I dread the start of school each year because it means the end of lazy schedules, easy-going evenings, and not worrying about whether or not there’s enough lunch meat for tomorrow’s lunches.  It’s easy for most dads to default to mom to take care of things for the kids, but in our family, with four kids, two working parents, and schedules galore, it’s imperative that I do more than just say, “Hey, let your mom help you with that?”

With that in mind, here are five things that dads can do to make the school year not suck.  (Any parent can do these, of course, but these are written from my perspective as a father.)

5.  Pay Attention to What Needs to Get Done.  School is a lot more work than it was when I was a kid.  There’s homework all the time, letters and emails coming from the teachers and schools on a regular basis, and there’s a lot that needs to happen each week.  Parents have busy lives full of their own things–I had some work pop up in the evening the other day, and I got busy with answering emails and making phone calls–but even a second grader now has a ton of stuff to remember.  And guess what–that 8 year old won’t remember.  That’s my job as a parent.  It’s okay to ignore the work for awhile to help your child stay ahead of the game.

4.  Listen When Your Spouse Tells You What They Need Help With.  There’s nothing more disappointing than setting an expectation and having it not met, especially when it’s as simple as “give your son his practice spelling test–and remember to have him write the words down on this piece of paper.”  The other night, as I took my wife to work, she said this exact thing.  I gave my son his practice spelling test during dinner with the kids and did it the way we did it in first grade–which is not what she asked me to do.  So, for him to be ahead, he had to take his spelling test again, right after breakfast and before we walked out the door.  Not a win for anyone, and it could have been avoided by really listening and making sure you know what’s being asked of you.

3.  Keep Things Enjoyable.  Nobody likes homework.  As a former teacher, I can assure that teachers don’t like it.  Kids don’t like it, and when my 5th grader asks for help with her math and I look at it like she’s just asked me to read her something in Klingon, I’m reminded that I don’t like it, either.  So instead of everyone hating what needs to be done, find ways to make it fun.  Break it up into increments, move it around the room, do it while standing on your head and eating jelly beans.  Make sure you keep the focus on a particular task, but give the kids a break, give yourself a break, and then you’ll find the strength to continue with that ridiculous stuff they call “mathematics” these days.

2.  Don’t Stress Out About Grades.  Let me be honest: I don’t care if my children don’t get straight A’s.  I want them to always do their best, and if their best is a C+, I’m okay with that.  If they are trying like crazy and working with their teacher and still can’t get anything above a D, I’m okay with that, too.  Grades are not a reflection of my child’s character, it’s not a reflection on me, and it certainly isn’t a determination of their future success.  Grades are an arbitrary way of measuring progress, and while the education system places value on them and awards honor roll and scholarships, I’d rather give my kids awards for honesty, being virtuous and kind, and having a good work ethic.  Those will get you farther than an A+ in 3rd grade math.  I want my kids to succeed, yes, but I don’t want them to measure their worth by a letter on a paper.  They are much more valuable than that!

1.  Plan Vacations.  Teachers may not like it, but I find great value in taking my kids out of school during the school year for a break.  Vacations shouldn’t just be in the summer.  What’s wrong with getting out of town for a weekend in October or flying to Walt Disney World in January?  Nothing.  Your kids need a break about every 60 days or so, an escape from the regularity of schedules and assignments and all the stress of school, and frankly, so do you.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant or even long–but a healthy break, away from the everyday will do wonders for your family, for your kids, and keep them motivated through the long weeks of math assignments ahead of them.

The school year can suck.  But trying a few of these simple steps out can help make it less so–for you, and for your kids.

P.S.  I just realized I talked a lot about math in this post.  I don’t hate math, but I was an English teacher, am completely right-brained, and do not enjoy math at all.  If you like math, just read “English” or something else instead.

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