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Parents play an important role in their child’s education. Parents are their child’s first teacher; they can’t retire from this job when the child enters school. It’s simplistic and unwise to think that the teacher can do it all.

All parents must TAKE AN INTEREST in their child’s schooling, know what material the child is covering in school, and be in communication with the child’s teacher.

Parents set the stage for learning long before the child goes to school. Hopefully before kindergarten a child has already learned ABOUT READING–not how to read but the fact that books bring joy and knowledge. Caring parents not only read to the child frequently but make sure the child sees them reading. Reading and learning then become strong family values as well as fun.

Parents should have HIGH EXPECTATIONS about their child’s success at school. The child should know that doing well at school is important and that school is the top priority in the child’s life.

Parents should let their children SEE HOW THEY DO TASKS THAT REQUIRE ORGANIZATION like paying bills. Let the child help by placing the stamps so the child will be part of the process, but what’s important is that the child sees how a necessary task is approached and carried out.

What role should parents play when it comes to homework? There is no question that parents should not do the child’s homework nor assume responsibility for getting it done. On the other hand I don’t feel “sink or swim” is the way to go.

My philosophy of parental involvement consists of three principles.

1) PARENTS MUST PROVIDE THE HOMEWORK ENVIRONMENT. Children don’t have the wherewithal to buy a desk or a dictionary. That’s your job.

Every child needs a quiet place to work with no other people or distractions around. Ideally this is the child’s own room. If the room is shared with a younger sibling, parents need to find a creative solution which will give the school child the proper environment for work without interruption.

Every child needs the necessary equipment for homework just as you need necessities at your desk at work. To start, the child needs a desk or table with good lighting, an age-appropriate dictionary, paper, pencils, etc. Later parents may need to add a calculator or even a computer. Although you should always take the child with you when you shop for school supplies it’s your job to see that the child is set before the first day of homework.

2) The child OWNS THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR HOMEWORK. This must be clear to everyone. It is the child’s responsibility to bring homework home, remember to do it, take the work seriously, and remember to take it back to school.

3.) Parents should be available to help IF THE CHILD IS STUCK. And, of course, parents should give the right kind of help.

A child who is stuck can do several things: Figure it out. Look it up somewhere. Stare at the paper for hours. Give up. Ask for help.

A child in the early grades is limited in his or her ability to figure it out or look it up. If your child asks for help (and I would encourage your child to ask, certainly up to grade four) give it.

Help the child recall what he or she has learned. “What did the teacher tell you to do?” Show the child how to look something up in the dictionary or encyclopedia, or find a sample problem in the math book. Give the child an easier example to boost confidence levels. Show the child how to break down the task into do-able parts. Check the child’s answers if there is doubt.

Encourage the “stuck” child to take a break for a few minutes. Be sure no child spends too much time on homework. If the child seems to be doing so, find out whether this is a “staring-at-the-paper” phenomenon or real homework overload. Overload can arise in two ways: the child needs extra time in order to keep up or do the work or the teacher assigns too much. Either way, talk to the teacher.

Help your child make the TRANSITION TO SELF-HELP. My daughter wanted me to test her on her spelling words before the weekly quiz. I showed her how to test herself by covering up each word, writing it down, and checking if what she wrote was correct. I gave her a red pencil so she could play teacher as well as pupil. She was proud she could do it herself.

As long as parents do not do the child’s homework or take over the responsibility element, judicious parental help is in order. Saying, “Ask your teacher.” or “I’m too busy.” or “It’s your problem.” could give a message that you are not interested in your child’s success at school. I can’t think of a worse message.