What makes the biggest difference in why some kids improve grades and do better in K12 grades than others? I asked dozens of parents and teachers when my own son started kindergarten. Here's what I found:
1. Focus on home first. Don't busy yourself with bake sales. It's nice to be involved at school, but educators and experts agree: Parents play their most important role at home. Teachers say they want parents to send their kids to school with strong work and social habits.
Volunteering at school can build parent teacher communication. But doing learning activities with your child at home will have more impact on your child's school success. The exception is elementary tutoring; parents who learn to tutor other children at school often become better at helping their own kids at home.
2. Back up your child's teacher. Teachers want to treat all students the same, but they often admit that they're more likely to go out on a limb for a child whose parents support them.
Want your child to get the extra attention and discipline she needs?
3. Get a source for insider advice. Sooner or later you're going to face a problem. Build a relationship now with someone - a principal, counselor, another teacher or parent - who can give you the inside scoop about how to work with the school.
4. Get help fast when reading and math score fall below grade level. Children who aren't strong readers by the end of third grade are more likely to drop out of school in later years. Those who struggle in math may get shut out of college track classes in middle and high school. Kids learn at different paces, but if they slip below grade level - a few "D" or "F" test scores in a row - talk to the teacher about finding a tutor or other help. Yes, the school will tell you if there's a major problem, but you'll save time, money and heartache by staying on top of the issue before your child is recommended to be held back.
5. Plug in. Kids spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school. You can double their learning time by plugging them into afterschool, summer and cultural activities. Check churches, libraries and Boys & Girls clubs for free or low-cost classes. Unplug the TV and video games; the doctor-recommended limit is one to two hours daily.
6. Pick a dream college and career.Tell your kids early and often that you expect them to aim for college. Don't worry now about picking the right two- or four-year program; just give them something to dream about. Research shows that most of the kids who made it to college never thought they had a choice; their parents promoted college early and often, even if they didn't go themselves. Visit campus events or museums and cheer for the home team. Talk about your own work history and ask what they want to be. Do they enjoy drawing? Have them visit an architect or art studio. Learn together about the education and skills they'll need to succeed
7. Monitor motivation. Ask your kids weekly what they liked or disliked about school. It will give you an early indicator when something - a bully, bad grades or worse - is going wrong. Don't accept a one-word answer; listen for an explanation. Don't just ask, "How was school today," since "OK" is the standard answer. Instead, ask, "What did you read/do/see today?" Liking school is the engine that keeps kids learning.
Want to help your child stay ahead? Circle one of the steps above and do it this week. Then keep reading to find more firsthand advice on how to follow these tips.
Bryan Taylor is president of EduGuide. He is a national speaker and the father of two.