It’s the beginning of the school year for most kids. If you have a child going to school for the first time, it is a fun, exciting, and a slightly scary time!
Having a special-needs child who started school at a young age has taught me a lot about how to get involved. For a good while, he couldn’t communicate what was happening at school, and once he was able to communicate, he had a hard time articulating information that was useful to me as a parent. Because of this, I’ve always made sure to be involved with his teachers and schools so that I know what is going on in the classroom.
As parents, we want the best for our kids, and that includes a good education. While we may not be able to control everything at school, we can control how involved we try to be! Wondering how to get involved in your child’s education, particularly when it comes to young children? Read on!
- Join the PTA (or other parent organization). This is a FANTASTIC way to influence what happens with your child’s school. In addition, you can get to know other parents with children at the school, and more parents = more knowledge. Parents with older kids have a good idea of which teachers in the school are the best ones, and they also have good ideas about how to deal with certain issues that may come up. Parents are awesome resources!
- Go to every parent meeting possible. This includes PTA meetings, school district-wide meetings, school-wide meetings, classroom meetings, and parent-teacher meetings. Obviously going to every meeting will probably be impossible, especially if you work or have other kids. But meetings are good ways to add input and get up-to-date information about what’s going on. So try to go to at least a few!
- Get involved with your school’s social media. If your school is on Facebook, Twitter, or other forms of social media, follow them! It is another fantastic way to stay informed and can also offer you a way to voice your opinion as well.
- Participate in school fundraisers and other activities. I know, I know. Fundraisers can be a huge pain! My son’s school has one going on right now and when I got the info for it, I sighed very heavily. But like it or not, schools can really benefit from them. You don’t have to go nuts with the fundraising, but it’s a good gesture to do what you can. (Don’t like the type of fundraisers your school does? Get involved with the PTA and see if you can help come up with better ideas!)
- Show your school spirit! Most schools have school t-shirts, and a lot of schools pick Friday as school-shirt days. My son LOVES wearing his school t-shirt on Fridays. It gives him a sense of community and makes him feel proud of his school—even at five years old! He loves that his friends and his teacher all wear their shirts, too! T-shirts are often another way to help raise money for the school and usually parents can buy them for themselves as well.
- Get to know the office staff. Sometimes it seems like the office staff have their hands in everything! If you go out of your way to be nice to them, many will bend over backward to help you out. I know this isn’t always the case. Some staff members are irritable and unhelpful no matter how much kindness you shower on them! But it doesn’t hurt to try and make an effort. I got to know the office staff at my son’s very first school extremely well and by the end of the year, we were like old friends. They would call me if my son’s bus was going to be late and if I had to call the school for any reason, they knew EXACTLY who I was. Having the office staff know, and better yet, like you is extremely handy. Trust me on this.
- Build a relationship with your child’s teacher. I saved this for last but it is, hands down, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do. Knowing all of my son’s teachers has been crucial to helping me help him get the most out of his education thus far. Here are some things you can do to build a good relationship with your child’s teacher:
- Make sure you’ve met the teacher and introduced yourself! If for some reason you haven’t had the opportunity to do this already, do it now! It is so much harder to have a good relationship with someone you have never had any interactions with!
- Ask the teacher how he/she prefers to be contacted. I like to know I can get ahold of my son’s teacher when I need something, but I want to respectful of her time/preferences, so I’ve always asked how she prefers to be contacted. This ensures that I am either able to get ahold of her quickly, or she returns my messages quickly.
- Volunteer. Most teachers welcome and want volunteers! If you can go into the classroom to volunteer, it’s a fantastic way to see your child in his/her natural learning environment. Even though your child might not act totally natural with you there, it’s the best way to learn exactly what goes on at school and observe how your child’s classroom works. If you can’t do in-person volunteering, offer to do work at home. Many teachers can use an extra hand to cut, color, label, etc. and these are things you can do at home. Volunteering shows how much you care about your child’s education and will help you build a relationship with your child’s teacher.
- Be responsible. This sounds like a given—but don’t be a flake! If you sign up to do something, then make sure you do it. If your child has homework, be sure to help him/her. Many teachers have a “student of the week” or something similar, where they spotlight one of the students in the classroom. A lot of the time teachers ask the parents to fill something out about their child or they ask the parents to help their child make a collage about themselves or something similar. Teachers feel terrible when parents forget to send in their child’s spotlight information! If you’re a responsible parent, you will naturally have a better relationship with your child’s teacher.
- If there is a problem, talk to your child’s teacher first. No one likes feeling like someone has gone over their head! If you or your child has an issue, talk to the teacher and see if it can be resolved. If you don’t get resolution, document what happened and then start going to a higher-up. But at least make an effort to work with the teacher on an issue first.
- Before you talk to the teacher about an issue, be sure to gather as much information as you can and try to make sure it is accurate! It is good to remember that children, especially young children, can be selectively truthful or sometimes just don’t have a real understanding of what’s going on. I have a funny story that illustrates this. Last year my son had two teachers in his preschool classroom, along with two aides. We will call his teacher Mrs. X and one of the aides Mrs. Y. One day he came home from school very distraught. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “Mrs. X. crashed her car into Mrs. Y’s house!” I sent a note to school the next day asking what had happened. As it turned out, Mrs. Y. had been absent from school because someone had indeed crashed their car into her house, but Mrs. X was not the perpetrator! At our next parent-teacher conference, we all had a good laugh about it. Even though this is just a silly situation, I think it illustrates my point.
- If you’ve worked with the teacher to solve a problem, be sure to thank the teacher for helping with the solution (a thank you note is always a good idea!)
- Be understanding if the teacher makes a mistake. The other night I was lamenting about something with my son’s homework, because I didn’t like what the teacher had done with one problem on one worksheet. As I was griping to my sister she said, “She’s a person, she’s going to make mistakes!” That made me step back and stop griping about it. It’s always a good idea to keep in mind that your child’s teacher is not infallible and to try and be kind.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. This goes hand-in-hand with my above point! Some things are just not worth getting all worked up over. Now, don’t get me wrong. Some things most definitely ARE worth getting worked up over! If there is a real problem, you should address it immediately. But, like the issue with the ONE problem on my son’s homework, some things are not worth sweating over. It’s a good idea to keep things in perspective!
- Show your gratitude. Nothing builds a relationship like showing gratitude! Everyone appreciates being appreciated, and teachers are no different. It doesn’t always have to be a big gesture, but a sincere thank you always goes a long way!
Hopefully you’ll be able to use some of these tips and that your child will have a GREAT school year! I’m sure there are lots of other great ideas out there. If you have any that I’ve missed, be sure to send me a Tweet, leave a comment on Facebook, or post on Instagram. I’d love to hear your ideas and share them with others!