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8 Tips to help you help your children
be the best students they can be

By Kirk Noonan

The students quietly read under the light of their desk lamps and sipped steaming cups of herbal tea. Classical music played lightly in the background, the overhead lights were off and every student was on task. Only minutes before, most of the students had been swarming around my desk eager for me to see their completed in-depth reports on the nation’s states that they had worked on diligently for the prior three months.

As the students read, I browsed the state reports. Suddenly the classroom’s door swung open to a weary-eyed parent who stomped her way toward my desk. When she reached the edge of my desk she slammed down her daughter’s late state report. “I worked on this until 5 a.m.,” she said. “This was a ridiculous amount of work for fifth graders.”

Later that week as I read the reports it became evident that all the work the woman’s daughter had done had been reworked or replaced by her well-meaning mother. Instead of a grade-school project the report read and looked like a finely massaged travel brochure. When confronted, the student’s mother hesitantly admitted she had done more than her fair share of the report. “But,” she protested, “I only wanted to help my daughter do her best.”

Most parents do.

But knowing when to roll up one’s sleeves to help a child get the job done and when to step back and let the child work through a challenge can be tricky. To find out how parents can help their children be the best students they can be without cheating, Today’s Pentecostal Evangel spoke with several Christian educators and church leaders.

Tip #1: Share and tell
It’s been said that education is a journey, not a destination. As children make the journey, educators say, parents should accompany them by serving as guides who encourage, provide, foster and love learning. The key to doing that well is cogent communication.

As a mother of two children, Pam Anderson has found that talking about the school day with them each night is powerful.

“I ask them to tell me about at least one positive thing they learned or experienced at school,” says Anderson. Doing so, she says, keeps the educational journey in a positive light, initiates conversation and helps her husband and her gauge how their children are doing on many fronts.

“Parents need to listen to what their children tell them about school,” says Marilyn Vaughn, professor of education at Bethany College, an Assemblies of God school in Santa Cruz, Calif. “Listen, probe and find out exactly what your child is conveying. It comes down to asking good questions and being a really good listener. Parents need to establish this type of communication with their children early on so it will not seem intrusive when their children are older.”

Anderson and Vaughn also recommend that parents teach their children how to respectfully communicate with their teachers. Doing so, they say, enables students to stand up for their rights, express their concerns and take ownership of their education. This is especially important for middle-school and high-school students.

“As parents we are our children’s advocates,” says Anderson, “but part of the learning and maturing process is teaching them to respectfully stick up for themselves.”

Tip #2: Get organized
Students who are organized tend to have greater academic success. Help your youngster get organized by:

• Having separate folders for each subject they are studying.

• Having a clean, uncluttered and comfortable spot for your child to do homework.

• Helping your child set short- and long-range goals.

• Knowing class and school routines and reviewing them with your child.

Tip #3: Homework
Doug and Julie Titus of Aptos, Calif., homeschool their four children. The Titus home is small and they do not have a designated homeschool room where the children study. Instead, the children gather around the family’s kitchen table. Though it may not seem an ideal place to learn, the Tituses have taken the necessary steps to make the space conducive for learning by setting specific times when learning and studying take place, having resources and materials ready and nearby, eliminating distractions and by making the space well-lit and comfortable.

“It’s not a perfect situation, but it works for us,” says Julie. “Plus our older children are able to help the younger children learn.”

Such elements, say educators, are the cornerstones for studying at home whether a child is homeschooled or simply doing homework.

In Blaine, Minn., students in Lori Haldorson’s high school trigonometry class expect homework — for most students, mastering trigonometry takes practice in class and at home. To make the most out of their homework time Haldorson tells her students to:

• Use class time to do homework when it is given.

• When at home take frequent breaks as rewards.

• Find the time that they work best.

• Come back to tough problems so as not to become frustrated.

• Keep work neat and clean.

• Enlist homework buddies who can be called for help with problems.

Educators also recommend that parents show much interest in their child’s homework and be available to assist the child in doing her homework, but not do it for her.

“Parents only hinder their children when they do the work for them,” says Chuck Hepola, a middle-school educator for 12 years and Evangel University graduate who lives in Tulsa, Okla. “Children learn responsibility in school. Parents reinforce that by showing their child how to figure something out, but not by doing the work for them.”

