Your role in your child’s education

My son wants a dirt bike. He’s too young and I’m too broke, but he really wants one. He enviously eyes motorcycles and talks about how he’ll get one when he’s older.

He’ll get one because I’ve promised him if he gets a university scholarship of any kind, I’ll buy him one. My aim is two-fold — to make sure he has his own transportation if he does go to university, but more importantly, to encourage him in his learning and show him that I expect him to succeed in school.

Last year I was on the school council at his school. I volunteered for the position and tried to be involved. But between a new job and then us moving and leaving the school, I only made a couple of meetings.

My kids didn’t even know I was on the council. My role there didn’t affect them at all. Nor does my participation in bake sales or fundraising events or packing treats for Valentine’s Day.

Definitely, the fundraising and parent involvement events are important for the school as a whole, but no matter how much banana bread you bake, you won’t have as strong an effect on your child as if you bake the banana bread with them while talking about measurements and what they learned in school that day.

School-based activities are important and as a parent I want to be involved in those. But home-based activities are more important and as parents it’s easy to let them slip. After all, they’re not scheduled and no one watches to see if we show up or not.

Something as simple as reading with our kids at night, or asking them to talk about what they learned in school, if done each day, has a much stronger impact on our children’s school success than anything else. Merely by talking with our children and expressing that we expect them to do well in school because we believe they can, according to a 2011 report by People for Education, will improve their school results.

Other revolutionary things we can do: talk to our kids about school, read together with them every day, and encourage them to develop good study habits.

Merely talking with our children about school has a stronger effect on their performance — across socioeconomic boundaries — than enforcing homework rules, limiting TV time, or even being home after school.

It makes sense. I like to talk about my job when I get home — share amusing stories, complain about issues, let my family know when I’ve done well. Our children like to do the same, and are encouraged to keep bringing stories home if we show an interest.

In my experience “how was school?” or “what did you do today?” are automatic shut-off questions. Kids clam up when you ask them such open-ended questions.

Instead, I like to ask “what was the best thing that happened at school today?” or “did you teacher tell you anything funny today?” Specific questions lead to specific answers and inform more questions so that next thing you know, you’re discussing their day in detail and learning what actually happened.

A recent viral video showed a kindergarten student’s first day at school with a camera strapped to his chest. By watching the video, parents and educators are supposed to become more informed about what it’s actually like for those youngest children to walk into a classroom and what they actually notice and experience.

Of course, the same could be done by talking with our kids instead of finding some gadget, app or “strategy” to help our children succeed in school.

We could devote 15 minutes a night to chatting with them rather than trying to find two hours every few months to put in our volunteer hours.

We could plan for and discuss their success rather than nagging them to finish their homework.

Sadly, it seems, as much as we might like to think we do these things, most of us don’t. And if we do, we don’t do it consistently. A survey of over 250,000 students in Ontario showed that less than half of third graders talked to their parents every day or almost every day about school and more than half either never read with their parents or do so so infrequently that it’s negligible.

Tonight my children went to bed with two chapters from “Henry and Beezus.” As I tucked them in we talked briefly about their new year at school and what they’re going to learn. I asked them how they felt about returning and what their goals for the year were.

Early this evening I was worrying about not having all their supplies organized, needing shoes still for my daughter, how my new work schedule will affect my ability to volunteer at the school … and so on.

But now, after reading and talking, I think those other things aren’t quite so important. Those are not the things I should be worried about and planning for.

I’m giving them the very best tools for school success just by being interested. That is, really, all our children need.