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Teaching and learning are not mysteries that can only happen in school.

They also happen when parents and children do simple things together. For instance, you and your child can: sort the socks on laundry day--sorting is a major function in math and science; cook a meal together--cooking involves not only math and science but good health as well; tell and read each other stories--storytelling is the basis for reading and writing (and a story about the past is also history); or play a game of hopscotch together--playing physical games will help your child learn to count and start on a road to lifelong fitness.


We do know the following:

1. Where our children learn is important. We can find inexpensive and easy things to do at home--where our children first start learning--that will make them want to learn. We can also strengthen our ties with the community
and the schools, where learning continues.

2. What our children learn from us is important. What we say and do can build their maturity and self-confidence.

3. How our children learn from us is important. All of us teach our children every day, whether we realize it or not. We can make sure we show them a variety of ways to learn.

Now, how do we take these facts and turn them into ways to help our children do well in school?


The Basics

Where Our Children Learn

At Home

It's no surprise to anyone that children need time with their parents. And even though most parents are extremely busy,whether they work outside of the home or not, they do find time to spend with their children. But they want that time to count in helping prepare their children for the world they will find outside the home.

What counts most is what we say and do at home, not how rich or poor we are or how many years of school we have finished. When children can count on getting attention at home, they have a greater sense of security and self-worth. This will help them do better not only in school, but also when they grow up.

If you think about it, school, while very important, does not really take up very much time. In the United States, the school year averages 180 days; in other industrialized nations,the school year can extend up to 240 days, and students are often in school more hours per day. So, the hours and days a child is not in school are important for learning, too.

Communicating. This is probably the most important activity we can do in our home, and it doesn't cost anything. Ask questions, listen for answers. These are no-cost,high-value things to do.

Think of conversation as being like a tennis game with talk, instead of a ball, bouncing back and forth. Communication can happen any time, any place--in the car, on a bus, at mealtime, at bedtime.

When our children enter and continue school with good habits of communication, they are in a position to succeed--to learn all that has to be learned, and to become confident
students.

Starting early. Here are some things you can do when your children are young:

* Let them see you read, and read to them and with them. Visit the library. If they are old enough, make sure they have their own card. Keep books, magazines, and newspapers around the house.

* Keep pencils and paper, crayons, and washable markers handy for notes, grocery lists, and schoolwork. Writing takes practice, and it starts at home.

* Teach children to do things for themselves rather than do the work for them. Patience when children are young pays off later.

* Help children, when needed, to break a job down into small pieces, then do the job one step at a time. This works for everything--getting dressed, a job around the house, or a big homework assignment.

* Develop, with your child, a reasonable, consistent schedule of jobs around the house. List them on a calendar, day by day.

* Every home needs consistent rules children can depend on. Put a plan into action, and follow through.

* Give each child an easy-to-reach place in which to put things away.

* Set limits on TV viewing so that everyone can get work done with less background noise.

* Watch TV with your children and talk about what you see.

Handling homework. These are the messages to get across to your children about homework:

* Education is important. Homework has to be done. Let children know that this is what you value.

* Try to have a special place where each child can study.

* Help your children plan how to do all the things they need to do--study, work around the house, play, etc.

* Let your children know that you have confidence in them. Remind them of specific successes they have had in the past perhaps in swimming, soccer, cooking, or in doing a difficult homework assignment.

* Don't expect or demand perfection. When children ask you to look at what they've done--from skating a figure 8 to a math assignment--show interest and praise them when they've done something well. If you have criticisms or suggestions, make them in a helpful way.

The time we spend exchanging ideas at home with our children is vitally important in setting the tone, the attitudes, and the behaviors that make the difference in school.



In the Community


In many parts of our nation, the ties among neighbors have been weakened. For the sake of our children, they need to be rebuilt, and you can help. Be sure to introduce your children
to your neighbors. You might even try a "child watch" program where adults who are home during the day keep an eye out for children when they walk to and from school and stand at bus stops.

Some schools are helping families connect with the community by, for example, becoming centers for social services as well as for education. Getting to know your child's school
can help you, in a very real way, get to know a major part of your community. It can also help you build a network of wider community support for your family.


At School

Parents can become involved with the schools in several different ways, by working with children at home, volunteering, sharing information, and helping to make policy. We need to remember that what works in one community (or for one family)may not necessarily work in another.

It may no longer be possible for parents to volunteer as often for school activities. However, working with children at home and sharing information with the school are two things all parents can do.

Many teachers say they rarely receive information from parents about problems at home. Many parents say they don't know what the school expects of their child. Sharing information is essential, and both teachers and parents are responsible for making it happen.

With our help, our children can become confident students, able to handle the challenges of school. This means:

* Talking with our children about the value of hard work and about the importance of education;

* Talking about what's happening in school;

* Reading report cards and messages that come from school;

* Going to school and meeting with teachers;

* Taking part in school events when you can; and

* Finding out about resources in the community.