The First Weeks of School Matter for Your Child. Here's How to Get It Right.

Sep 20, 2019 12:00:00 AM


The back to school season is now in full swing. This time of year often causes a jumble of excitement and nerves for both students and their parents. Students want to know if they will like their teachers, make friends and enjoy their classes. Parents want their children to be safe and happy—and they want them to learn.

But despite the frenzied school supply shopping and first-day social media posts, the first few weeks of school contribute far more to a student’s success than the first day back at school. [pullquote]These weeks can lay the positive groundwork for your child to have a successful school year[/pullquote], or they can provide you with signs that your child might be better off in a different environment.

How can you make the most out of these important weeks while maximizing your child’s chances of success this school year? Regardless of your child’s age, here are five tips to help you get it right.

Develop Positive Relationships

Building a line of communication between yourself, your child’s teacher and the administrators who manage the school your child attends can prove incredibly beneficial—especially if your child ends up facing challenges later in the year.

Visit the school, send an email to your child’s teacher or place a phone call to introduce yourself and start things off on the right foot. Keep these lines of communication open, and use them even when things are going well.

Ask Your Child Questions About Learning 

Chances are, like many other families, your family discusses school around the dinner table. But asking, “How was school today?” might not elicit the same answers as questions like, “What was the most interesting thing you learned?” or “What are you most excited about learning?”

Focus your questions on your child’s academics—and on his or her happiness and confidence in school. Your child’s answers will give you a clearer sense of whether they are absorbing new knowledge and feel upbeat about school or whether they are encountering struggles.

Look for Clubs and Activities 

Research has demonstrated that for many students, participating in sports, school activities and extracurricular activities can help accelerate their learning, help them form positive relationships with other students, and help build their self-confidence and desire to set and achieve goals. Typically, students can sign up to participate in these activities at the beginning of the school year, so make sure they don’t miss their chance. Your child doesn’t need to load up on too many activities, though. Studies have shown that just one or two activities can provide a much-needed spark of inspiration.

Discover How Your Child’s Learning Will Be Monitored or Evaluated 

When parents inform me of their concerns about schools, they frequently lament that they found out too late that their child was struggling in school. Everything seemed fine until things fell off an academic cliff. The beginning of the school year provides an opportunity for you to find out about the different assignments, projects and evaluations that your child will encounter, which will help you set benchmarks for checking in on your child’s progress. The more information and indicators you have, the better.

Continue Learning Outside of the Classroom

A growing body of research indicates that educational field trips and activities can be a boon for a student’s learning and happiness in school. Keep in mind that even if your child’s school doesn’t offer these types of activities, you can still do them at home.

Visiting free museums, local historic sites or special events in your community can help reinforce the importance of learning. If you have younger children, reading with them on a daily basis can not only improve their literacy and learning, but it can also preempt behavioral issues.

Will these five steps guarantee a successful school year? Life offers no guarantees, but the tips discussed here should certainly increase your chances. 

Some parents might find, though, that no matter what they do, their children still struggle at school. If you find yourself in this situation, remember that [pullquote position="right"]most families today have more options for their children’s K–12 education than they did at any other time in history. Don’t be shy about exploring those options[/pullquote]—and don’t worry about what other families might think about your decision to consider different schools or learning environments.

In fact, a record number of families are actively choosing schools for their children—everything from traditional public schools to public charter schools, magnet schools, online public schools, private schools and homeschooling options. If your child isn’t learning or is unhappy, the earlier you start searching for a new school environment, the better your chances will be of finding the right school for your child’s next school year—or hopefully even sooner.

Andrew Campanella

Andrew Campanella has served as president of National School Choice Week since 2012. An enthusiastic advocate for educational opportunity, Andrew has led National School Choice Week (NSCW) during a time of remarkable growth. Before joining the NSCW team, Andrew worked in senior-level positions at two national non-profit organizations focused on K-12 education. In these roles, Andrew worked to help enroll students in school choice programs, and to recruit new teachers for public schools. Andrew grew up in southern New Jersey and attended traditional public schools from grades K-12. He graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. and currently lives in Blue Mountain Beach, Florida. Andrew is the author of the forthcoming book, “ The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child.”

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