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Parent Guide



Helping Your Child Series

The Helping Your Child series aims to provide parents with the tools and information necessary to help their children succeed in school and life. These booklets feature practical lessons and activities to help their school aged and preschool children master reading, understand the value of homework and develop the skills and values necessary to achieve and grow.


Helping Your Child Learn Science

What Is Science?

Science is not just a collection of facts. Of course, facts are an important part of science: Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees Celsius), and the earth moves around the sun. But science is much, much more. Science involves:

  • Observing what's happening;
  • Classifying or organizing information;
  • Predicting what will happen;
  • Testing predictions under controlled conditions to see if they are correct; and
  • Drawing conclusions.

Science involves trial and error—trying, failing and trying again. Science doesn't provide all the answers. It requires us to be skeptical so that our scientific "conclusions" can be modified or changed altogether as we make new discoveries.

Children Have Their Own "Scientific Concepts"

Very young children can come up with many interesting explanations to make sense of the world around them. When asked about the shape of the earth, for example, some will explain that the earth has to be flat because, if it were round like a ball, people and things would fall off it. Presented with a globe and told that this is the true shape of the earth, these children may adapt their explanation by saying that the earth is hollow and that people live on flat ground inside it.

Even older children can come up with unique "scientific" explanations, as in the following examples provided by middle-school students:

"Fossils are bones that animals are through wearing."

"Some people can tell what time it is by looking at the sun, but I've never been able to make out the numbers."

"Gravity is stronger on the earth than on the moon because here on earth we have a bigger mess."

"A blizzard is when it snows sideways."

Asking Questions

As mentioned earlier, it's important to encourage your child to ask questions. It's also important to ask your child questions that will get him talking about his ideas and to listen carefully to his answers. Keep in mind that children's experiences help them form their ideas—ideas that may, or may not, match current scientific interpretations. Help your child to look at things in new ways. For instance, in regard to the blizzard, you could ask, "Have you ever seen it snow sideways?" or "What do you think causes it to snow sideways sometimes?"

Such conversation can be an important form of inquiry or learning. Encourage your child by letting him know that it's OK to make mistakes or admit he doesn't know something. Rather than saying, "No, that's wrong," when he gives an incorrect explanation, give him accurate information or help him to find it. Going back to the blizzard, you could ask your child, "How could you check your definition?" "How does the dictionary's definition of "blizzard" fit with what you said about snow moving sideways?"

Knowing that you are willing to listen will help your child to gain confidence in his own thinking and encourage his interest in science. And listening to what he says will help him to figure out what he knows and how he knows it.

Hands-On Works Well

Investigating and experimenting are great ways for children to learn science and increase their understanding of scientific ideas. Hands-on science can also help children think critically and gain confidence in their own ability to solve problems. Young children especially are engaged by things they can touch, manipulate and change; and by situations that allow them to figure out what happens—in short, events and puzzles that they can investigate, which is at the very heart of scientific study. While hands-on science works well, it can also be messy and timeconsuming. So, before you get started, see what is involved in an activity—including how long it will take.

Less Is More

It's tempting to try to teach children just a little about many different subjects. Although children can't possibly learn everything about science, they do need and will want to learn many facts. The best way to help them learn to think scientifically is to introduce them to just a few topics in depth.

Finding the Right Activity for Your Child

Different children have different interests and will respond differently to science activities. A sand and rock collection that was a big hit with an 8-year-old daughter may not be a big hit with a 6-year-old son.

Fortunately, children whose interests vary greatly can find plenty of science activities that are fun. If your son loves to cook, let him observe how tea changes color when lemon is added or how vinegar curdles milk. Knowing your child is the best way to find suitable activities for him. Here are some tips:

  • Encourage activities that are neither too hard nor too easy for your child. If in doubt, err on the easy side, because something too difficult may give him the idea that science itself is too hard. Adults often assume that children need spectacular demonstrations to learn science, but this isn't true.
  • Consider your child's personality and social habits. Some projects are best done alone, others in a group; some require help, others require little or no adult supervision. Solitary activities may bore some children, while group projects may not appeal to others.
  • Select activities that are appropriate for where you live. Clearly, a brightly lighted city isn't the best place for stargazing.
  • Allow your child to help select the activities. If you don't know whether she would rather collect shells or plant daffodils, ask her. When she picks something she wants to do, she'll learn more and have a better time doing it.




Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics

Helping your child succed as a Mathematics Student

Here are some things that you can do to help your child be a successful mathematics student:

Visit your child's school. Meet with her teacher and ask how your child approaches mathematics. Does she enjoy it? Does she participate actively? Does she understand assignments and do them accurately? If the teacher indicates that your child has problems with math, ask for specific things that you can to help her.

Check math homework and other assignments. It's usually a good idea to check to see that your younger child has finished her math homework assignments. If your older child is having trouble finishing assignments, check her work, too. After your child's teacher returns math homework, have your child bring it home so that you can read the comments to see if she has done the assignment satisfactorily. However, do not do homework for your child! Limit your assistance to seeing that your child understands the assignments and that she has the necessary supplies to do them. Too much parent involvement in homework can make children dependent—and takes away from the value of homework as a way for children to become independent and responsible.

Find out whether your child's teacher is highly qualified and whether the school follows state standards for mathematics instruction. Ask the school principal for a school handbook or math curriculum guide. If your school doesn't have a handbook, ask the principal and teachers questions such as the following:

  • What math teaching methods and materials are used? Are the methods used to teach math based on scientific evidence about what works best? Are materials up to date?
  • How much time is spent on math instruction?
  • How does the school measure student progress in math? What tests does it use? How do the students at the school score on state assessments of math?
  • Does the school follow state math standards and guidelines?
  • Are the math teachers highly qualified? Do they meet state certification and subject-area knowledge requirements?

If you have not seen it, ask to look at the No Child Left Behind report card for your school. These report cards show how your school compares to others in the district and indicate how well it is succeeding.

Find out if the school has a Web site and, if so, get the address. School Web sites can provide you with ready access to all kinds of information, including homework assignments, class schedules, lesson plans and dates for school district and state tests.

Help your child see that the mathematics he is learning is very much a part of everyday life. From statistics in sports to the sale price of clothing to the amount of gas needed to travel from one city to another, mathematics is important to us every day. Help your child to link his "school" math to practical events.

Point out that many jobs require mathematical skills. Your child may recognize that many people must have good math skills to do their jobs—scientists, doctors, computer technicians, accountants and bankers, for example. However, she may not realize that many other jobs also require math. Point out that math also is used in jobs such as running a business; being a plumber, carpenter, electrician or mechanic; being a salesperson or clerk; and designing clothes—or buildings. Let her know that having strong math skills will open up many great career opportunities.

Stimulate your child's interest in technology. Help your child learn how to use calculators—but don't let him rely solely on them to solve math problems. Encourage him to learn to use computers to extend what he is learning and to find math games and math-related Web sites that will increase his interest in math.

Show your child that you like mathematics. Letting your child see that you use math—and that you aren't afraid of it—will go much further to building positive attitudes than just telling her that she should learn it.

Set high standards for your child in mathematics achievement. Challenge your child to succeed in math and encourage his interest by doing the kinds of activities suggested in this booklet and by trying many more activities of your own.


 Helping Your Child Become a Reader

Every step a child takes toward learning to read leads to another. Bit by bit, the child builds the knowledge that is necessary for being a reader. Over their first 6 years, most children

  • Talk and listen.
  • Listen to stories read aloud.
  • Pretend to read.
  • Learn how to handle books.
  • Learn about print and how it works.
  • Identify letters by name and shape.
  • Identify separate sounds in spoken language.
  • Write with scribbles and drawing.
  • Connect single letters with the sounds they make.
  • Connect what they already know to what they hear read.
  • Predict what comes next in stories and poems.
  • Connect combinations of letters with sounds.
  • Recognize simple words in print.
  • Sum up what a story is about.
  • Write individual letters of the alphabet.
  • Write words.
  • Write simple sentences.
  • Write to communicate.
  • Read simple books.

Children can take more than one of these steps at the same time. This list of steps, though, gives you a general idea of how your child will progress toward reading. (For more details, see Typical Language Accomplishments for Children, Birth to Age 6.)

