KS Logo here

Helping Your Child Succeed in School

With activities for children aged 5 through 11

By Dorothy Rich
Edited by Margery Martin



U.S. Department of Education




The Basics


Parents and the Schools




Education and Kids

Related Articles

How Parents and Families Can Help Their Children Do Better in School

How Can I Be Involved in My Child's Education?

Helping Your Child With Homework


This is the question we parents are always trying to answer. It's good that children ask questions: that's the best way to learn. All children have two wonderful resources for learning--imagination and curiosity. As a parent, you can awaken your children to the joy of learning by encouraging their imagination and curiosity.

Helping Your Child Succeed in School is one in a series of books on different education topics intended to help you make the most of your child's natural curiosity. Teaching and learning are not mysteries that can only happen in school. They also happen when parents and children do simple things together.

For instance, you and your child can: sort the socks on laundry day--sorting is a major function in math and science; cook a meal together--cooking involves not only math and science but good health as well; tell and read each other stories--storytelling is the basis for reading and writing (and a story about the past is also history); or play a game of hopscotch together--playing physical games will help your child learn to count and start on a road to lifelong fitness.

By doing things together, you will show that learning is fun and important. You will be encouraging your child to study, learn, and stay in school.

All of the books in this series tie in with the National Education Goals set by the President and the Governors. The goals state that, by the year 2000: every child will start school ready to learn; at least 90 percent of all students will graduate from high school; each American student will leave the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades demonstrating competence in core subjects; U.S. students will be first in the world in math and science achievement; every American adult will be literate, will have the skills necessary to compete in a global economy, and will be able to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; and American schools will be liberated from drugs and violence so they can focus on learning.

This book is a way for you to help meet these goals. It will give you a short run-down on facts, but the biggest part of the book is made up of simple, fun activities for you and your child to do together. Your child may even beg you to do them. At the end of the book is a list of resources, so you can continue the fun.

As U.S. Education Secretary Lamar Alexander has said:

The first teachers are the parents, both by example and conversation. But don't think of it as teaching. Think of it as fun.

So, let's get started. I invite you to find an activity in this book and try it.

Diane Ravitch
Assistant Secretary and Counselor to the Secretary

Back to the Table of Contents


What is the earliest memory you have of being in school?
  • Excitement?
  • Fear?
  • Wonder?
  • Rejection?
  • Joy?
How do you feel about your years in school? If you have happy memories, chances are you can help your children be excited about learning and have good memories, too. If you disliked school, it's harder, but you can do lots of things to help make school a better experience for your children than it was for you.

The good news is that every child in every family has the power to succeed in school and in life, and every parent, grandparent, and caregiver can help.

But how do we help our children succeed? How do we give them the power? The most important thing we can do is be involved with our children's education even before they are in school, then stay involved once they are in school.

This book is about what we can do in our own homes, right now, that will help our children go to school wanting to learn. It includes:

  • Basic information on what we know about success in school;

  • Activities for children ages 5-11 to help them acquire the skills to succeed;

  • Questions and answers about when to talk to the teacher and how to handle parent-teacher conferences.

Success in school takes hard work, planning, a few basic skills, and the will to want to succeed. How do we pass these ideas on to our children?

What we know about success in school is a combination of common sense mixed with new ideas about learning.

We do know the following:
  1. Where our children learn is important. We can find inexpensive and easy things to do at home--where our children first start learning--that will make them want to learn. We can also strengthen our ties with the community and the schools, where learning continues.
  2. What our children learn from us is important. What we say and do can build their maturity and self-confidence.
  3. How our children learn from us is important. All of us teach our children every day, whether we realize it or not. We can make sure we show them a variety of ways to learn.
Now, how do we take these facts and turn them into ways to help our children do well in school?

Back to the Table of Contents

The Basics

Where Our Children Learn

At Home

It's no surprise to anyone that children need time with their parents. And even though most parents are extremely busy, whether they work outside of the home or not, they do find time to spend with their children. But they want that time to count in helping prepare their children for the world they will find outside the home.

What counts most is what we say and do at home, not how rich or poor we are or how many years of school we have finished. When children can count on getting attention at home, they have a greater sense of security and self-worth. This will help them do better not only in school, but also when they grow up.

