Lessons for mom and dad: how to help your kid at school

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It’s back to school for SA’s 12 million pupils on Wednesday, and there are ways to make the transition easier for them and their parents.
Times Select asked these education experts for tips: Professor Mary Metcalfe, former head of the Wits School of Education and previous Gauteng education MEC, former principal of star school Parktown High Dr Anthea Cereseto, visiting principal at Wits and University of Johannesburg Professor of Early Childhood Education Elizabeth Henning, and Basil Manuel, former principal and executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA.
Professor Mary Metcalfe
• “Reading, reading, reading. Don’t worry if it’s not considered good literature.” She suggested using a gaming magazine for a teenage boy who loves computers, which would cash in on their interests. • The school calendar consists of many transitions where there is a big adjustment for a child. “Discuss these and discuss what is different with your child.” Big transitions include starting school, going to Grade 4, going into Grade 7, moving into high school, the change in Grade 10 with focused subjects and the pressure of matric.
• Routines are important, as is regular completion of homework.
• Ask a child: How was your day?
• Parents are urged to develop a collaborative approach with teachers and be mutually supportive.
• Good nutrition is important.
• School should not just be for academics, but pupils should be encouraged to take part in fun extracurricular activities.
Dr Anthea Cereseto on dealing with anxiety • Parents should speak about school in a positive light, since “many parents are dealing with their own school anxiety and bad memories”. • If at all possible, try to have one meal a day as a family and in a calm manner where there is no fighting. Suggest topics if kids don’t talk.
• If you don’t talk to kids at age seven, eight and nine, they won’t talk as teenagers when they really need to, she warned.
• Don’t criticise the school and teachers in front of a child, because they will copy this behaviour. It destroys a child’s respect for school.
• Talk every day. Children often do two things. They say school was fine or they tell horrible stories. Don’t react when they tell stories, and don’t take sides. There are three sides to every story. Reflect back what the child is saying as a psychologist. Listen to what kids say. Hear out the whole story and reflect on it.
• Teach your child coping strategies for school. When they speak about all the horrible things at school, suggest solutions. • Don’t make homework a battle ground between the parent and child. Learning must take place at school. Consolidation must be at home. • Children spend about 22% of their waking hours at school. Teachers are expected to teach the education curriculum as well as teach children how to be good people. School will do that to some extent but parents need to teach a child good social skills. • Don't regulate the child’s life so much (with friends, extramurals) that they have no time for unstructured play whatsoever. Unstructured play is the best way of learning and is creative. A bit of boredom is really good for children. • Don’t compare your child with other children. It is not a matter of winning and being number one. • Children must learn to make their best effort. If they made a mistake they can learn from it.
Professor Elizabeth Henning on a culture of creativity
• Let kids of all ages make things with their hands and design things.
• Let kids set exam papers based on work they have covered in school, and then write the exams and mark them. It’s a good technique for self-regulation.
• Kids must read stuff that is of interest to them. If it relates to the curriculum, that’s cool. If not, read what it is interesting, and vocabulary and knowledge will expand.
• Monitor the time spent watching screens. • Let them sleep enough.
• Try to get them into nature spaces, even a city park.
• Keep the parent pressure low.
• Listen to them more than they listen to you.
• Of course, use reputable technology and software for education enrichment.
Basil Manuel
• I always say parents don’t pay enough attention to their children. They tend to think I am sending a kid to a good school, and [don’t get involved enough]. • Stay interested in small things concerning a child. Bullying destroys a child but you will never know it is happening unless you are interested. Even if you are tired, ask what was the most interesting lesson today? Ask: How your friends doing? Are they liking school? • Be interested in the company your child keeps. If you are not interested in their friends, you will one day be shocked by the company they keep. But you never took an interest.
• Children have two personalities, one at home and one at at school. You need to make sure you know what they are like at school. • The school is not a holy cow. If you are uncomfortable, sometimes you need to ask: Is it normal that ... ? • Very often a parent is told a story by their child and when the parent phones the school it is a different story. So keep in touch with the school.
• Not every parent can attend every teacher’s meeting. Pick up the phone and say you can’t get there but want to be. The school will help you as they want interested parents. Children whose parents are involved are often the greatest darlings at school.
• Parents must not bully teachers, which is common. We have parents who are very demanding and say because they are paying they demand. They instil that in their children as well. There are hectic parents and more of them than you might think. Teachers deal with that by trying to distance themselves from the child. Teachers are terrified of those parents because they have very little power. Don’t be the one who wants to bully teachers into submission. You want your child to have the best type of experience at school.
​• Let your child fit in. Children need to fit in. If a child is sticking out a like a sore thumb, what will happen? Bullying is inevitable.
• Parents do not always realise how important nutrition is. You cannot undervalue the importance of a good, healthy snack...

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