There are a lot of articles out there on parental engagement. I, like others before me, believe that education starts in the home, and is most successful when parents and teachers share responsibility for the formation of the child. Communication seems so simple in its basic form, yet cultural difference and the logistics of connecting individually, especially if interpreting is a factor, can cause families to feel isolated from their child’s education.
We’ve talked about parent involvement in the past, and in fact, on of my favorite articles to this day is the one I referenced in this post. I still think that teachers can improve communication and student academics by sending home a note with a constructive skill for each student to work. It connects home and school, and at the same time it calls parents to engage, it gives them a concrete (and neutrally phrased) way to do so.
Even though this, and many other tips are absolutely worth implementing to improve communication and the welcoming atmosphere for the parents at your school, there’s one thing that stands out in importance. I was reminded of it when I read Erick Herrmann’s article from last week. It seems obvious, yet strikes me every time I encounter it.
So what’s the number-one way for parents to get involved?
What’s the top way to get them engaged in their child’s education, regardless of their cultural background or beliefs?
What’s the message you can and should repeat to the parents of your students at every opportunity?
Talk to your kids.
That’s it. Parents should talk to their kids in the language they know best. They should talk about the things they know, and they should ask questions about the child and his or her interests. It doesn’t have to be academic in nature, although that’s fodder for many constructive conversations. Any conversation between parent and child can serve to increase a parent’s investment in school and school life. Conversations in any language boost a student’s oral language skills and an array of topics requires different vocabulary. Research indicates that talking through new concepts is the surest way to reinforce knowledge, and the language of communication is superfluous–knowledge transcends and transfers between languages.
Talking doesn’t require much effort, or special knowledge on the part of parents, and encouraging parents to talk to their students is a simple message for educators to share. Still, to prevent the rut of “How was school?/Fine,” or “What did you do today?/Nothing much,” here are a few ideas to share with your parents. Do you have any others to add to this list?
- On the drive or walk home, ask your child to tell you about the friend he was playing or waiting with before you picked him up. Ask if he played with the same friend at recess, and what games he played at recess.
- At some point, while the radio is playing, ask if your child has learned any new songs recently at school. Ask what the songs are about, and if she can repeat the words back to you.
- Work math into the conversation, appropriate to the child’s level. Ask him to count stoplights or stop signs all the way home, or keep track of how many minutes the car is stopped at lights, or estimate and compare the amount of time it takes when going or coming to school.
- When you get home, ask your child to go through her backpack, and check for any forms that need returning to school, or homework that needs to be completed. Ask her to describe what she learned about that subject today in school. See if she can remember concepts that will help her do the homework.
- While making dinner, see if your child can identify the ingredients in the meal, or the steps in its preparation.
- During dinner, ask what your child ate for lunch, or if he had a home lunch, what is often served by the cafeteria. Help him compare and contrast the food groups that he ate—fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains—or foods that he does or doesn’t eat with you at home.
- Read books at home. When reading, ask what kind of books she reads at school, and what she read about that day. Ask if she would like to read more books on the same subject, or what subjects interest her most to read about. Maybe a library trip can be planned!
- Before going to bed, ask your child if anything special is planned for the next day that he can remember. Sometimes something as small as a favorite special like Art or Computers is enough to get them talking.