Helping your child feel engaged and motivated in the classroom is one of the most important things a parent can do to ensure school success. The teacher will tell the whole class what she expects, from what the kids will learn to how she’ll measure their progress. (Just so you know what to expect, too, here's a guide for your child's new grade.) But make sure to sit down with your kids and figure out the things they’d like to achieve this year, too. Why? Because helping your kids set goals gives them a sense of agency in their learning journey. You may find out some cool things your kid is interested in, plus surprising ways you can help your child nuture their interests in and out of the classroom.
Be specific and realistic. Your kid’s idea of achievement may be less lofty than your own — but that’s okay. Remember, little steps for little feet: When my 10-year-old said he wanted to get better at math, we went with the specific goal of practicing multiplication and division tables for 15 minutes a day. And when my 7-year-old said his goal was to be a better reader, we opted for the shorter-term objective of finishing one new book a week. (Here are language and literacy milestones you can look forward to for ages 3 to 5, ages 6 to 7, and ages 8 to 10.)
I kept the list to five goals per child, since I knew it was going to change over the year. I also did periodic check-ins to see if these goals were still motivating them, or whether we should switch one out in favor of a new challenge. Finally, we created a star chart where the kids could track their progress. I knew the system was working when my fourth-grader got bumped up into a higher math group and my first-grader started sneaking in extra pages after bedtime.
Adjust your mindset. Just as important, I took a closer look at what school-year success meant to me. It’s natural for parents to want big things for their child — Rhodes scholar! Little Einstein! — but while we have the best intentions, the pressure can feel overwhelming for both parent and child. For me, this epiphany came shortly after the birth of my youngest child, when I received a postcard in the mail from an early-education enterprise.
“It’s never too early to begin thinking about college,” read the postcard — which then went on to list class times for infants 6 weeks old and up. The message: It was time to put my baby on the path to success, because without classes now, her chances of getting into Harvard were doomed.
Embrace today. That postcard was my wakeup call to stop stressing over “someday” success and focus on the here-and-now expectations of what a 7- or 10-year-old (let alone a 6-week-old!) is capable of learning during the year. Sure, a houseful of academic prodigies would be nice. But so would a bunch of happy little learners who work hard and show steady academic growth month after month. Once I tweaked that thinking, the stress level in our house went down noticeably. It was like a huge weight had been lifted.
One great way to get your child excited about the new school year is through reading! To get started, here are funny and fantastic books about elementary school, and here are great picks if your child is just starting kindergarten.
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