Q: My New Year's resolution is to help my boys, ages 8 and 10, find the fun in learning. Tests have teachers so stressed that they're passing the worry to kids. What can parents do to help kids keep their chins up and enjoy school?
A: Kids should not see each school day as an endless series of tests, trials and new material. Try these tips from one of the nation's top parent coaches, Maryland educator and retired principal Shirley Harden.
-- Create a "Proud Parent" gallery. Find a spot to showcase your boys' school work, art, family photos and cartoons. One Texas mom turned her kitchen wall into a combined bulletin board/chalkboard. She says it "serves as our center for scheduling, homework checking, posting kids' work, new words and fun facts.
"The wall sends a message: Our family time is important. Your school work matters. We all enjoy learning something new each day."
-- Reflect and take stock. Kids live very much in the now. A perceived slight or a poor test grade can take on meaning that is disproportionate to its significance and ruin an otherwise good day. Adults must help kids learn to step back and gain perspective.
Take time each day to talk about school. Draw out worries and reinforce positives with questions: "What surprised you today in school?" "What did you do you were proud of today?"
Help kids see their progress. "If one son is learning to manage anger," says Harden, "compliment him by saying, 'I like the way you handled that problem. It was much more mature than your response in November.'"
Always celebrate the end of a testing week or a marking period. Go to a movie; make a favorite meal. Show kids that steady effort over the long haul leads to good results.
-- Connect school with success in life. "It's important for student to link success in school with having a fulfilled life," says Harden. "Point out these connections. If you're at the dentist with your boys, point to the diplomas and ask the doctor what she had to study to become a dentist. If you see a program about an astronaut fixing the International Space Station, Google the astronaut to learn how he became a scientist. On weekends, visit places that will spark kids' imaginations (museums, zoos, nature trails, planetariums), and make the link between school and cool careers. It's never too early to talk about the path to college."
-- Boost kids' mental energy. In today's overscheduled world, kids often arrive at school drained by the stress of getting there. Make key decisions the night before. With younger children, lay out their clothes; gather their backpacks, books and assignments; decide if the kids are buying or taking lunch. With teens, double check the daily planner and homework. Schedule a nightly wind-down time just before bed. Discuss concerns so no one goes to sleep with a worry list.
-- Each morning tell your boys: "I love you and I know you'll do well today. You'll learn something new and you'll tell me about it tonight."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)