Talking and Listening

Scientists who study the brain have found out a great deal about how we learn. They have discovered that babies learn much more from the sights and sounds around them than we thought previously. You can help your baby by taking advantage of her hunger to learn.

Hearing you talk is your baby's very first step toward becoming a reader, because it helps her to love language and to learn words.

From the very beginning, babies try to imitate the sounds that they hear us make. They "read" the looks on our faces and our movements. That's why it is so important to talk, sing, smile, and gesture to your child. Hearing you talk is your baby's very first step toward becoming a reader, because it helps her to love language and to learn words.

As your child grows older, continue talking with her. Ask her about the things she does. Ask her about the events and people in the stories you read together. Let her know you are listening carefully to what she says. By engaging her in talking and listening, you are also encouraging your child to think as she speaks. In addition, you are showing that you respect her knowledge and her ability to keep learning.

Reading Together

Childlike drawing of a mother and a child reading a magazine.

Imagine sitting your baby in your lap and reading a book to him for the first time. How different from just talking! Now you're showing him pictures. You point to them. In a lively way, you explain what the pictures are. You've just helped you child take the next step beyond talking. You've shown him that words and pictures connect. And you've started him on his way to understanding and enjoying books. While your child is still a baby, reading aloud to him should become part of your daily routine. Pick a quiet time, such as just before you put him to bed. This will give him a chance to rest between play and sleep. If you can, read with him in your lap or snuggled next to you so that he feels close and safe. As he gets older, he may need to move around some as you read to him. If he gets tired or restless, stop reading. Make reading aloud a quiet and comfortable time that your child looks forward to. Chances are very good that he will like reading all the more because of it.

Try to spend at least 30 minutes each day reading to and with your child. At first, read for no more than a few minutes at a time, several times a day. As your child grows older, you should be able to tell if he wants you to read for longer periods. Don't be discouraged if you have to skip a day or don't always keep to your schedule. Just get back to your daily routine as soon as you can. Most of all, make sure that reading stays fun for both of you!

What Does It Mean?

From the earliest days, talk with your child about what you are reading. You might point to pictures and name what is in them. When he is ready, have him do the same. Ask him, for example, if he can find the little mouse in the picture, or do whatever is fun and right for the book. Later on, as you read stories, read slowly and stop now and then to think aloud about what you've read. From the time your child is able to talk, ask him such questions about the story as, "What do you think will happen next?" or "Do you know what a palace is?" Answer his questions and, if you think he doesn't understand something, stop and talk more about what he asked. Don't worry if you occasionally break the flow of a story to make clear something that is important. However, don't stop so often that the child loses track of what is happening in the story.

Look for Books!

The books that you pick to read with your child are very important. If you aren't sure of what books are right for your child, ask a librarian to help you choose titles. (For more information on what libraries have to offer, see "Visiting the Library")

Introduce your child to books when she is a baby. Let her hold and play with books made just for babies: board books with study cardboard covers and thick pages; cloth books that are soft and washable, touch-and-feel books, or lift-the-flap books that contain surprises for your baby to discover. Choose books with covers that have big, simple pictures of things that she sees every day. Don't be upset if at first your child chews or throws a book. Be patient. Cuddling with the child as you point to and talk with great excitement about the book's pictures will soon capture her interest. When your baby becomes a toddler, she will enjoy helping to choose books for you to read to her.

As your child grows into a preschooler and kindergartner, the two of you can look for books that have longer stories and more words on the pages. Also look for books that have repeating words and phrases that she can begin to read or recognize when she sees them. By early first grade, add to this mix some books designed for beginning readers, including some books that have chapters and some books that show photographs and provide true information rather than make-believe stories.

Choose books with covers that have big, simple pictures of things that she/he sees every day.

Keep in mind that young children most often enjoy books about people, places, and things that are like those they know. The books can be about where you live or about parts of your culture, such as your religion, your holidays, or the way that you dress. If your child has special interests, such as dinosaurs or ballerinas, look for books about those interests.

From your child's toddler years through early first grade, you also should look for books of poems and rhymes. Remember when your baby heard your talking sounds and tried to imitate them? Rhymes are an extension of that language skill. By hearing and saying rhymes, along with repeated words and phrases, your child learns about spoken sounds and about words. Rhymes also spark a child's excitement about what comes next, which adds fun and adventure to reading. (For rhyming activities,

Show Your Child That You Read

When you take your child to the library, check out a book for yourself. Then set a good example by letting your child see you reading for yourself. Ask your child to get one of her books and sit with you as you read your book, magazine, or newspaper. Don't worry if you feel uncomfortable with your own reading ability. It's the reading that counts. When your child sees that reading is important to you, she may decide that it is important to her, too. (For ideas on how to help your child love books,

Learning about Print and Books

Reading together is a perfect time to help a late toddler or early preschooler learn what print is. As you read aloud, stop now and then and point to letters and words; then point to the pictures they stand for. Your child will begin to understand that the letters form words and that words name pictures. He will also start to learn that each letter has its own sound—one of the most important things your child can know when learning to read.

By the time children are 4, most have begun to understand that printed words have meaning. By age 5, most will begin to know that not just the story but the printed words themselves go from left to right. Many children will even start to identify some capital and small letters and simple words. (For some ideas on learning letters, see "As Simple as ABC.")

In late kindergarten or early first grade, your child may want to read on his own. Let him! But be sure that he wants to do it. Reading should be something he is proud of and eager to do and not a lesson.

How Does a Book Work?

Children are fascinated by how books look and feel. They see how easily you handle and read books, and they want to do the same. When your toddler watches you handle books, she begins to learn that a book is for reading, not tearing or tossing around. Before she is 3, she may even pick one up and pretend to read, an important sign that she is beginning to know what a book is for. As your child becomes a preschooler, she is learning that

When your very young child watches you handle books, he/she begins to learn that a book is for reading.
  • A book has a front cover.
  • A book has a beginning and an end.
  • A book has pages.
  • A page in a book has a top and a bottom.
  • You turn pages one at a time to follow the story.
  • You read a story from left to right of a page.

As you read with your 4- or 5-year-old, begin to remind her about these things. Read the title on the cover. Talk about the picture on the cover. Point to the place where the story starts and, later, where it ends. Let your child help turn the pages. When you start a new page, point to where the words of the story continue and keep following the words by moving your finger beneath them. It takes time for a child to learn these things, but when your child does learn them, she has solved some of reading's mysteries.

Early Efforts To Write

Childlike drawing of a mother and child sitting at a table drawing pictures.

Writing and reading go hand in hand. As your child is learning one, he is learning the other. You can do certain things to make sure that he gets every opportunity to practice both. When he is about 2 years old, for example, give your child crayons and paper and encourage him to draw and scribble. He will have fun choosing which colors to use and which shapes to make. As he holds and moves the crayons, he will also develop muscle control. When he is a late toddler or early preschooler, he will become as eager to write as he is to read. (For more ideas on how to encourage your child's desire to write, 

Your preschool child's scribbles or drawings are his first writing. He will soon begin to write the alphabet letters. Writing the letters helps your child learn about their different sounds. His very early learning about letters and sounds gives him ideas about how to begin spelling words. When he begins writing words, don't worry that he doesn't spell them correctly. Instead, praise him for his efforts! In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that he's made a pretty good try at spelling a word for the first time. Later on, with help from teachers (and from you), he will learn the right way to spell words. For the moment, however, he has taken a great step toward being a writer.

Reading in Another Language

If your child's first language is not English, she can still become an excellent English reader and writer. She is on her way to successful English reading if she is beginning to learn many words and is interested in learning to read in her first language. You can help by supporting her in her first language as she learns English. Talk with her, read with her, encourage her to draw and write. In other words, do the same kinds of activities just discussed, but do them in your child's first language.

When your child first enters school, talk with her teacher. Teachers welcome such talks. They even have sign-up times early in the year, though usually you may ask for a meeting at any time. If you feel that you need some support in meeting with the teacher, ask a relative, neighbor, or someone else in your community to go with you.


When you do meet, tell the teacher the things that you are doing at home to strengthen your child's speaking and reading in her own language. Let the teacher know how important you child's reading is to you and ask for support for your efforts. Children who can switch back and forth between languages have accomplished something special. They should be praised and encouraged as they work for this achievement.


