Being Engaged in our Children’s Education: – “What is it you do in school today?”

learning_stylesI keep remind myself the need for parents to be involved in their children’s education.

As a mum I want to know what’s going on with my son. And I had a number of interesting challenges to the very idea and I want to share it with you.

A friend repeated to me Einstein’s famous saying that “education is what’s left after you forget all the facts they taught you in school.” “Leave the teaching to the school and concentrate on educating your child” he said. To him, being involved in his children’s education meant providing them with parallel real life experiences and he couldn’t care a fig about tonight’s homework assignments; they are the responsibility of the child, and not the parent.

A mother of two teens commented that the best gift she could give her daughters was that of trust and self confidence. She wasn’t getting involved in the process of schooling. “Did you ever see the look of embarrassment, even horror, if your child unexpectedly sees you in the school hallway?”  “My child doesn’t want me to look over her shoulder” commented one of my daughter’s friends about her nine year old. These parents were taken aback by what they thought I was suggesting.

It is my contention that parents need to know what their children are doing at school and to become actively involved in helping facilitate their success. I am not referring to homework and test preparation. I am not referring to being cooperative with the school and teachers, which I am not denying it is very useful to engage with teachers too, to keep up and learn more about our child in school. I am more referring to make the child’s school experiences a part of the parent’s life. I believe a parent’s role is somewhere between coach and cheerleader; neither as critically involved as the former or as benignly enthusiastic as the latter. Allow me to elaborate.

Taking an active interest; or: “What is it you do in school today?”

Indeed, we forget most of the facts we cram for tests during our school years. What we are expected to retain are the skills with which will enable us to learn and discover for ourselves. Even more importantly, good teachers will have inculcated within us a love for learning to last a lifetime.

Learning skills do not develop in a vacuum; they develop through learning and internalizing the process. A love for learning develops from the satisfaction of understanding and the curiosity to know more. This too is a byproduct of learning and absorbing information, primarily in school. When a parent shows interest in the subject matter, his child is learning that says to the child: what you learned at school matters. Questioning a child about what he learned in school is an essential component in his developing a healthy respect for what he does all day; and he learns.

Questioning a child about school can be a tricky experience though. Ask a typical adolescent “what did you learn in school today” and the response, if you get a verbal one rather than some sort of primal sound, may be “nothing” or “stuff”.  The questions must be direct and specific for the child to be responsive. “What did you enjoy most about your Maths class today?” If he responds with a multi-word answer, the parent will have gotten a perspective of the child’s engagement in the Maths class. He may well say, “I didn’t enjoy it at all” — that speaks volumes too. Regardless, the parent has demonstrated interest and that the subject is important.

On the other hand badgering a child for information and interrogating him about precisely what he learned may be counterproductive from a parenting perspective. What the child might deduce from continuous pressured questions is that the less he says or pretends to remember the better off he will be. He perceives the questions as an invasion of his privacy; of course he will resist. A lot more information would be forthcoming if the question were put something like this “did you learn any interesting at the School Talk today?” or “How did the teacher like your social studies project?”

In a nutshell: the questions must be detailed and about the work rather that about the child. Specific but open ended questions will generally elicit a coherent response which can then

I did rather not head in the direction of the parent who spends the night studying with a child for a test and then asks “how well did we do on the exam?” Naturally, when taken to the extreme, that kind of “interest” will be more crippling than helpful.

Till my next post, hope this helps.

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