If you think about it, school, while very important, does not really take up very much time. In the United States, the school year averages 180 days; in other industrialized nations, the school year can extend up to 240 days, and students are often in school more hours per day. So, the hours and days a child is not in school are important for learning, too.

Communicating. This is probably the most important activity we can do in our home, and it doesn't cost anything. Ask questions, listen for answers. These are no-cost, high-value things to do.

Think of conversation as being like a tennis game with talk, instead of a ball, bouncing back and forth. Communication can happen any time, any place--in the car, on a bus, at mealtime, at bedtime.

When our children enter and continue school with good habits of communication, they are in a position to succeed--to learn all that has to be learned, and to become confident students.

Starting early.

Here are some things you can do when your children are young:
  • Let them see you read, and read to them and with them. Visit the library. If they are old enough, make sure they have their own card. Keep books, magazines, and newspapers around the house.
  • Keep pencils and paper, crayons, and washable markers handy for notes, grocery lists, and schoolwork. Writing takes practice, and it starts at home.
  • Teach children to do things for themselves rather than do the work for them. Patience when children are young pays off later.
  • Help children, when needed, to break a job down into small pieces, then do the job one step at a time. This works for everything--getting dressed, a job around the house, or a big homework assignment.
  • Develop, with your child, a reasonable, consistent schedule of jobs around the house. List them on a calendar, day by day.
  • Every home needs consistent rules children can depend on. Put a plan into action, and follow through.
  • Give each child an easy-to-reach place in which to put things away.
  • Set limits on TV viewing so that everyone can get work done with less background noise.
  • Watch TV with your children and talk about what you see.
Handling homework.

These are the messages to get across to your children about homework:
  • Education is important. Homework has to be done. Let children know that this is what you value.
  • Try to have a special place where each child can study.
  • Help your children plan how to do all the things they need to do--study, work around the house, play, etc.
  • Let your children know that you have confidence in them. Remind them of specific successes they have had in the past perhaps in swimming, soccer, cooking, or in doing a difficult homework assignment.
  • Don't expect or demand perfection. When children ask you to look at what they've done--from skating a figure 8 to a math assignment--show interest and praise them when they've done something well. If you have criticisms or suggestions, make them in a helpful way.
The time we spend exchanging ideas at home with our children is vitally important in setting the tone, the attitudes, and the behaviors that make the difference in school.

In the Community

In many parts of our nation, the ties among neighbors have been weakened. For the sake of our children, they need to be rebuilt, and you can help. Be sure to introduce your children to your neighbors. You might even try a "child watch" program where adults who are home during the day keep an eye out for children when they walk to and from school and stand at bus stops.

Some schools are helping families connect with the community by, for example, becoming centers for social services as well as for education. Getting to know your child's school can help you, in a very real way, get to know a major part of your community. It can also help you build a network of wider community support for your family.

At School

Parents can become involved with the schools in several different ways, by working with children at home, volunteering, sharing information, and helping to make policy. We need to remember that what works in one community (or for one family) may not necessarily work in another.

It may no longer be possible for parents to volunteer as often for school activities. However, working with children at home and sharing information with the school are two things all parents can do.

The section after the activities, "Parents and the Schools," has some suggestions on how to get the most out of talking to your child's teacher. Many teachers say they rarely receive information from parents about problems at home. Many parents say they don't know what the school expects of their child. Sharing information is essential, and both teachers and parents are responsible for making it happen.

With our help, our children can become confident students, able to handle the challenges of school. This means:
  • Talking with our children about the value of hard work and about the importance of education;
  • Talking about what's happening in school;
  • Reading report cards and messages that come from school;
  • Going to school and meeting with teachers;
  • Taking part in school events when you can; and
  • Finding out about resources in the community.

What Our Children Learn From Us

Sometimes we think that all our children need to know to be ready to start school are the ABCs and how to count. The reality is that most children can learn these things pretty fast once they get to school. What they do need--and what you can give--is the message that education is valuable: through education, people can shape their own future.

