When my kids were little, it was easy to figure out how to be involved in their learning and school life. Volunteer sign-ups and donation requests pointed me in the right direction. Parent organizations reached out to let me know how I could help.

As my kids got older, the parent involvement clues were harder to find and interpret. Schools want kids to become more and more autonomous and responsible. Of course, parents want that too—but this push for independence left me feeling a little bit left out of the process.  I’m an educator by training and profession, but it was still hard to figure out my changing role as a parent at school.

Here’s a little nerdy info about learning. If that’s not your thing, feel free skip ahead: 

Educational research consistently shows that family involvement in school and learning drives success for kids, both academically and personally.

  • Search Institute has identified parent involvement as one of the factors that help young people grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. They have lists (available in English, Spanish and 15 other languages) of protective factors for kids of all ages. Check them out here
  • The super well-known and respected Visible Learning research has also recognized parental involvement as having influence on student achievement—and a bigger influence than things like science programs or small group learning or technology with elementary students.

So, we know it’s a big deal. The question remains: how do I stay engaged and involved in school stuff without being a helicopter parent or a lawnmower mama?

Attend.

Not as many moms (or dads or grandparents) show up for information night or parent/teacher conferences at the high school. I want to be one of them…even when my kid says it doesn’t matter. I believe it makes a difference to the teachers and sends a message to my kiddo.

Volunteer. 

The opportunities may look different or come from a tennis coach or choir director, but schools, teams, and groups still need lots of help from parents to accomplish their goals.  I try to pitch in when I can, even if it’s not entirely convenient.

Follow. 

When my kids went to middle school, lots of the parent communication became more passive and moved to social media or online platforms. It was up to me to sign up for the text messages, read the emails, follow the accounts.  

Ask. 

Asking my kids questions still seems like a good way to stay in touch. I try to ask questions that lead to discussion rather than single word answers. From my smart counselor friend, I learned not to be fooled by “I don’t know.” When I stay quiet, I’ve been surprised what my kid knows and thinks and believes.

Listen. 

I want to really listen to what my kid says and watch for patterns. I pay attention to names I hear consistently and the names I don’t hear as often anymore. Knowing my big kid well can feel like solving a puzzle … I need all the clues I can find. I’ve learned the hard way that listening with kindness and without judgement encourages future conversation.

Imagine. 

I love talking to my kids about the future and their dreams. I try to show interest in their ideas and help them explore options. We can wonder together about jobs that might relate to a favorite class or preferred activity. We’ve tried recipes and watched documentaries and explored social media together.  

However you choose to be involved, do it happily. Your kids feel valued when you use your time and attention to support their interests and dreams.

 

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Beth is mom to a high school sophomore and a first year college student. After fourteen years as a professional writer and editor, she earned graduate degrees in counseling and play therapy. Now she exercises her creativity as a school counselor. Beth loves reading, especially mysteries.