 Helping Your Child With Homework

Before discussing ways that you can help your child with homework, it is important to discuss why teachers assign homework and how it benefits your child.

Childlike drawing of a child studying at a table, and writing into a notebook

Why Do Teachers Assign Homework?

Teachers assign homework for many reasons. Homework can help their students

  • review and practice what they've covered in class;
  • get ready for the next day's class;
  • learn to use resources, such as libraries, reference materials and computer Web sites to find information about a subject;
  • explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits;
  • extend learning by applying skills they already have to new situations; and
  • integrate their learning by applying many different skills to a single task, such as book reports or science projects.

Homework also can help students to develop good study habits and positive attitudes. It can

  • teach them to work independently; and
  • encourage self-discipline and responsibility (assignments provide some children with their first chance to manage time and to meet deadlines).

In addition, homework can help create greater understanding between families and teachers and provide opportunities for increased communication. Monitoring homework keeps families informed about what their children are learning and about the policies and programs of the teacher and the school.

Does Homework Help Children Learn?

Homework helps your child do better in school when the assignments are meaningful, are completed successfully and are returned to him/her with constructive comments from the teacher. An assignment should have a specific purpose, come with clear instructions, be fairly well matched to a child's abilities and help to develop a child's knowledge and skills.

In the early grades, homework can help children to develop the good study habits and positive attitudes described earlier. From primary school class three through class sixth , small amounts of homework, gradually increased each year, may support improved school achievement. In class six and beyond, students who complete more homework score better on standardized tests and earn better grades, on the average, than do students who do less homework. The difference in test scores and grades between students who do more homework and those who do less increases as students move up through the grades.

What's the Right Amount of Homework?

The right amount of homework depends on the age and skills of the child. National organizations of parents and teachers suggest that children in kindergarten through second grade can benefit from 10 to 20 minutes of homework each school day. In third through sixth grades, children can benefit from 30 to 60 minutes a school day. In seventh through ninth grades, students can benefit from spending more time on homework and the amount may vary from night to night.

Amounts that vary from these guidelines are fine for some children and in some situations. For example, because reading at home is especially important for children, reading assignments might push the time on homework a bit beyond the amounts suggested here.

If you are concerned that your child has either too much or too little homework, talk with his teacher and learn about her homework policies.



 Helping Your Child With Homework

Children need to know that their family members think homework is important. If they know their families care, children have a good reason to complete assignments and to turn them in on time. You can do many things to show that your child that you value education and homework.

Set a Regular Time for Homework

Childlike drawing of a clock.

Having a regular time to do homework helps children to finish assignments. The best schedule is one that works for your child and your family. What works well in one household may not work in another. Of course, a good schedule depends in part on your child's age as well as her specific needs. For instance, one child may do homework best in the afternoon, completing homework first or after an hour of play and another may do it best after dinner. However, don't let your child leave homework to do just before bedtime.

Your child's outside activities, such as sports or music lessons, may mean that you need a flexible homework schedule. Your child may study after school on some days and after dinner on others. If there isn't enough time to finish homework, your child may need to drop some outside activity. Let her know that homework is a high priority.

You'll need to work with your elementary school child to develop a schedule. An older student can probably make up a schedule independently, although you'll want to make sure that it's a workable one. You may find it helpful to write out his schedule and put it in a place where you'll see it often, such as on the refrigerator door.

Some families have a required amount of time that their children must devote to homework or some other learning activities each school night (the length of time can vary depending upon the child's age). For instance, if your seventh grader knows she's expected to spend an hour doing homework, reading or visiting the library, she may be less likely to rush through assignments so that she can watch TV. A required amount of time may also discourage her from "forgetting" to bring home assignments and help her adjust to a routine.

Pick a Place

Your child's homework area doesn't have to be fancy. A desk in the bedroom is nice, but for many children, the kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just fine. The area should have good lighting and it should be fairly quiet.

Your child may enjoy decorating a special area for homework. A plant, a brightly colored container to hold pencils and some favorite artwork taped to the walls can make homework time more pleasant.

Remove Distractions

Childlike drawing of a TV set.

Turn off the TV and discourage your child from making and receiving social telephone calls during homework time. (A call to a classmate about an assignment, however, may be helpful.)

Some children work well with quiet background music, but loud noise from the CD player, radio or TV is not OK. One history teacher laments, "I've actually had a kid turn in an assignment that had written in the middle, 'And George Washington said, "Ohhhhh, I love you."' The kid was so plugged into the music that he wasn't concentrating."

If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can't be avoided, your child may want to complete assignments in the local library.

Provide Supplies and Identify Resources

Have available pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper and a dictionary. Other supplies that might be helpful include a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, glue, paste, scissors, a ruler, a calculator, index cards, a thesaurus and an almanac. If possible, keep these items together in one place. If you can't provide your child with needed supplies, check with her teacher, school guidance counselor or principal about possible sources of assistance.

For books and other information resources, such as suitable computer Web sites, check with the school library or your local public library. Some libraries have homework centers designed especially to assist children with school assignments (they may even have tutors and other kinds of individual assistance).

You may want to ask your child's teacher to explain school policy about the use of computers for homework. Certainly, computers are great learning and homework tools. Your child can use her computer not only for writing reports and for getting information through Internet resource sites, but for "talking" with teachers and classmates about assignments. In many schools, teachers post information about homework assignments and class work on their own Web sites, which also may have an electronic bulletin board on which students can post questions for the teacher and others to answer. (For more information about using the Internet, see the U.S. Department of Education's booklet, Parents' Guide to the Internet, listed in the Resources section, page .) However, you don't have to have a computer in your home for your child to complete homework assignments successfully. Some schools may offer after-school programs that allow your child to use the school computers. And many public libraries make computers available to children.

Set a Good Example

Show your child that the skills he is learning are an important part of the things he will do as an adult. Let him see you reading books, newspapers and computer screens; writing reports, letters, e-mails and lists; using math to balance your checkbook or to measure for new carpeting; doing other things that require thought and effort. Tell your child about what you do at work.

Help your child to use everyday routines to support the skills he is learning-for example, teach him to play word and math games; help him to look up information about things in which he is interested-singers, athletes, cars, space travel and so forth; and talk with him about what he sees and hears as the two of you walk through the neighborhood, go shopping at the mall or visit a zoo or museum.

Be Interested and Interesting

Make time to take your child to the library to check out materials needed for homework (and for enjoyment) and read with your child as often as you can. Talk about school and learning activities in family conversations. Ask your child what was discussed in class that day. If she doesn't have much to say, try another approach. For example, ask her to read aloud a story she wrote or to talk about what she found out from a science experiment.

Attend school activities, such as parent-teacher conferences, plays, concerts, open houses and sports events. If you can, volunteer to help in your child's classroom or at special events. Getting to know some of your child's classmates and their parents builds a support network for you and your child. It also shows your child that his home and school are a team.



Helping Your Child With Homework

Children are more likely to complete homework successfully when parents monitor their assignments. How closely you need to monitor your child depends upon her age, how independent she is and how well she does in school. Whatever the age of your child, if she is not getting assignments done satisfactorily, she requires more supervision.

Here are some ways to monitor your child's assignments.

Ask about the School's Homework Policy

At the start of the school year, ask your child's teacher about any rules or guidelines that children are expected to follow as they complete homework. Ask about the kinds of assignments that will be given and the purposes for the assignments.

Talk with the teacher about your role in helping with homework. Expectations for parent involvement vary from teacher to teacher. Some teachers want parents to monitor homework closely, whereas others want them simply to check to make sure the assignment is completed on time.

Some teachers want parents to monitor homework closely, whereas others want them simply to check to make sure the assignment is completed on time.

Ask the teacher to call if any problems with homework come up. Let her know that you will do the same.

Be Available

Many elementary school students often like to have someone with them to answer questions as they work on assignments. If your child is cared for by someone else, talk to that caregiver about how to deal with homework. For an older child, if no one will be around, let him know when you want him to begin work and call to remind him if necessary.

However, if the teacher has made it known that students are to do homework on their own, limit your assistance to your child to assuring that assignments are clear and that necessary supplies are provided. Too much parent involvement can make children dependent-and takes away from the value of homework as a way for children to become independent and responsible.

