The Big Read: Homework for parents
It is one of the most common questions I receive from parents: "What can I do to make a difference in education?"
Take an active interest in what your child brings home from school. Too many parents ask that useless question, "How was school today?", to which the child responds with that single, meaningless word while hurrying to her room, "Fine".
Ask your child to show you all her homework for the day. Take a few minutes to discuss one of those assignments.
For busy parents this is obviously difficult, but you could miss important clues about your child's academic performance until it is too late.
Warning: do not be overbearing or harass the child. Inquire gently but insist that your child sits down for 10 minutes every day to chat about schoolwork. The sooner you do this with a young child the more easily the habit is established.
Engage teachers on your child's schoolwork. Go to parent meetings and go prepared. Do not be scared of the teacher but, at the same time, do not be aggressive. You have, or ought to have, the same interests - the academic progress of your child.
Ask why there is no homework given in that subject or why there is so little written work in your child's workbooks. Tell the teacher you noticed there is very little written feedback on tests - just right and wrong marks with no notes to help the child.
Hold the school accountable for results. Ask for the grade results from the principal. You might notice that, while many of the subject results are quite good, the mathematics results, for example, are poor every year. Ask whether the school has the right maths teachers, or whether there is not a need for extra maths tuition at the school.
Some principals might feel edgy about such questioning and even see it as interference, but it is your school and your child's future that is at stake. These are public schools and you have the right to know.
Reward your child for doing well. Far too many parents miss out on one of the easiest and most powerful mechanisms for getting youths to do well - praising them. If your child's performance improved in the mid-year exam, take her out for a family treat - or whatever she would regard as special.
Hug your child when he/she does well and show you are excited when results improve. You might want to set some modest targets for performance, especially in a difficult subject. When achieved, make a fuss.
Talk well of your child to other people. I am always surprised how many parents talk to me, a complete stranger, about their children as "problems". No child is a problem.
Even when you have serious challenges, talk about the good qualities of your child first. What you say about your children to others comes back to them. When they hear that their parents talk well about them behind their backs, it has a wonderfully motivating effect. Sometimes the best way to help a child overcome a learning problem is to play up those areas in which they do well.
Create space for your child to study without interference. They need a space that is quiet and calm. Do not - especially in the weeks leading to tests and exams - play out your stresses as spouses in front of your children.
Make sure there is a room in the house that is off-limits for noise and family friends. Cancel your parties or have them somewhere else. Bring in hot chocolate late at night and make sure everybody knows that Sara or Sipho is studying. That protection means a lot to a youngster.
Set high standards for your child. Do not praise them for obtaining 30% and 40% in a subject unless those initial marks represent a substantial increase over earlier marks. Talk about 60% or 70% as the norm. Make them believe they are smarter than government standards and, believe it or not, they will rise to the challenge.
Jonathan Jansen | 11 April, 2014