10 Smart Ways to Get Set for School, According to Teachers
There’s no doubt about it—school looks different this year. But whether it takes place in a classroom or via an app, here are expert tips to help you make the most of it no matter what.
You already know that getting involved in your kid’s schooling can make a big difference, affecting everything from self-esteem to test scores. And while you may not have much of a choice about your level of participation this year, you’re committed to doing whatever it takes to give them the best experience possible. So we turned to teachers and educators across the country for their advice on how parents can best bolster learning, no matter where it takes place.
Empower Students in School
Get to Know the Staff
“Email the teacher a week or two before class starts to introduce yourself and your child. Teachers love when parents do this—it sets a positive tone for the rest of the year and gives us a better sense of your kid. Be sure to tell them if your child speaks Spanish [or another language] at home, and mention any events that have occurred recently, like a grandparent passing away. You can also talk about your kid’s favorite subjects and any challenges they may have had with remote learning.” —Alejandro Amaya, fifth-grade teacher; Dallas
“Reach out to your school librarian! Most parents never do, but we do so much more than just checking out books. We can curate a list of study resources suited to your child’s interests and reading level, and point you to digital writing tools or STEM programs that teach children to code.” —Becky Calzada, school library-services coordinator; Leander, Texas
“Some parents don’t take advantage of school counseling because mental health can be a taboo topic in their culture. But try to think of the school counselor as a bridge builder. If your child is having trouble adjusting to school in these challenging times or has issues with peers, the counselor can collaborate with other staff to help children thrive.” —Lezya Weglarz, school counselor; San Marcos, California
Embrace Your Culture
“Sharing your heritage in the classroom is a win-win for everyone—it makes your child feel secure, confident, and proud of who they are and expands other students’ worldview. One easy way to do this? Tell the teacher about a book your family loves about your culture or traditions, and see if it can be incorporated into the curriculum.” —Becky Calzada
“Names are such a big part of our cultural identity. So it’s a good idea to ask teachers to respect the pronunciation of first and last names. You can email them the correct way to say your kid’s name before school starts. And if an educator tries to change Mateo, for example, to Matthew, you can say something like ‘I’m so excited that my child is in your class. I want to ask that his name not be changed for any reason. In our family, we strive to protect our kid’s identity, and names are a big part of that.’” —José Medina, dual-language consultant and former school principal; Washington, DC
Engage Kids at Home
Hold One Another Accountable
“Kick off the year with a contract that lists some goals for students (homework, opening up about worries, asking questions) as well as parents (checking homework, sending forms back on time, giving breaks as needed). You can create it on colorful construction paper. If your little scholar isn’t reading yet, draw pictures of your different duties and responsibilities. It will help ensure that students open up about their school struggles as they pop up.” —Cindi Rivera, associate executive director at an elementary school; Las Vegas
Put Knowledge Into Action
“You can lecture all day, but kids are more likely to retain information if they can see and touch what you’re talking about. One of the best things families can do is go on a field trip. It can be as simple as a nature walk in your neighborhood. Discuss the places, people, and animals you see, and point things out in English and then Spanish [or whatever second language you speak at home]. You can say, ‘That’s a tree, en español árbol,’ which indicates to younger kids that you’re transitioning to another language. These types of activities are great for developing conversational skills and bilingual vocabulary.” —Glendalis Moran, foreign-language elementary-school teacher; Long Island, New York
“Research shows that reading is key to school success. A fun way to introduce sequencing—the idea that all stories have a beginning, middle, and end—is through cooking. Whether you’re making arroz con pollo or a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, ask your kid to write down the steps using the words first, next, then, and last. Not only does it support writing structure and mechanics, but it gives children a better understanding of why ordering events is necessary. Bonus: It will also help students follow steps in long division, addition, and subtraction.” —Grace Maldonado-Wohlfahrt, fourth-grade teacher; Long Island, New York
Focus on Basics
“Singing with your child is always a good idea. Kids with a sense of rhythm tend to become stronger readers because they can pick up on word patterns.” —Nina Ferman, kindergarten teacher; Pacoima, California
“It’s important to give children the opportunity to learn math as early as possible. Use your environment. Kids can sort stuffed animals by size, practice counting with items like beans, and look for shapes everywhere—from octagons in street signs to squares in floor tiles.” —Coco Salazar, kindergarten teacher; Pacoima, California
Lean on Your Heritage
“Make studying more intriguing by incorporating cultural references and the names of family members into schoolwork. For example, if you’re of Mexican heritage: ‘Ana made six sopes [soups] with chicken, frijoles, and sour cream. She split them evenly between her hermana [sister], tía [aunt], and herself. How many sopes will each of them be able to eat?’ ” —Cindi Rivera
“Oral language development is crucial for writing and reading comprehension. Luckily, sharing family lore through song or spoken word is already such a big part of [Spanish] culture. Have your kid practice by listening to and retelling one of Grandma’s legendary tales.” —Nina Ferman
Sneak Studying Into Screen Time
“Have kids watch their favorite shows in español with the English subtitles turned on, or vice versa. It’s a great way to teach younger kids Spanish and encourage reading at the same time.” —Glendalis Moran
“Don’t be afraid to tell your kid, ‘I’m your No. 1 fan!’ Even when they’re little, children [of color] can pick up on the fact that [they] aren’t given the same opportunities as the majority of the population. So it’s up to parents and educators to lift them up. Celebrate victories, even if it’s simply mastering a tricky spelling word. When students have a strong support system, they’ll realize that any goals are attainable.” —Olivia Bueno, third-grade teacher; Gilroy, California
Tools Of The Trade
Supplement schooling with these helpful—and free!—apps and websites.
Access animated videos that cover every subject under the sun, from decimals to ancient cultures.
This site and app uses educational hip-hop music to teach. After all, lessons are more likely to stick when accompanied by a beat!
Discover out-of-this-world games (Roving on Mars, anyone?), STEM activities, tutorials on building rockets, and more.
Find eBooks, podcasts, coloring pages, and memory games that develop bilingual skills.
Kids will love the website’s videos featuring actors (Jaime Camil, Hector Elizondo, Rita Moreno) reading children’s books.
This app and website is the ultimate resource for study tools, including flash cards, games, and, yes, quizzes!
This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's August/September 2020 issue as “Learning Lessons.” Read the full issue free here.