Look over Completed Assignments

Childlike drawing of a father sitting at a table reading a newspaper, while his child is bringing him a homework assignment to review.

It's usually a good idea to check to see that your elementary school child has finished her assignments. If your middle-school student is having trouble finishing assignments, check his work, too. After the teacher returns completed homework, read the comments to see if your child has done the assignment satisfactorily.

Monitor Time Spent Viewing TV and Playing Video Games

American children on average spend far more time watching TV or playing video games than they do completing homework. In many homes, more homework gets done when TV viewing and "game" time is limited.

Once you and your child have worked out a homework schedule, take time to discuss how much TV and what programs she can watch. It's worth noting that television can be a learning tool. Look for programs that relate to what your child is studying in school, such as programs on history or science or dramatizations of children's literature. When you can, watch shows with your child, discuss them and encourage follow-up activities such as reading or a trip to the museum.

Likewise, limit the amount of time your child spends playing video games. As with TV programs, be aware of the games she likes to play and discuss her choices with her.



 Helping Your Child With Homework

The basic rule is, "Don't do the assignments yourself." It's not your homework—it's your child's. "I've had kids hand in homework that's in their parents' handwriting," one eighth-grade teacher complains. Doing assignments for your child won't help him understand and use information. And it won't help him become confident in his own abilities.

Childlike drawing of a blind child using a walkingstick, and wearing dark glasses and a school backpack.

Here are some ways that you can provide guidance without taking over your child's homework.

Help Your Child Get Organized

Help your child to make a schedule and put it in a place where you'll see it often. Writing out assignments will get him used to the idea of keeping track of what's due and when. If your child is not yet able to write, write it for him until he can do it himself.

A book bag or backpack will make it easier for your child to carry homework to and from school. Providing homework folders in which your child can tuck his assignments for safekeeping also can help him to stay organized.

Encourage Good Study Habits

Teachers generally give students tips on how to study. But it takes time and practice to develop good study habits. To reinforce good habits at home, you can:

  • Help your child manage time to complete assignments. For example, if your eighth grader has a biology report due in three weeks, discuss all the steps she needs to take to complete it on time, including:

    < >selecting a topic;doing the research by looking up books and other materials on the topic and taking notes;figuring out what questions to discuss;drafting an outline;writing a rough draft; andrevising and completing the final draft.

    Help your child to get started when he has to do research reports or other big assignments. Encourage him to use the library. If he isn't sure where to begin, tell him to ask the librarian for suggestions. If he's using a computer for online reference resources—-whether the computer is at home, school or the library—make sure he's getting whatever help he needs to use it properly and to find age-appropriate Web sites. Many public libraries have homework centers with tutors or other kinds of one-on-one assistance. After your child has completed the research, listen as he tells you the points he wants to make in the report.

  • Give practice tests. Help your third grader prepare for a spelling test by saying the words as she writes them. Have her correct her own test as you spell each word.

  • Help your child avoid last-minute cramming. Review with your fifth grader how and what to study for his social studies test long before it's to be given. You can have him work out a schedule of what he needs to do to, make up a practice test and write down answers to the questions he's made up.

  • Talk with your child about how to take a test. Be sure she understands how important it is to read the instructions carefully, to keep track of the time and to avoid spending too much time on any one question. (See the Resources section for the titles of books and pamphlets that give more tips on how your child can get organized and develop good study habits.)

Encourage him to use the library. If he isn't sure where to begin, tell him to ask the librarian for suggestions.

Talk about the Assignments

Talking and asking questions can help your child to think through an assignment and break it down into small, manageable parts. Here are some questions to ask.

  • Do you understand what you're supposed to do? After your child has read the instructions, ask her to tell you in her own words what the assignment is about. (If she can't read yet, the teacher may have sent home instructions that you can read to her.) Some schools have homework hotlines that you can call or Web sites that you can access by computer for assignments in case your child misplaced a paper or was absent on the day it was given. If your child doesn't understand the instructions, read them with her and talk about the assignment. Does it have words that she doesn't know? How can she find out what the words mean? If neither you nor your child understands an assignment, call one of her classmates or get in touch with the teacher.

  • Do you need help in understanding how to do this assignment? See if your child needs to learn more, for example, about subtracting fractions before she can do her assignment. Or find out if the teacher needs to explain to her again when to use different kinds of punctuation marks. If you understand the subject yourself, you may want to work through some examples with your child. However, always let her do the assignment herself.

  • Do you have everything you need to do the assignment? Sometimes your child needs special supplies, such as colored pencils, metric rulers, calculators, maps or reference books. Check with the teacher, school guidance counselor or principal for possible sources of assistance if you can't provide the needed supplies. Check with your local library or school library for books and other information resources.

  • Does your answer make sense to you? To check that your child understands what he is doing, ask him to explain how he solved a math problem or have him summarize what he has written in a report.

Watch for Frustration

If your child shows signs of frustration, let him take a break. Encourage him and let him see that you know he can do the work.

Give Praise

People of all ages respond to praise. And children need encouragement from the people whose opinions they value most—their families. "Good first draft of your book report!" or "You've done a great job" can go a long way toward motivating your child to complete assignments.

Children also need to know when they haven't done their best work. Make criticism constructive, however. Instead of telling a sixth grader, "You aren't going to hand in that mess, are you?" say, "The teacher will understand your ideas better if you use your best handwriting." Then give praise when the child finishes a neat version.



Talk with Teachers to Resolve Problems

Helping Your Child With Homework

Homework problems often can be avoided when families and caregivers value, monitor and guide their children's work on assignments. Sometimes, however, helping in these ways is not enough. If you have problems, here are some suggestions for how to deal with them.

Tell the Teacher about Your Concerns

You may want to contact the teacher if

  • your child refuses to do her assignments, even though you've tried hard to get her to do them;
  • the instructions are unclear;
  • you can't seem to help your child get organized to finish the assignments;
  • you can't provide needed supplies or materials;
  • neither you nor your child can understand the purpose of the assignments;
  • the assignments are too hard or too easy;
  • the homework is assigned in uneven amounts—for instance, no homework is given on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but on Thursday four assignments are made that are due the next day; or
  • your child has missed school and needs to make up assignments.

In some cases, the school guidance counselor or principal also may be helpful in resolving problems.

Work with the Teacher

Childlike drawing of a parent sitting at a teacher's desk with a teacher in front of a chalkboard.

Continuing communication with teachers is very important in solving homework problems. As you work with your child's teacher, here are some important things to remember:

  • Talk with each of your child's teachers early in the school year. Get acquainted before problems arise and let each teacher know that you want to be kept informed. Most elementary and middle schools hold regular parent-teacher conferences or open houses. If your child's school doesn't provide such opportunities, call the teacher to set up a meeting.

  • Contact the teacher as soon as you suspect your child has a homework problem (as well as when you think he's having any major problems with his schoolwork). Schools have a responsibility to keep you informed about your child's performance and behavior and you have a right to be upset if you don't find out until report-card time that your child is having difficulties. On the other hand, you may figure out that a problem exists before the teacher does. By alerting the teacher, you can work together to solve a problem in its early stages.

  • Request a meeting with the teacher to discuss homework problems. Tell him briefly why you want to meet. You might say, "Rachel is having trouble with her math homework. I'm worried about why she can't finish the problems and what we might do to help her." If English is your second language, you may need to make special arrangements, such as including in the meeting someone who is bilingual.

  • Approach the teacher with a cooperative spirit. Believe that the teacher wants to help you and your child, even if you disagree about something. Don't go to the principal without giving the teacher a chance to work out the problem with you and your child.

  • Let the teacher know whether your child finds the assignments too hard or too easy. (Teachers also like to know when their students are particularly excited about an assignment.) Of course, not all homework assignments can be expected to interest your child and be perfectly suited to her. Teachers just don't have time to tailor homework to the individual needs of each student. However, most teachers want to assign homework that their students can complete successfully and they welcome feedback.

Many teachers structure homework so that a wide range of students will find assignments interesting. For example:

—They offer students options for different approaches to the same topic or lesson;
—They give extra assignments to students who want more challenge; and
—They give specialized assignments to students who are having trouble in a particular area.

Childlike drawing of a mother sitting next to a child in a wheelchair who is working at a computer terminal.

