Show and Tell

21733958_l// by Shannon Beckham

Whether kids are just starting kindergarten or finishing up high school, parental involvement in their education can be a powerful thing. It can take a few different forms: volunteering in classrooms, taking prep work home, popping in for school events or maintaining regular communication via email, notes or face-to-face meetings. Regardless of the shape it takes, experts say that participation in a child’s education can have lasting benefits.

Adrienne DeSantis King, executive director of Beacon Pediatric Behavioral Health explains, “There are many gains to parent involvement. Research has repeatedly shown that children who have parents who are involved in their education have better school attendance, get better grades and higher test scores and are more likely to graduate than those whose parents are not involved. Parent involvement is also positively related to a child's self-esteem and motivation, as well as student behavior.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, parental involvement begins at home. Asking the right questions can give a parent insight into what is going on at school. Tina Bennett, principal at Seabreeze Elementary, recommends parents check a child’s notebooks and folders nightly. “Daily planners help students organize themselves for the work ahead,” says Bennett. “It gives them a focus for in-school and out-of-school activities. If used regularly and supported by parents the child becomes accustomed to the routine of organizing and becomes proficient at tasks, making them more successful.”

Working moms or those with younger children at home aren’t always available to volunteer in the classroom—but that doesn’t mean that participation is altogether impossible. Teachers are often looking for help with special projects or work that can be done at home, or in the evenings. While these tasks might not be as fun as chaperoning a field trip, they demonstrate to a child that her education is valued. “If we want our children to value education, we have to show them that we value it first.  By being involved in our children's education, it sends the message that it is important and that we care,” says King.

With school budgets being stretched thin, many teachers pay for supplies throughout the year out of their own personal bank accounts. Donating supplies is a way to stay involved and doesn’t require much time. Joining the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and volunteering for PTA-sponsored events also allows parents to play a small part in some much larger programs. Signing up for just one shift of the book fair, or attending one Saturday campus clean-up allows parents to have a big impact. “PTA pays for more things than most parents realize,” says Stacey Henderson, PTA president at Pine Forest Elementary. “By joining PTA and being involved, your kids are given access to so many extra activities.”

Ultimately, communication is key when it comes to successful parental involvement. Bennett explains, “Parents are the child's first caregiver/teacher and know their children best. When they communicate regularly with teachers, obstacles can be eliminated before they hinder the success of the child.” Although most schools use email to keep in touch with parents, an old-fashioned note in the backpack can go far to keep the lines of communication open with a teacher. In addition, social media can be a great asset when trying to stay involved. Most schools today have a website or Facebook page that parents can check on a regular basis.