How to help your kids at school — even if you don’t understand what they are doing

It’s back-to-school time, and it’s not just kids feeling the anxiety. Parents have their own set of worries with a new school year starting, so, here is some help from Laura Bay, an educator from Washington state who is the president of the National PTA. She offers some words of advice on how to help your kids at school — even if you don’t understand what they are doing.

This blog post was featured in Washington Post’s The Answer Sheet” blog. Read the full post.

Back-to-school is a stressful time. There are new people to meet, and there is pressure to fit in. There is new material to learn, and it seems to get more challenging every year. Then there are the stakes, which couldn’t be higher.

And I’m just talking about the parents.

The elephant in the room for many parents is that the expectations for our children are different than when we were in school. Students are now focusing more on critical thinking, analyzing, and problem solving, and some parents have grown unsure about how—and whether—they can help their children in this new environment.

The answer for parents is clear—yes, we can.

To help parents help their children, the National PTA is trying something different this year. Along with other national organizations such as Scholastic, National Council of La Raza, GreatSchools, and Common Sense Media, we’re helping launch Be a Learning Hero — a public service partnership designed to support parents to be learning heroes for their kids at back to school and throughout the school year.

The new site, Be A Learning Hero, acknowledges that education has changed. It doesn’t opine, and it doesn’t advocate. Lots of parents don’t have time for that anyway. Instead, Be A Learning Hero takes a practical stance and addresses this question: if our education system is evolving, and therefore impacting how teachers teach and how students learn, how can we best help parents support their children?

We’re not talking about supporting children with new back-to-school outfits or school supplies. We’re talking about simple, actionable steps all parents can take to help their children succeed in school. has just released the five steps called the SUPER 5, that empower parents to support their children’s learning and development for back to school:

1. Learn what the specific learning goals are for your child’s new grade.

2. Know where your child excels and where there is room to grow.

3. Spend time in your child’s school and be in regular contact with his or her teacher. Given that not all parents’ schedules always align with the school day, parents can also use phone calls, text messages, emails and school websites and apps to keep in touch with their child’s educators.

4. Promote your child’s emotional intelligence — it matters for academic success.

5. Make home another space for learning, and get tools for boosting your child’s math and English skills at the kitchen table.

Parents can visit for practical, trusted resources to turn these tips into action at home. We want our children to be successful, and we want to feel like we’re contributing to our children’s success. Even if we don’t remember the Pythagorean theorem and haven’t recently read any books by Roald Dahl or Judy Blume, we can still help our children succeed by understanding their learning goals, monitoring their progress and knowing how to help.

Laura Bay is National PTA President.

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