National Edition

The back-to-school balancing act

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20 2013 3:25 p.m. MDT

Lynette Boatright looks over her list of required supplies as her son Carter, 11, looks on at Target on Friday afternoon in Casper, Wyo.

Dan Cepeda, Associated Press

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SANDY — When students in the Canyons School District returned to school on Monday, theirs weren't the only butterflies present. Parents, likewise, can feel a great deal of stress about school.

Parents know their participation is critical to their child's success in school, but growing awareness of helicopter parenting and the damage it can cause might leave parents wondering how to find the middle ground.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Every child is different, and most parenting means learning on the go.

There is, however, a good deal of guidance available on the topic, and schools want to help parents find the resources they need. Communicating with school officials is one of the first steps toward establishing the balanced routine that will work for your child, Lori Jones, the comprehensive guidance coordinator for Canyons District schools, said. The key is to support your children's education and create an atmosphere where they can succeed, and then step back and allow your children to slowly take responsibility for their own learning and growth.

"Tell yourself that this is the beginning of your child's wonderful adventure," Jones said.

Stepping up

Parental involvement is one of the biggest influences for good in a child's academic pursuits. Early involvement puts children on a path toward long-term success, said Sarah Clark, a literacy expert and an assistant professor in Utah State University's Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services.

Involvement begins at birth. The more parents interact with their children and speak and read to them, the greater advantage the children will have in kindergarten, Clark said.

Once children start school, opportunities for involvement multiply exponentially. Some opportunities are obvious: school fairs, open houses, parent-teacher conferences, PTA. Parents should attend these kinds of events whenever possible, Jones said. Here, parents can learn about the resources available to them and their children.

School-sponsored events can also help to keep the lines of communication open with teachers and administration — an important factor Clark emphasized.

"Sometimes we don't want to hear what's wrong with our child in school," Clark said. "We don't have all the information, so the more we can communicate, the more we know how to support their learning at school. That's really powerful as a parent to have that information."

If necessary, Jones said, some schools can make translators available for parents. She encouraged those who are aware of families who could use language assistance to reach out.

Activities outside school can help facilitate students' learning. Jones said walking in the park or visiting a museum with younger children can be worthwhile activities. With older children, discuss the current topics at school, or watch the news together. Involve children of all ages in their cultural heritage of family history.

Sometimes, children struggle in school for social reasons. This is an area where parents can be especially helpful. Jones recommended role-playing at home and learning about resources available at school if behavior or social problems persist.

Preparing an appropriate setting for homework is also an important part of the equation. Homework should always be taken into consideration when building a child's schedule, but parents don't need to set rigid rules about a specific time of day dedicated to homework. It's more important to eliminate distractions that would prevent students from completing their assignments — such as loud, constant television — and to make important supplies readily available so students do not have to waste time looking for the materials they need.

Stepping back

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