  • During your meeting with the teacher, explain what you think is going on. In addition, tell the teacher if you don't know what the problem is. Sometimes a student's version of what's going on isn't the same as the teacher's version. For example, your child may tell you that the teacher never explains assignments so that he can understand them. But the teacher may tell you that your child isn't paying attention when assignments are given.

  • Work out a way to solve or lessen the problem. The strategy will depend on what the problem is, how severe it is and what the needs of your child are. For instance:


    < >Is the homework often too hard? Maybe your child has fallen behind and will need extra help from the teacher or a tutor to catch up.Does your child need to make up a lot of work because of absences? The first step might be working out a schedule with the teacher.Does your child need extra support beyond what home and school can give her? Ask the teacher, school guidance counselor or principal if there are mentor programs in your community. Mentor programs pair a child with an adult volunteer who assists with the child's special needs. Many schools, universities, community organizations, churches and businesses offer excellent mentoring programs.

    Make sure that communication is clear. Listen to the teacher and don't leave until you're sure that you understand what's being said. Make sure, too, that the teacher understands what you have to say. If, after the meeting, you realize you don't understand something, call the teacher to clarify.

    At the end of the meeting, it may help to summarize what you've agreed to do: 
    "OK, so to keep track of Kim's assignments, I'll check her assignment book each night and write my initials beside new assignments. Each day you'll check to make sure she's written down all new assignments in her book. That way we'll be certain that I know what her assignments are."

  • Follow up to make sure that the approach you agreed to is working. If the teacher told you, for example, that your child needs to spend more time practicing long division, check back in a month to talk about your child's progress.

Homework can bring together children, families and teachers in a common effort to improve children's learning.

Helping your child with homework is an opportunity to improve your child's chances of doing well in school and life. By helping your child with homework, you can help him learn important lessons about discipline and responsibility. You can open up lines of communication—between you and your child and you and the school. You are in a unique position to help your child make connections between school work and the "real world," and thereby bring meaning (and some enjoyment) to your child's homework experience.



Helping Your Child Succeed in School

If you think about it, although school is very important, it does not really take up very much of a child's time. In the United States, the school year averages 180 days; in other nations, the school year can last up to 240 days and students are often in school more hours per day than American students. Clearly, the hours and days that a child is not in school are important for learning, too. Here are some things that you can do to help your child to make the most of that time:

Childlike drawing of a child and a mother in a livingroom setting pointing at a bookcase.

Encourage Your Child to Read

Helping your child become a reader is the single most important thing that you can do to help the child to succeed in school—and in life. The importance of reading simply can't be overstated. Reading helps children in all school subjects. More important, it is the key to lifelong learning. Here are some tips on how to help your child become a reader.

  • Start early. When your child is still a baby, reading aloud to him should become part of your daily routine. At first, read for no more than a few minutes at a time, several times a day. As your child grows older, you should be able to tell if he wants you to read for longer periods. As you read, talk with your child. Encourage him to ask questions and to talk about the story. Ask him to predict what will come next. When your child begins to read, ask him to read to you from books or magazines that he enjoys.

  • Make sure that your home has lots of reading materials that are appropriate for your child. Keep books, magazines and newspapers in the house. Reading materials don't have to be new or expensive. You often can find good books and magazines for your child at yard or library sales. Ask family members and friends to consider giving your child books and magazine subscriptions as gifts for birthdays or other special occasions. Set aside quiet time for family reading. Some families even enjoy reading aloud to each other, with each family member choosing a book, story, poem or article to read to the others.

  • Show that you value reading. Let your child see you reading for pleasure as well as for performing your routine activities as an adult—reading letters and recipes, directions and instructions, newspapers, computer screens and so forth. Go with her to the library and check out books for yourself. When your child sees that reading is important to you, she is likely to decide that it's important to her, too.

    For more information about reading, see the U.S. Department of Education booklet, Helping Your Child Become a Reader, listed in the Resources section.

    If you feel uncomfortable with your own reading ability or if you would like reading help for yourself or other family members, check with your local librarian or with your child's school about literacy programs in your community.

  • Get help for your child if he has a reading problem. When a child is having reading difficulties, the reason might be simple to understand and deal with. For example, your child might have trouble seeing and need glasses or he may just need more help with reading skills. If you think that your child needs extra help, ask his teachers about special services, such as after—school or summer reading programs. Also ask teachers or your local librarian for names of community organizations and local literacy volunteer groups that offer tutoring services.

    The good news is that no matter how long it takes, most children can learn to read. Parents, teachers and other professionals can work together to determine if a child has a learning disability or other problem and then provide the right help as soon as possible. When a child gets such help, chances are very good that she will develop the skills she needs to succeed in school and in life. Nothing is more important than your support for your child as she goes through school. Make sure she gets any extra help she needs as soon as possible and always encourage her and praise her efforts.

Talk with Your Child

Talking and listening play major roles in children's school success. It's through hearing parents and family members talk and through responding to that talk that young children begin to pick up the language skills they will need if they are to do well. For example, children who don't hear a lot of talk and who aren't encouraged to talk themselves often have problems learning to read, which can lead to other school problems. In addition, children who haven't learned to listen carefully often have trouble following directions and paying attention in class.

Think of talking with your child as being like a tennis game with words—instead of a ball—bouncing back and forth. Find time to talk any place, for example:

  • As you walk with your child or ride with her in a car or on a bus, talk with her about what she's doing at school Ask her to tell you about a school assembly or a field trip. Point out and talk about things that you see as you walk—funny signs, new cars, interesting people.

  • As you shop in a store, talk with your child about prices, differences in brands and how to pick out good vegetables and fruit. Give your child directions about where to find certain items, then have him go get them.

  • As you fix dinner, ask your child to help you follow the steps in a recipe. Talk with him about what can happen if you miss a step or leave out an ingredient.

  • As you fix a sink or repair a broken table, ask your child to hand you the tools that you name. Talk with her about each step you take to complete the repair. Tell her what you're doing and why you're doing it. Ask her for suggestions about how you should do something.

  • As you watch TV together, talk with your child about the programs. If you're watching one of her favorite programs, encourage her to tell you about the background of the characters, which ones she likes and dislikes and who the actors are. Compare the program to a program that you liked when you were her age.

  • As you read a book with your child, pause occasionally to talk to him about what's happening in the book. Help him to relate the events in the book to events in his life: "Look at that tall building! Didn't we see that when we were in Chicago?" Ask him to tell in his own words what the book was about. Ask him about new words in a book and help him to figure out what they mean.

It's also important for you to show your child that you're interested in what he has to say. Demonstrate for him how to be a good listener:

  • When your child talks to you, stop what you're doing and pay attention. Look at him and ask questions to let him know that you've heard what he said: "So when are you going to help your granddad work on his car?"

  • When your child tells you about something, occasionally repeat what he says to let him know that you're listening closely: "The school bus broke down twice!"

Monitor Homework

Let your child know that you think education is important and so homework has to be done. Here are some ways to help your child with homework:

  • Have a special place for your child to study. The homework area doesn't have to be fancy. A desk in the bedroom is nice, but for many children, the kitchen table or a corner of the living room works just fine. The area should have good lighting and it should be fairly quiet. Provide supplies and identify resources. For starters, have available pencils, pens, erasers, writing paper and a dictionary. Other supplies that might be helpful include a stapler, paper clips, maps, a calculator, a pencil sharpener, tape, glue, paste, scissors, a ruler, a calculator, index cards, a thesaurus and an almanac. If possible, keep these items together in one place. If you can't provide your child with needed supplies, check with her teacher, school counselor or principal about possible sources of assistance.

  • Set a regular time for homework. Having a regular time to do homework helps children to finish assignments. Of course, a good schedule depends in part on your child's age, as well as her specific needs. You'll need to work with a young child to develop a schedule. You should give your older child the responsibility for making up a schedule independently—although you'll want to make sure that it's a workable one. You may find it helpful to have her write out her schedule and put it in a place where you'll see it often, such as on the refrigerator.

  • Remove distractions. Turn off the TV and discourage your child from making and receiving social telephone calls during homework time. (A call to a classmate about an assignment, however, may be helpful.) If you live in a small or noisy household, try having all family members take part in a quiet activity during homework time. You may need to take a noisy toddler outside or into another room to play. If distractions can't be avoided, your child may want to complete assignments in the local library.

