Mind the Gap
[Building the Bridge Between Home and School]
I don’t really remember much about my very first day in school, whether I walked in without a backward glance at my mom or shed copious tears as I clung on to her for dear life. But I do remember the first time I delivered each of my five boys to their school, and what I remember most is how it tore my heart to let go of their hand and watch them walk away. (Gaah! Which mom wouldn’t be anxious and just a tad jealous, really?)
But I am glad to report that the separation anxiety (mine, not my kids’) is now a thing of the very distant past. I’ve learned that school, instead of replacing our home as the haven of our babies, is truly just an extension of it. I’ve learned that far from tearing our babies away from us, school is that trusty sidekick who helps us ensure that our kid will grow up to be the best person he can be. That is, assuming that we know how to build a great bridge between home and school.
Because it isn’t instinctive, I think. Knowing how to make the home-and-school connection work seamlessly is not stock knowledge stored somewhere inside of us, scheduled to bloom in our heads at the same time our wombs blossom with child. Rather, it’s the product of a lot of trial and error and on-the-job learning. We have no choice but to put in the hours and let experience be our teacher – and accept that we’re doing some kind of parallel learning right along with our kid.
Wouldn’t it be great, though, if there was some guidebook to help us along the way? I know I would have appreciated one when I put my first two boys through their formative years in school. Instead, for the past 20 years (and still counting), I have been engaged in bridge building. I’ve run the whole gamut, from stressing over low scores and pushing my kids to go for the gold (with my older boys then), all the way to a much less rabid preoccupation with grades and more mature focus on real learning (with my younger boys now). And, you know, now that I’ve got all this experience schooling five kids, I’ve never been surer that I don’t know it all. But I’m just as certain that I’ve managed to pick up a few amazing tricks along the way that work.
Now I happen to think that anyone who has some insider info of this kind has a moral obligation to share it with others, don’t you agree? (That’s so funny, you and me nodding together). So here we go.
1. Establish routines.
My kids grew up knowing that studying is their job and school is their office. And because school and office work pretty much the same way, when schedules are set and order is established, it’s so much easier to work better and be more productive. So from Monday to Friday, they go to school, come home, take a bath, eat a snack, and settle down to homework for the next 2-3 hours. On the same large table in the same well-lit, spacious room. With all the materials they need on hand. Like clockwork. Schedule and order minus the military barracks.
Why it works: Practice a good thing daily and it becomes a habit. Good habits are virtues. And a virtuous child grows into a virtuous adult. Score!
Speaking of bonuses, here’s an additional tip: Keep to the routine of sitting down to work for at least an hour every day. Yes, even when there’s no homework, because it’s harder to re-establish routines than to keep to them. And keeping busy is always preferable to being idle.
2. Help them learn to prioritize.
For my boys, who adore playtime, prioritizing means that games are reserved for school weekends and summer days. School is their duty, so it comes first. If they get their work done well with extra time to spare, they get rewarded with books to read, art to create, or even a short football game outdoors. But video and computer games – being greatly distracting – must learn to wait for weekends.
Teaching kids to prioritize can be as simple as letting them order their homework activities from the hardest to the easiest (because they have more fresh energy and brain power at the start), from the most immediate due dates to the later deadlines. As they check items off their mini To-Do lists, kids learn to work toward success and savor it even in the tiniest jobs.
Why it works: Everyone knows that all work and no play are no good. But play before work isn’t a good thing either. Learning how to put what-matters-most first helps them sift through their many options and make the right choices as adults. Big chunks of triumph are born from little pieces of success, after all.
3. Advance the advantage.
My kids set aside a little time each day, even just five minutes per subject, to scan through the next lesson and do some advance work. It gives them an idea of what’s coming their way tomorrow and helps them connect that with what happened today.
Why it works: To paraphrase a famous cliché: An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cramming. Being prepared and ready for whatever may come equips our kids to meet unforeseen events with greater calm and better performance.
4. Forgive failures.
I think every parent’s heart beats a little faster when a child takes home a less than stellar mark. But here’s the thing we often forget: our little kiddo’s heart is beating just as fast as ours. Because no one – not they, not we – wants to see red on a report card. Failure hurts… but it’s also a great learning opportunity. I admit that in the distant past, a bad score was the stimulus for me to rant and rail. Not anymore. Forgiveness is the hand that takes failure and turns it into a means to develop greater character. Instead of getting upset, I prefer to help my kid figure out what went wrong. Then together we set resolutions – short-term, achievable, measurable ones – to start making it right. Because every kid needs to know he has the power to apply corrective measures and make things better.
Why it works: I would imagine that someone who has never experienced defeat in life might possibly fall apart at the seams upon meeting it for the first time. I think a child should never, ever have to think that failure strips away his essence as a person. In the face of disastrous times, I’d want my child to stand straight and say, “Okay, I’m not perfect but neither am I giving up. I’m going to get this right.” As a parent, I prefer to view failure as a friend who allows our child to build from its ashes an altar of strength of character, humility, and perseverance. And what a great thing to build! Because strong, humble kids don’t crumble as adults. They become resilient survivors. They become heroes.
5. Just do your best.
My kids know this mantra by heart. They know that a 99 percent grade they didn’t work hard for merits less than an 80 percent that they sweated blood and tears for. They can probably quote me word for word: Don’t measure yourself against everyone else; just do your personal best. Because the funny thing is, if you do your best all the time, that’s when the medals come. But even if they don’t, that’s okay – because receiving honors for a job well done is awesome, but that’s just the icing on the cake. The thing that matters is that you’ve worked hard and you know more today than you did yesterday.
Why it works: There will always be people lesser than us and people greater than us, and measuring ourselves against them may result in either misplaced or injured pride. And you know what they say about pride and downfalls, right? Teaching our kids to make themselves their own yardstick as they constantly strive to do better assures them of achieving greater heights, which becomes a great gift to offer to the loving Father who has given them all that they need to do their best in all things.
6. Value the power of prayer.
My kids begin and end their days with prayers on their lips, and they do it before every quiz and exam and test, too! I like to call it harnessing the power of divine intervention (wink).
Why it works: Because prayer always does, right?
7. THE PRESENT OF PRESENCE.
Be there with them. Work side by side with your kids if you can, even if it means reading a book or doing accounts or writing articles (snort) by their side.
Why it works: Actions speak louder than words, and working alongside them gives our kids a great opportunity to see us walking the talk. It also opens up avenues for communication, helping us learn more about them through their little stories as well as giving us the chance to impart some life lessons along the way.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips and tricks, but it’s a list of the ones that I find have helped the most, and in ways larger than the four walls of school. Because I’m convinced school is really Life, just on a smaller scale. Sure, our kids need to learn their three R’s, but it goes way beyond that. More than simply academic content, what really matters are the values and work habits that the kids learn along the way. More than polite expressions, it’s the lessons in kindness and concern for others.
More than math and reading skills, it’s the generosity of sharing knowledge, the importance of teamwork, the values of honesty, unity and responsibility. More than getting stellar grades, it’s the perseverance, the constancy of doing a job well, the rising up after a fall. These are the greater lessons that matter, and when the home and the school join hands in developing these, then we can be sure that our kids will be successful at helping make this world a better place for all. And that, to me, is the best bridge to build between School and Home, between Today and Tomorrow, between our generation and the next.
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