So, talk about learning, share the fun and excitement of new skills. Show your children that you are always learning, too. Read aloud, play games, and talk about events around the block and around the world.

Children tend to follow the examples set for them. When we say one thing and do another, children watch and learn. When we practice what we preach, children watch and learn.

The bottom line is that when we give our children the support and information they need, and expect them to do well, they do better in school and in life.

How Our Children Learn From Us

Children need active, even noisy, learning as well as quiet learning such as reading. Active learning includes asking and answering questions (and trying to get more than just "yes" or "no" answers); solving problems; and discussing a variety of topics.

Active learning can also take place when a child plays sports, spends time with friends, or goes to a museum or zoo. The active learning suggestions in the next section will help you think of even more things for you and your children to do.

Limit TV watching. Watching TV is an example of a quiet activity that children can learn from, but one that is a problem in almost every home. We know that children who watch a lot of TV learn less and get lower grades than students who watch little TV. And in international comparisons, U.S. students rank high in watching TV, but are near the bottom in doing homework. The result is that U.S. students know less than those in other countries.

Encourage active learning. What can we do? We can listen to our children's ideas and respond to them. We can let them jump in with questions and opinions when reading books together. When this type of give-and-take between parent and child happens at home, a child's participation and interest in school increases.

What Messages To Send

Three of the important messages our children need about success in school can be sent by:
  1. Sharing our own experiences and goals with our children, because children tend to adopt our ideals. They need to know how we feel about making an effort, working hard, and planning ahead.
  2. Establishing realistic, consistent family rules for work around the house so our children can develop schedules and stable routines. Children need limits set even though they will test these limits over and over again. Children need to know what they can depend on--and they need to be able to depend on the rules we make.
  3. Encouraging our children to think about the future. Our children need realistic, reasonable expectations, and they need the satisfaction of having some of these expectations met. They need to take part in making decisions (and to learn that sometimes this means sacrificing fun now for benefits later) and they need to find out what happens as a result of decisions they have made.

Throw a stone into a pool and the circles widen and overlap. None of us lives in isolation. The circles of home, community, and school overlap also. For our children to learn and thrive, they need the support and encouragement of all of the circles in which we live. But the circle in the center is the home and that's where it all starts.

What We Can Do To Help Our Children Learn

  • Listen to them and pay attention to their problems. Read with them.
  • Tell family stories.
  • Limit their television watching.
  • Have books and other reading materials in the house.
  • Look up words in the dictionary with them.
  • Encourage them to use an encyclopedia.
  • Share favorite poems and songs with them.
  • Take them to the library--get them their own library cards.
  • Take them to museums and historical sites, when possible.
  • Discuss the daily news with them.
  • Go exploring with them and learn about plants, animals, and geography.
  • Find a quiet place for them to study
  • Review their homework.
  • Meet with their teachers.
  • Do you have any other ideas?

Back to the Table of Contents


U.S. Department of Education
Lamar Alexander

Office of Educational Research and Improvement
Diane Ravitch
Assistant Secretary

Francie Alexander
Deputy Assistant Secretary

Publication of this book was managed by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education. Listing of materials and resources in this book should not be construed or interpreted as an endorsement by the Department of any private organization or business listed herein.

November 1992

The idea for this publication was suggested by Diane Ravitch when she presented her vision of OERI to the education community. This book was prepared under the direction of Francie Alexander; Cynthia Hearn Dorfman, Chief, Publications Branch; and Theodor Rebarber, Special Assistant, Office of the Assistant Secretary; with help from John B. Lyons, Thelma Leenhouts, Gerard Devlin, Tim Burr, Liz Barnes, and Elizabeth DeBra. The book is based on the award-winning design by Margery Martin and Phil Carr.

Note: Graphics Omitted for on-line version (as well as notes where graphics would have been)

Back to top

Infants | Toddlers | Preschoolers | K-12
Education | Health | Recreation | Parenting | Organizations | Store
Home | Media Info | Survey | About Us | Legal

KidSource OnLine KidSource and KidSource OnLine are trademarks of Kidsource OnLine, Inc. Copyright 2009. Other trademarks property of their respective holders.. Created: November 12, 1996 . Last modified time : April 20, 2000 .