Children only spend half their waking hours in school during the academic year.
This means that much of the rearing is still done at home.
In fact, research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University, and the University of California, Irvine finds that parental involvement is a more significant factor in a child’s academic success than the qualities of the school itself.
To find out just what parents can do at home to help their kids excel, we asked teachers everywhere to weigh in.
More than 40 teachers shared some great suggestions, and we included some of our favorites here:
“Read to them, read with them, and have them read to you.”
-Katie Westfield, a ninth- and 10th-grade history teacher in Boston
*Editor’s note: Encouraging good reading habits was the most popular response among the teachers we surveyed.
Have dinner together
“I think family meals are a time to catch up on each other’s lives. When kids and parents can converse about what happened during the day, the good and the bad, I think parents are able to get the best insight into their children’s lives. Constant communication is one of the many keys to success throughout life.”
-A second-grade teacher in New York City
Be a good role model
“If you want them to read, be a reader first. If you want them to improve their writing skills, begin writing letters to your children. You want them to do well in math? Stop telling them you hate Math!”
-A fifth-grade teacher
Let kids experience life
“It’s not all about the books.”
Have high expectations for your kids
“I know a lot of parents work hard, and I can’t ask them to spend more time with their kids because sometimes they can’t. I know some of them can’t sit down and help them with homework because either they don’t have the time or they don’t get it either.
“The best thing they can do is expect excellence from their child, because if they don’t get the A, chances are they’ll get close to it. If expectations are set at D, then they won’t try to get better than that. It’s all about setting those expectations so that your child is intrinsically motivated to do the best they can, even when you’re not around. And for some, the D is their best and that’s okay, too.”
-Jennifer, a fifth-grade teacher in North Brunswick, New Jersey
Force them to put the screens down
“I wish more parents read to their kids and encouraged them to read. I also think parents should encourage their children to go on walks, to stare at the clouds, and to play outside. Teenagers today spend almost 11+ hours in front of screens. It scares me. It’s like they don’t know how to be alone, and I worry about what it will do to independent thinking.”
-An English teacher at a private school in New York City
Don’t let them be lazy
“Make sure they did their homework!”
-A seventh-grade social studies teacher in New York City
“Inevitably, the parents who come to conferences are the parents of the kids who are doing well. Some parents don’t even realize their kid is failing. They don’t respond to voicemails, they don’t check their email, they don’t come to conferences. Don’t just ask your kid how he’s doing in school, because he’ll say he’s fine and has no homework. Ask the teacher.”
-Rebecca Rosen, a ninth-grade English teacher in New York City
Work with teachers, not against them
“Make sure your child knows that you and the teacher are on the same page in terms of discipline, academic success, and social and emotional health. The child shouldn’t think that the parents will save them from the teacher when they don’t make wise choices.”
-Amanda Brooks, an educational director at a New York City preschool
Encourage more diverse interaction
“Give your child exposure to different children so they learn how to play and collaborate appropriately with others. Less technology and more interaction.”
-Christina Canavan, a former fourth-grade special education teacher in Massachusetts
Trust their teacher and the education system
“Ask questions about what is confusing in the work instead of saying, “That’s the new way and I can’t help you.” Stay positive and be involved in the school.”
-A second-grade teacher in Middletown, New Jersey
“I wish parents modeled valuing education at home and took the onus as our partners in their child’s educational success. Many parents already do this, and their child is typically outperforming his or her peers as result.”
-Jenni Mayberry, a seventh-grade special education teacher in New York City
“Spend time playing with them.”
-A secondary school instructor who teaches English abroad
Bring your child to school on time and pick them up on time
“Things come up and being late once or twice is fine, but when you’re late to school four out of five days a week, or don’t pick your child up on time, your child and their peers notice. It’s awkward for them.”
-A fourth-grade teacher at a charter school
Let them fail
“… and lock up their video games and screens.”
Feed and nourish their health
“Less sugar and fat, more exercise.”
-A primary-school teacher in London
See what your kids are learning about in class
“Now with everything these days being electronic, it is so easy to see what your kids are doing in school. If you have questions on the class or assignments, email us! Come to the teachers directly before getting upset and going to administration. Administration may seem like they are in charge, but really, the teachers direct their classes and know what is going on in them. Teachers are your best source for answers about the class and your student.”
-Rachel Marquez, a sophomore English teacher in Escondido, California
Take a step back
“Let them ask me when they forget or lose something. Or help them problem solve before emailing me.”
-A fifth-grade teacher in Melrose, Massachusetts
Responses have been edited slightly for clarity.