement and students' academic achievement: A meta-analysis." Educational Psychology Review 13.1 (2001): 1-22.

Guthrie, John T. "Teaching for literacy engagement." Journal of Literacy Research 36.1 (2004): 1-30.

Loucks, Hazel. "Increasing parent/family involvement: Ten ideas that work." NASSP Bulletin 76.543 (1992): 19-23.

Ritchie, Stuart J., and Timothy C. Bates. "Enduring links from childhood mathematics and reading achievement to adult socioeconomic status." Psychological Science 24.7 (2013): 1301-1308.

Topor, David R., et al. "Parent involvement and student academic performance: A multiple mediational analysis." Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community 38.3 (2010): 183-197.

Whitten, Christy, Sandra Labby, and Sam L. Sullivan. "The impact of pleasure reading on academic success." Journal of Multidisciplinary Graduate Research 2.1 (2019).