  • Don't expect or demand perfection. When your child asks you to look at what she's done—from skating a figure 8 to finishing a math assignment—show interest and praise her when she's done something well. If you have criticisms or suggestions, make them in a helpful way.

One final note: You may be reluctant to help your child with homework because you feel that you don't know the subject well enough or because you don't speak or read English as well as your child. But helping with homework doesn't mean doing the homework. It isn't about solving the problems for your child, it's about supporting him to do his best. You may not know enough about a subject such as calculus to help your child with a specific assignment, but you can help nonetheless by showing that you are interested, helping him get organized, providing a place the materials he needs to work, monitoring his work to see that he completes it and praising his efforts.

If distractions can't be avoided, your child may want to complete assignments in the local library.


Monitor TV Viewing and Video Game Playing

American children on average spend far more time watching TV or playing video games than they do completing homework or other school-related activities. Here are some suggestions for helping your child to use TV and video games wisely:

  • Limit the time that you let your child watch TV. Too much television cuts into important activities in a child's life, such as reading, playing with friends and talking with family members.

  • Model good TV viewing habits. Remember that children often imitate their parents' behavior. Children who live in homes in which parents and other family members watch a lot of TV are likely to spend their time in the same way. Children who live in homes in which parents and other family members have "quiet" time away from the TV when they read (either alone to each other), talk to each other, play games or engage in other activities tend to do the same.

  • Watch TV with your child when you can. Talk with him about what you see. Answer his questions. Try to point out the things in TV programs that are like your child's everyday life.

  • When you can't watch TV with your child, spot check to see what she's watching. Ask questions after the program ends. See what excites her and what troubles her. Find out what she has learned and remembered.

  • Go to the library and find books that explore the themes of the TV shows that your child watches.

  • Limit the amount of time your child spends playing video games. As with TV programs, be aware of the games he likes to play and discuss his choices with him.

Encourage Your Child to Use the Library

Libraries are places of learning and discovery for everyone. Helping your child find out about libraries will set him on the road to being an independent learner. Here are some suggestions for how to help:

Your child needs to learn how long she can keep materials and what the fine will be for materials that are returned late.
  • Introduce your child to the library as early as possible. Even when your child is a toddler, take him along on weekly trips to the library. If you work during the day or have other obligations, remember that many libraries are open in the evening.

  • If your child can print his name, it is likely that your library will issue him a library card if you will also sign for him. See that your child gets his own library card as soon as possible so that he can check out his own books.

  • When you take your child to the library, introduce yourself and your child to the librarian. Ask the librarian to show you around the library and tell you about the services it has to offer. For example, in addition to all kinds of books, your library most likely will have magazines of interest to both your child and to you. It will likely have newspapers from many different places. Most libraries also have tapes and CDs of books, music CDs and tapes, movies on video and on DVD and many more resources. Your library also might have books in languages other than English or programs to help adults improve their English reading skills.

    Ask the librarian to tell your child about special programs that he might participate in, such as summer reading programs and book clubs and about services such as homework help.

  • Let your child know that she must follow the library's rules of behavior. Libraries want children to use their materials and services. However, they generally have rules such as the following that your child needs to know and obey:

    < >Library materials must be handled carefully.Materials that are borrowed must be returned on time. Your child needs to learn how long she can keep materials and what the fine will be for materials that are returned late.All library users need to be considerate of each other. Shouting, running and being disruptive are not appropriate library behaviors.

    Spend time online with your child. If you don't have a computer at home, ask your librarian if the library has computers that you and your child may use. Learn along with your child. If you're not familiar with computers or with the Internet, ask the librarian if and when someone is available at the library to help you and your child learn together to use them. If your child knows about computers, let her teach you. Ask her to explain what she is doing and why. Ask her to show you her favorite Web sites and to tell you what she likes about them. This will help her build self-confidence and pride in her abilities.

  • Help your child to locate appropriate Internet Web sites. At the same time, make sure that she understands what you think are appropriate Web sites for her to visit. Point her in the direction of sites that can help her with homework or that relate to her interests.

    Pay attention to any games she might download or copy from the Internet. Some games are violent or contain sexual or other content that is inappropriate for children. Resources such as GetNetWise , a public service provided by Internet corporations and public interest groups and FamiliesConnect (, a service of the American Library Association, can help you to make good Web site choices and give you more information about Internet use.

    You might consider using "filters" to block your child from accessing sites that may be inappropriate. These filters include software programs that you can install on your computer. In addition, many Internet service providers offer filters (often for free) that restrict the sites that children can visit. Of course, these filters are not always completely effective—and children can find ways around them. The best safeguard is your supervision and involvement.

  • Monitor the amount of time that your child spends online. Internet surfing can be just as time consuming as watching TV. Don't let it take over your child's life. Have her place a clock near the computer and keep track of how much time she is spending online. Remember, many commercial online services charge for the amount of time the service is used. These charges can mount up quickly!

  • Teach your child rules for using the Internet safely. Let him know that he should never do the following:

    • tell anyone—including his friends—his computer password;
    • use bad language or send cruel, threatening or untrue e-mail messages;
    • give out any personal information, including his name or the names of family members, home address, phone number, age, school name; or
    • arrange to meet a stranger that he has "talked" with in an online "chat room."

For more information about helping your child use the Internet, see the following publications, listed in the Resources sectionThe Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace for Parents and Kids, American Library Association; The Parents' Guide to the Information Superhighway, Children's Partnership.

Encourage Your Child to Be Responsible and to Work Independently

Taking responsibility and working independently are important qualities for school success. Here are some suggestions for helping your child to develop these qualities:

  • Establish rules. Every home needs reasonable rules that children know and can depend on. Have your child help you to set rules, then make sure that you enforce the rules consistently.

  • Make it clear to your child that he has to take responsibility for what he does, both at home and at school. For example, don't automatically defend your child if his teacher tells you that he is often late to class or is disruptive when he is in class. Ask for his side of the story. If a charge is true, let him take the consequences.

  • Work with your child to develop a reasonable, consistent schedule of jobs to do around the house. List them on a calendar. Younger children can help set the table or put away their toys and clothes. Older children can help prepare meals and clean up afterwards.

  • Show your child how to break a job down into small steps, then to do the job one step at a time. This works for everything—getting dressed, cleaning a room or doing a big homework assignment.

  • Make your child responsible for getting ready to go to school each morning—getting up on time, making sure that he has everything he needs for the school day and so forth. If necessary, make a checklist to help him remember what he has to do.

  • Monitor what your child does after school, in the evenings and on weekends. If you can't be there when your child gets home, give her the responsibility of checking in with you by phone to discuss her plans.

Encourage Active Learning

Children need active learning as well as quiet learning such as reading and doing homework. Active learning involves asking and answering questions, solving problems and exploring interests. Active learning also can take place when your child plays sports, spends time with friends, acts in a school play, plays a musical instrument or visits museums and bookstores.

To promote active learning, listen to your child's ideas and respond to them. Let him jump in with questions and opinions when you read books together. When you encourage this type of give-and-take at home, your child's participation and interest in school is likely to increase.


Helping Your Child with Test-Taking

 Helping Your Child Succeed in School

You can be a great help to your child if you will observe these do's and don'ts about tests and testing:

Childlike drawing of a parent bending over to hug a child in a wheelchair who has received an "A" on a paper in the parent's right hand.

  • Do talk to your child about testing. It's helpful for children to understand why schools give tests and to know the different kinds of tests they will take.

  • Explain that tests are yardsticks that teachers, schools, school districts and even states use to measure what and how they teach and how well students are learning what is taught. Most tests are designed and given by teachers to measure students' progress in a course. These tests are associated with the grades on report cards. The results tell the teacher and students whether they are keeping up with the class, need extra help or are ahead of other students.

  • The results of some tests tell schools that they need to strengthen courses or change teaching methods. Still other tests compare students by schools, school districts or cities. All tests determine how well a child is doing in the areas measured by the tests.

  • Tell your child that occasionally, he will take "standardized" tests. Explain that these tests use the same standards to measure student performance across the state or even across the country. Every student takes the same test according to the same rules. This makes it possible to measure each student's performance against that of others.

