Articles by Karen Deerwester
Building a Bridge between Home and SchoolBy Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.
Parents are world class engineers, especially when it comes to building bridges for their children to move into a larger world outside of family. In some ways, your child lives on a perfect little island his first few years - a luxurious, private resort. It's a wonderful place to bask in the sunshine of new love and new learning. And while your child can return to that island sanctuary called "family" anytime he wants, he also needs to cross a few bridges to the world outside. One of those bridges is the bridge to school.
What does your child need to have a successful school experience? Like any good traveler going to new destinations, your child needs to know the "ways of the land". She needs to know how school is different from home and what will be expected of her. Your child is taking a step into a group setting with a variety of people, some of whom may do things quite differently than what she has experienced in the past. She is also stepping into a place that has some very clear priorities and goals - learning might be separate from play, quiet might be valued over loud, restraint might be preferred over spontaneous, and the needs of the group might be given precedence over the needs of individuals.
Your role as a parent is to be informed about the culture of the school and to give your child the keys to master this new environment. You are not required to teach your child in advance the skills he will be learning in school but rather to teach your child the strategies to be a successful student. These are the true lifelong lessons for example - when to speak and when to listen, when to try and when to ask for help, when to be assertive and when to defer to someone else, or when to say "yes" and how to say "no".
The school environment includes everything from managing your personal space in a classroom to maneuvering from one place to another. If you are not familiar with the specifics of the school, take another tour of the school and the classrooms. Try to imagine your child's day at school so that you can explain to your child what it will be like. Rehearse new situations with your child or ask your child open-ended questions to see if your child has realistic expectations of what a school day is like. Schedule a visit for your child to help your child visualize where's he's going to be spending a lot of time.
Schools are structured environments with a variety of rules ranging from social etiquette of waiting for your turn, asking permission to leave your seat, to finishing work or projects by a certain time. These can be challenging to certain unstructured personalities or to an unsuspecting newcomer. Present new expectations to your child with a positive attitude even if you disagree with a few of the school rules. Your child will learn to be flexible and adaptable in a variety of circumstances.
Each new school year brings together a new combination of personalities and needs. Some are ideal years you wish would never end. Others are complicated challenges that have parents and teachers begging for room changes. Prepare your child on a note of optimism: every new year is an opportunity to make new friends and to learn important social skills.
Begin with the assumption that your child can learn something in every class group - compassion, leadership, perseverance, negotiation, or assertiveness. Establish a routine from your child's earliest years to talk about challenging social situations. Be ready with gentle guidance to support your child through the social landmines of childhood - helping an unpopular child, feeling excluded, or worrying what others think, do or say. Chances are those less-than-ideal years are the biggest growth years.
New Relationships with Other Adults
Respect for authority or respect for someone's position is a life lesson that starts in the home. Schools have a responsibility to build effective relationships with parents but some schools are better at it than others. Your child's attitude towards school in general and your child's ability to thrive in school depends on your belief that this is a valuable and worthwhile experience. Be a role model of respect and constructive communication if that's your goal for your child.
Some teachers are warm and fuzzy while others are strict and demanding. Help your child to learn how to act with pride and responsibility in all situations. If this teacher is not your child's "favorite", encourage your child to still give her best. Feel free to stay in touch with last year's teacher who had those other special traits your child loves so much.
What do you need to have a successful relationship with your child's school?You need the trust and confidence to let the school do their job and the communication skills to work through disagreements. There are no perfect schools because there are no perfect people. The education of your child is a partnership: you are the "expert" when it comes to your child and the school is the "expert" when it comes to group educational practices.
Choose a school that reflects your values and your goals. Then, trust that your child is in good hands. Even if you are a former teacher or the former Secretary of Education for these United States, you are now sharing your child with someone else.
You too have crossed a bridge.
Karen Deerwester is the owner of Family Time Coaching & Consulting, writing and lecturing on parenting and early childhood topics since 1984. Karen is also the Mommy & Me director at The Ruth and Edward Taubman Early Childhood Center at B’nai Torah Congregation in Boca Raton.
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