Photo credit: Madeleine Tilin Photography

Empowering Parents for Student Success

by Matthew Nelson

Parenting doesn’t come with a playbook, but it should. As another school year kicks in, tens of millions of parents and guardians are called on to balance the structured expectations of school with the rituals and routines of family life.

Even as they juggle logistical challenges such as sleep schedules, meal planning and transportation, parents want to support their children’s social, emotional, and academic development. This can be especially challenging for parents who want their kids to enjoy more opportunities and success than they did.

In my own experience raising two girls, there is only one way we can navigate the enormous complexity of a parent’s role: one step at a time, relying on the best advice and information we can get our hands on.

To help America’s families successfully meet the challenges of the new school year, the organization I run recently launched a new parenting resource for the digital age. Built upon 18 years of experience using information to empower parents, GreatSchools’ Grade by Grade is a weekly email digest of information and research-based content specific to a child’s school level, from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Like all our content, the newsletter is grounded in the core belief that informed and engaged parents play a critical role in helping their children succeed in school and in life. Where parents choose to send their children to school can have a profound impact on their education.

But parents’ impact on their children’s education — and their need for information — doesn’t end with finding the right school. Parents play a key role supporting learning at home and within the school community. They are uniquely suited to advocate for their children, whether by getting them the educational support they need to fulfill their potential or by making the case for higher quality schools in their community.

In all these areas, having access to information in the form of data, expert advice and best practices empowers families. Information is a tool that helps families have the greatest possible impact on their children’s success.

Part of our design process involved testing different tips for supporting kids’ development in reading and math to determine what parents would find most useful and easy to incorporate into their daily lives. We found, particularly in math, that parents prefer receiving a concrete idea for an activity or game they can do with their child to support a specific skill (such as playing store with Monopoly money) rather than simply receiving a description of the academic milestone (i.e., adding and subtracting two-digit numbers).

Along with specific information about the academic skills kids are expected to master each year under Common Core state standards (and ways parents can support development of these skills at home), we cover such topics as communicating with your child’s teacher, helping with homework and getting involved in the classroom.

Parents need to know what to expect of their child academically as they move from one grade to the next, and how to deal with problems. Videos of grade-level reading, writing and math skills in action help parents determine whether or not their child is on track. Monthly tips offer suggestions for dealing with common parenting struggles such as teaching time management and overcoming screen-dependence.

We’ve also included stories that address age-appropriate aspects of children’s social and emotional development. From dealing with anxiety to the best ways to make friends, from handling peer pressure to responding to bullying, these stories deliver advice from experts and inspiration from parents who have been there. Together, the stories, videos and information in Grade by Grade empower parents with knowledge to help their kids succeed, one step at a time.

Matthew Nelson is the president of GreatSchools, an educational nonprofit that seeks to empower parents by providing school information and resources. This essay is part of a series on parent engagement produced by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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