  • Do encourage your child. Praise her for the things that she does well. If your child feels good about herself, she will do her best on a test. Children who are afraid of failing are more likely to become anxious when taking tests and more likely to make mistakes.

  • Do meet with your child's teacher as often as possible to discuss his progress. Ask the teacher to suggest activities for you and your child to do at home to help prepare for tests and to improve your child's understanding of schoolwork.

  • Do make sure that your child attends school regularly. Remember, tests reflect children's overall achievement. The more effort and energy your child puts into learning, the more likely it is that he will do well on tests.

  • Do provide a quiet, comfortable place for studying at home and make sure that your child is well rested on school days and especially on the day of a test. Children who are tired are less able to pay attention in class or to handle the demands of a test.

  • Do provide books and magazines for your child to read at home. By reading new materials, a child will learn new words that might appear on a test. Ask your child's teacher for lists of books for outside reading or get suggestions from your local library.

  • Don't get upset because of a single test score. Many things can influence how your child does on a test. She might not have felt well on test day or she might have been too nervous to concentrate. She might have had an argument with a friend before the test or she might have been late to school because the school bus got caught in traffic. Remember, one test is simply one test.

  • Don't place so much emphasis on your child's test scores that you lose sight of her well being. Too much pressure can affect her test performance. In addition, she may come to think that you will only love her if she does well on tests.

  • Do help your child avoid test anxiety. It's good for your child to be concerned about taking a test. It's not good for him to develop "test anxiety." Test anxiety is worrying too much about doing well on a test. It can mean disaster for your child. Students with test anxiety can worry about success in school and about their future success. They can become very self-critical and lose confidence in their abilities. Instead of feeling challenged by the prospect of success, they become afraid of failure. If your child worries too much about taking tests, you can help to reduce the anxiety by encouraging the child to do the following things.

    Plan ahead. Start studying for the test well in advance. Make sure that you understand what material the test will cover. Try to make connections about what will be on the test and what you already know. Review the material more than once.Don't "cram" the night before. This will likely increase your anxiety, which will interfere with clear thinking. Get a good night's sleep.When you get the test, read the directions carefully before you begin work. If you don't understand how to do something, ask the teacher to explain.Look quickly at the entire text to see what types of questions are on it (multiple choice, matching, true/false, essay). See if different questions are worth different numbers of points. This will help you to determine how much time to spend on each part of the test.If you don't know the answer to a question, skip it and go on. Don't waste time worrying about one question. Mark it and, if you have time at the end of the test, return to it and try again.


After the Test

Your child can learn a great deal from reviewing a graded exam paper. Reviewing will show him where he had difficulty and, perhaps, why. This is especially important for classes in which the material builds from one section to the next, as in math. Students who have not mastered the basics of math are not likely to be able to work with fractions, square roots, beginning algebra and so on.

Discuss the wrong answers with your child and find out why he chose the answers. Sometimes a child didn't understand or misread a question. Or, he may have known the correct answer but failed to make his answer clear.

You and your child should read and discuss all comments that the teacher writes on a returned test. If any comments aren't clear, tell your child to ask the teacher to explain them.


What Does 'Strong Character' Mean?

 Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen


Character is a set of qualities, or values, that shape our thoughts, actions, reactions and feelings. People with strong character

Childlike drawing of a small child helping an elderly woman with a cane cross the street.

  • show compassion,
  • are honest and fair,
  • display self-discipline in setting and meeting goals,
  • make good judgments,
  • show respect to others,
  • show courage in standing up for beliefs,
  • have a strong sense of responsibility,
  • are good citizens who are concerned for their community, and
  • maintain self-respect.


Compassion, or empathy, means identifying with and being concerned about other people's feelings and needs. It provides the emotional root for caring about other people. It allows us to be understanding and tolerant of different points of views and beliefs, it makes us aware of the suffering of others, and it allows us to empathize with them or to feel their suffering as our own. Compassion also allows us to feel joy and excitement—rather than anger and despair—at other people's successes and achievements.

Babies may begin to cry when they hear other sounds of crying, and coo and laugh when they hear others making happy sounds. By the age of three, many children will make an effort to hug or comfort another child or a parent who seems upset. As children grow, compassion can guide their actions and behaviors in positive ways. They understand that by doing something wrong, they cause others pain or unhappiness.

We can promote compassion by helping our children to think about how others feel. For example, if your child says or does something hurtful to another child, help him* to focus his attention on the feelings of his victim by saying, for example, "How do you think Zack feels? Would you like to feel like that?" Children develop compassion by practicing acts of caring and kindness towards others. As adults, we need to emphasize the importance of helping others, giving others the benefit of the doubt and being open to differences.

What You Can Do

  • Talk about the point of view of others as you watch TV, read books or discuss other people with your child. For example, ask, "What do you think that character is feeling and thinking?"

  • Show care toward others, such as doing errands for sick neighbors or opening doors for others.

  • Give others the benefit of the doubt. If your child complains that a classmate deliberately pushed her down on the way to lunch, explain that sometimes when people are in a hurry, they don't watch where they're going—they don't mean to push or hurt anyone.

  • Be open to differences. If your child says "Our new neighbors dress funny," explain that people often wear clothes that reflect their cultures or native countries.

  • —Daddy, why is Grandma crying?
  • —She's very sad. One of her friends just died. Come sit with me. Do you remember how you felt when your gerbil, Whiskers, died?
  • —I felt sad and lonely.
  • —Well imagine how much worse Grandma must feel losing a friend. Maybe you can think of a way to help her.
  • —I could give her a hug...
  • —That's a great idea!

Honesty and Fairness

Simply put, honesty means being truthful with ourselves and with others. It means caring enough about others not to mislead them for personal benefit. It means facing up to our mistakes, even when we have to admit them to others or when they may get us into trouble.

Fairness means acting in a just way and making decisions, especially important ones, on the basis of evidence rather than prejudice. It means "playing by the rules" and standing up for the right of everyone to be treated equally and honestly.

To understand the importance of being honest and fair, children need to learn that living together in a family, community or even a nation depends on mutual trust. Without honesty and fairness, trusting each other becomes very difficult, and families—and societies—fall apart.

Words of caution: There is a big difference between being dishonest—lying or cheating—and "making things up," as children often do in fantasy play. If children are taught that not telling the truth is "a bad thing," some young children might assume that it is also a bad thing to pretend to be a princess or an astronaut. Although you should discourage your child from deliberately lying and cheating, you should also let him know that it is fine to role play and pretend.

What You Can Do

  • Be a model of honest relations with others.

  • Discuss with your child what honesty is and is not. Point out, for example, that being honest doesn't mean telling someone you think he looks ugly. Kindness goes along with honesty.

  • —Dad, Why can't I choose what video to watch? It is not fair that Ramon gets to pick?
  • —Yes, it is fair, because you got to pick the video we watched last night. Now it is Ramon's turn.
  • Discuss fairness (chances are that your child will bring it up) in different situations. For example, how do we show fairness in our family? What does fairness mean to the community? What were standards of fairness in the past?

  • Talk about how you try to be fair in your life and work. What issues of justice have you wrestled with? Your adolescent will be particularly interested in talking with you about these things.

  • —Mom, why did you tell the cashier that she'd given you too much change? It was her mistake, so why didn't you just keep it.
  • —Because the money wasn't mine, and it would have been dishonest for me to keep it.


Self-discipline is the ability to set a realistic goal or make a plan—then stick with it. It is the ability to resist doing things that can hurt others or ourselves. It involves keeping promises and following through on commitments. It is the foundation of many other qualities of character.

Often self-discipline requires persistence and sticking to long-term commitments—putting off immediate pleasure for later fulfillment. It also includes dealing effectively with emotions, such as anger and envy, and developing patience.

Learning self-discipline helps children regulate their behavior and gives them the willpower to make good decisions and choices. On the other hand, the failure to develop self-discipline leaves children wide open to destructive behavior. Without the ability to control or evaluate their impulses, they often dive headlong into harmful situations.

What You Can Do

  • Talk with your child about setting reachable goals. For example, help him break big tasks into little tasks that can be accomplished one at a time. Have the child pick a task and set a deadline for completing it. When the deadline has passed, check together to see if the task was completed.