Tip #4: Read to succeed
One of the best ways to encourage your children to read is to read to them. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study found that 76 percent of children who were read to at least three times a week had already mastered the letter-sound relationship at the beginning of words by the time they entered kindergarten. This compared to 64 percent of children who were read to less than three times a week.

Educators recommend parents:

• Read to their children on a regular basis.

• Have their children read to them.

• Keep in mind that not all reading has to be academic — it can be for entertainment and enjoyment.

• Encourage children to read out loud, even road signs or cereal boxes.

Tip #5: God first, everything else second
Children, especially teenagers, seem to be busier than ever. They divide their time between school, part-time jobs, friends, church and extracurricular activities such as the drama club, band and sports. But educators warn that too much of a good thing is not always good.

“Students need to be realistic about what they can and cannot do,” says Haldorson, who serves as a youth sponsor at her church. “They need to know that they can back off on some things and make other things a priority.”

The decision is not always easy.

“Church is priority,” says Vaughn. “If football and basketball or anything else interferes to the point that a student cannot participate in the aspects of church that are foundational [such as the youth group] the student will have to make a choice to give something up — and it shouldn’t be the church.”

Hepola, who also has coached football and basketball for most of his teaching career, agrees.

“God is first,” he says flatly. “I haven’t found anywhere in the Bible where it says a person has to train to be a musician or athlete or have a college degree to get into heaven. When a student puts Christ first, he or she will be able to get done what he or she needs to get done.”

But what if a sport or activity keeps a student from attending a church meeting every now and then?

“If there is an occasional conflict families need to talk about it,” says Vaughn. “They need to ask themselves, ‘How is it going to impact our values and our overall pattern of putting God first in our lives?’" David Boyd, national Children’s Ministries Agency director for the Assemblies of God, says church attendance and participation are imperative. Boyd points to Transforming Your Children Into Spiritual Champions by George Barna. In the book Barna says a person’s moral foundation is generally in place by the time the person reaches age 9 and his or her response to the meaning and value of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is usually determined before the age of 18.

“If you don’t become an intentional learner of biblical things as a child,” says Boyd,“it is difficult to become one later in life.”

Tip #6: Stay involved
No matter how much it may seem your child in middle school or high school doesn’t want you meddling in their business at school, educators want you involved. They recommend that parents:

• Know their child’s courses and course expectations.

• Attend parent-teacher conferences.

• Make personal contact with their child’s teachers.

• Volunteer at school.

• Attend school functions.

• Know college requirements and tests that need to be taken for acceptance.

• Keep financial and academic records handy.

• Become familiar with college grants, scholarships and loan opportunities.

Tip #7: Become a lifelong learner
Ben Franklin said, “Genius without education is like silver in the mine.” Formal education is extremely important, but many of life’s greatest lessons will take place outside the classroom. Many homeschool students learn much of their curricular program in the field at places such as museums, libraries and zoos. Even if field trips to such places are not possible, experts say don’t worry because learning can take place anywhere — even in a family’s backyard. The key, according to educators, is that parents model what it means to be a lifelong learner.

“Have your child plant flowers with you or go on a nature walk; that’s science,” says Anderson. “Have them use a map to figure out where their friends live; that’s math and geography.”

Anderson and others say in order to teach someone to be a lifelong learner one must be a lifelong learner. “My most successful students are the ones who come from homes that are pro-learning,” says Anderson. “No matter how many degrees you obtain you always need to be learning.”

Tip #8: Pray
Your children need your prayers every day whether they are homeschooled or attend a public or private school. Pray for their spiritual, physical and emotional well-being. Pray that God will develop their gifts. Pray that He will help them focus on the task at hand. Pray, pray, pray.

This fall millions of students will take another step in the sometimes arduous, yet life-transforming journey of being educated. Along the way students will be tested intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually and psychologically. It is a journey fraught with challenges, obstacles and even failure.

But it is also a journey full of rewards, satisfaction, and personal growth and development. Though the journey is the child’s, it is imperative that parents get and stay involved. Parents, educators say, are the key players in children becoming the best students they can be.

Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel. He taught fifth grade in California.

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