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Ask an Expert: Supporting your child's academic success.

Q. What are some of your best ideas to get parents excited about supporting their child’s academic achievement?

A. The question of how, when and if parents should be supporting their child’s academic achievement seems to be the question of the year. After the Wall Street Journal published Amy Chua’s essay, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior: Can a regimen of no play dates, no TV, no computer games and hours of music practice create happy kids?”, the country went wild with more than 1 million people on the web reflecting on their own parenting and judging the parenting of others.

The debate in America rages: How do we support academic achievement without creating undue pressure and compromising independence and self-esteem? Below you will find a few tips that can get you started in your own mission to support your child’s academic achievement.

  • to get excited about your child’s education than to see them engaged and immersed in learning. Kurt McDonald, Kent Denver Grade School Dean, states, “There is little more rewarding than watching your child express an unbounded enthusiasm for something they have recently learned. The “Did you know that…?” conversations that flow from high energy learning environments are inspiring and encouraging, and are a constant reminder of the idea of education as investment, not expense. Individuals initially grow their awareness and appreciation for the world through their educational experiences, and high quality education best shapes informed and respectful citizens.”
  • Parent for character and not for grades On Feb. 10, the Montessori School of Denver premiered “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary that points to the “silent epidemic in our schools where cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant, and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired.” There are many factors that contribute to the problem of over-stressed school systems, children and families. Parents who want to take a stand can make a simple decision to focus on character development and not grades. My parenting guru, Jim Fay, founder of Love and Logic, says it best: “Children who grow up in a home where character and responsibility are modeled, valued, and enforced often have little trouble being successful in school and in their adult lives.”
  • Ask different questions Instead of asking, “What grade did you get?” ask the question, “What did you learn?” Instead of punishing for “bad” grades, ask your child, “What is your plan?” Instead of celebrating the “right” answer, ask, “How did you solve the problem?” Finally, remember that allowing children to fail and own their own consequences is one of the best gifts we can give them to prepare them for school and life.
  • Get involved One of the best ways to show your child that you are invested in their academic achievement is to be involved in their school environment. Kelsey Haddock, a special education teacher at Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning in Denver, suggests, “One of the best ways to celebrate a child’s achievement is to know what they are doing in the classroom.” Supporting the teacher on classroom projects, attending school events, such as conferences, exhibitions and celebrations, are a few things one can do to develop a strong understanding of your child’s school life. Taking time out of your week to browse through your child’s folders and projects at school is a hands-on approach that shows that you are invested and interested.
  • Use encouraging words Using “encouraging words” vs. “praise words” can help your child build intrinsic motivations as opposed to becoming dependent on external rewards. Comments such as, “Wow. You really worked hard,” “Tell me about your project,” or “What were you most surprised about?” will provide you a window into your child’s thinking and learning.

Whether you are an authoritarian parent or a have a relaxed attitude about your child’s educational future, I believe one of these tips will guide you into “getting excited” about your child’s academic achievement and the learning process.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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