  • Help your child build a sense of her competence. To do this, she needs experiences of success, no matter how small. This builds confidence and effort for the next time. Keep making the tasks just a little more challenging but doable.

  • —Who just called?
  • —It was Tyler, Dad. He wanted me to go with him to the video store to check out the new DVDs.
  • —What did you tell him?
  • —I said I couldn't, because you and I need to work on my science project for school.

Good Judgment

Children develop strong character by learning to think about and make sound judgments about what is right or wrong, good or bad. These are not always easy distinctions for adults to make, much less children.

For example, it can be difficult for a child to recognize the difference between acting bravely and acting recklessly. As parents, we can help by showing, through what we do as well as what we say, that it is important in such situations to think carefully and honestly about what should be done, carefully weighing how others will be affected by what we do.

Sometimes we get into trouble because we "just didn't think." We let our emotions lead us to actions that we regret later. Making good judgments requires skills in monitoring impulses, using reasoning to sort through feelings and facts, and thinking about the consequences of our actions.

Your child's ability to think and make sound judgments will improve as she matures. With age, however, it also may become easier for her to try to justify and make excuses for selfish or reckless behavior. However, if you have helped her develop strong habits of honesty, courage, responsibility and self-respect, your child will have the ability to see the flaws in her reasoning and be able to come to the right conclusion about what to do.

What You Can Do

  • Teach your child to stop and think before acting on impulse.

  • Teach your child to tell fact from feeling. Let him know that just because he feels strongly about something—such as hitting someone who made him angry—doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

  • Encourage your child to think about the consequences of her decisions. Tell her little stories about situations she might face and talk about actions she might take, who might be affected by her actions, what might happen because of her actions and what the best action might be.

  • When your child has a problem with a rule, brainstorm together a list of possible reasons for the rule. This leads to greater understanding.

  • Remind your child to pay attention to the rules or codes that apply in each situation. For example, the rules for behaving in church are different from those for a football game.

  • —I got really mad because John wouldn't talk to me.
  • —What were you doing at the time?
  • —We were in line for lunch.
  • —Well, what's the rule about waiting in line?
  • —You aren't supposed to talk.
  • —Then John was doing the right thing, wasn't he?

How Can We Help Children Learn about Character?-

 Helping Your Child Become a Responsible Citizen

Childlike drawing of an adult male putting bag into a trash can.

Children learn about strong character when parents and other adults in their daily lives

  • set a good example through their own behavior and actions,
  • set and communicate high standards and clear expectations,
  • coach them on how to be responsible and kind, and
  • use literature to reinforce the values of strong character.

Set a Good Example

We are always teaching our children something by our words and our actions. They learn from seeing. They learn from hearing and from overhearing. They learn from us, from each other, from other adults in the community and by themselves.

Children share the values of their parents about the most important things in life. Our priorities and principles and our examples of good behavior can teach our children to take the high road when other roads look tempting.

Remember that children do not learn the values that make up strong character simply by being told about them. They learn by seeing the people around them act on and uphold those values in their daily lives. In our daily lives, we can show our children that we respect others. We can show them our compassion and concern when others are suffering, and our own self-discipline, courage and honesty as we make difficult decisions. How we conduct our everyday activities can show our children that we always try to do our best to serve our families, communities and country.

The way that we view money and material goods also can mold our children's character. If we see our self-worth and the worth of others in terms of cars, homes, furniture, nice clothes and other possessions, our children are likely to develop these attitudes as well. Of course, it is important to meet our children's needs, but it is also important to help them understand the difference between their needs and their wants. The expensive jacket that your child has to have may be OK—if you can afford it.

Finally, we need to be consistent in upholding the values we want our children to respect and not present them with conflicting values. We may tell our children that cheating is wrong, for example, yet brag to a neighbor about avoiding paying taxes. We may say that rudeness to others is unacceptable, yet laugh when we see that behavior on a favorite TV show.

  • —Daddy, why are you leaving that note on the garbage can?
  • —There's broken glass inside, Matthew, and I don't want the garbage collectors to get hurt. I'm warning them about the glass.
  • —Are they your friends?
  • —No. I don't know them, but I still don't want them to get hurt.

Set High Standards and Clear Expectations

Some parents set low standards for their children, or do not hold their children to the standards they set. Parents may do this because they think that expecting too much of a child will harm his self-confidence. However, research shows that the opposite is true. A child builds self-confidence by trying (with guidance) to meet high standards, even when he has to struggle to do so.

Parents do not always make their standards for behavior clear to their children. It is not enough to mention your expectations once or twice. Remember that children grow and change so fast that they can easily misunderstand or forget what you have told them. Their understanding of the world is developing almost constantly and their "new" minds need to be reminded of your expectations. Because of this, you need to repeat your guidelines often and to do so in a way that makes sense as your child changes and develops.

  • —Dad, nobody's going to see inside the model's wing. Why do you work so hard with all those little pieces?
  • —Because that's the right way to build the plane, Martha. It makes the wing strong when the plane flies, and that's more important than what people see. I want to make the best plane I can. Do you want to help?

Words of caution: Your expectations must be appropriate for your child's age and stages of mental, emotional, social and physical development. For example, it's not appropriate to tell an infant not to cry and expect him to obey. Likewise, it's not appropriate to expect a 3-year-old to sit still for hours or for a 13-year-old not to worry about how she looks. Pay attention to what your child can do, start there and help her learn skills to move forward. Be gentle but firm in your expectations.


Remember how you learned to drive or cook? You practiced while someone coached you, reminding you what to do until you were able to coach yourself and then, eventually, do it automatically. Children learn values much the same way. They practice different kinds of behavior, while, you, as coach, help focus their attention on what is important and on fine-tuning important skills. You support them with your praise, encouragement and gentle reminders.

If you don't coach your child, she will find her coaches elsewhere and be guided by the values of the media, her peers and anyone else who captures her interest. So, step up to the plate, don't be afraid and help your child learn how to be a good person, step by step.

  • —Paul, have you written a thank-you note to your aunt and uncle for the birthday present they sent?
  • —No, but I told them that I liked it when they gave it to me.
  • —Well, that's a start, but they were nice enough to take the time to buy you a gift, so you need to show them that you appreciate it. Here, you sit with me and write your note to them while I write one to Ms. Miller—remember how she stayed to help me clean up after your birthday party?

Use Literature

Literature can be a very powerful teaching tool. In fact, people in stories, poems and plays can influence children almost as much as the real people who read with them. Therefore, reading to and with children, encouraging older children to read on their own and talking with children about the books they read are important ways to help children learn about and develop the values of strong character and good citizenship.

Asking Questions to Guide Discussions

Use questions such as the following to help your child think about the values of stories:

How did the people in the story act?
Did they have good or bad motives?
Who were the heroes? Why were they heroes? Were there villains? Why were they villains?

Did the people make good decisions? Why or why not?

How did the people carry out their decisions? What kinds of steps did they take? Were there obstacles?
How did they respond to the obstacles?

Did the people think about the welfare of others?
Did the story have a good or bad ending? For whom was it good? For whom was it bad?
How could the story have turned out better for everyone?

Choosing Books

Choosing which books to use for character development can take some time and effort. Many good selections are available, including fiction and nonfiction books and books of poems, folk tales, fables and plays. There are excellent modern stories, as well as timeless classics. There is also a growing number of books that allow children to explore values across various cultures and countries. For lists of books to read to and with your child, see Books That Can Support Character Development on pages of this booklet. For more titles or additional help in choosing books, talk with your local or school librarian.

Words of caution: Although the moral theme of a story, nonfiction book, play or poem may be very clear to us, it is not always so to children. Always talk with your child about what she is reading to see how well she understands its theme or message. Be patient and listen carefully to your child's ideas. If her ideas are too far off the mark, talk with her about how she arrived at them—perhaps she misunderstood a word or is missing some important piece of information. Reread parts of the story with her and talk about the message.


  • —What did you think about the ant letting the grasshopper come stay with him over the winter?
  • —Well, it was nice of him. He was kind, and it was good that he wanted to help the grasshopper.
  • —But what about the grasshopper? Shouldn't he have prepared for the winter, as the ant did?
  • —Sure, but sometimes we don't do things that we should. I'll bet he learned a lesson, though. I'll bet he gets ready for next winter.