My housemate and I have been enjoying a successful house share for three years. Both of us are divorced. Two of our children will soon be starting kindergarten. Neither of us are looking forward to filling out the school paperwork since there will probably be lots of prying questions about our home situation. More importantly, we are worried about doing the right things for our children’s education. What can single moms like us do to help their children make the most of their education? Aren’t kids who come from broken homes at higher risk for problems at school?
Congratulations on a successful house share!
Just like at your house, many children today are growing up in single parent and other non-traditional homes. Growing up in a two-parent home is no guarantee of school success. Children raised in single parent families are not more likely to have school problems. All parents make mistakes and missteps. Research indicates that a parent’s encouragement and the value placed on education are more important to a child’s eventual success than family income or background. Show your interest every day. Your actions let your children know that you value learning
Worry and motherhood often seem to just go together, but it’s a better choice to channel that “worry energy” in positive directions.
Here are the best ways to help your children make the best possible start and to do all you can to help your children succeed in school.Paperwork, forms, and more paperwork.
Public schools are charged with a dizzying array of responsibilities and demands for accountability. Asking for basic information during kindergarten enrollment is simply the school’s way of meeting their mandated responsibilities, not an attempt to pry into your personal lives. No one reviews enrollment information so they can pass judgment about your house share or your respective divorces. In fact, schools strive to respect rules of confidentiality. If someone does seem overly interested you may, in fact, be talking with another single mom/friend of a single mom who is personally interested in how you are making this innovative house sharing idea work for you. Critical information.
Your children’s school needs to know how to reach you in case of emergency. The school also needs the names and telephone numbers of your “back-up”, in case you cannot be reached. Emergencies can include sudden weather changes and unexpected school closings as well as sickness or injury. Be prepared with this information when you enroll your children. Work out any complications or disagreements with your housemate (and ex-spouse, if necessary) as a priority.
Prepare for the inevitable.
Unlike most single parents, you two have each other for “back up” in case of emergency. Without warning, one of your children (or both!) will get sick and need to stay home from school. You may be able to work out something with your day care provider or child care facility. Your work situation may be flexible. Talk this out now and decide how you will handle these inevitable emergencies. Reassure your children that a back up plan is in place. Keeping a sick child at home or providing the necessary back-up care assures the school that you are the capable and responsible parents you strive to be.Face your feelings.
Despite your resiliency and success as housemates, moments, like registering your first child in school, can elicit strong feelings. You may find yourself feeling sensitive and sad about no longer being part of a “Mr. and Mrs.” or angry about the change in financial circumstances that made house sharing a must. Feelings like this are normal, but these are your issues. Acting defensive and indignant when routine questions are asked does not get you or, more importantly, your children off to the best start. You can be absolutely certain that teachers and principals have seen their personal share of hard times and are not going to be shocked or amazed by anything you say or write down on a school form. Check the back pack daily.
Successful single parents juggle many conflicting priorities. Keeping informed and organized is essential. The notices found nearly every day in your children’s back packs are your communication link. Develop a system for keeping track of field trips, book fairs, and other special events. This daily routine emphasizes your commitment to learning and teaches your children the valuable organizational skills essential to school success.Stay organized.
Monitor your children’s school supplies and replace as necessary. Make sure each child’s belongings are labeled so there is no ownership confusion. While sharing is probably encouraged in your home, separate school supplies and homework folders work best because this is consistent with how things are typically organized at school. Consider developing morning and evening routines, which encourage independence and planning ahead. For example, laying out clothes for the morning at bedtime and making sure the back pack is set to go will leave time for breakfast and begin the day on a positive, stress-free note. Healthy children learn best.
Your children will need a good night’s sleep and a nutritious breakfast every day. Recent studies have shown that protein eaten at breakfast wakes up the brain. Pack only nutritious snacks and instruct your children not to share their snacks with others. Rampant food allergies have made sharing food with others potentially life threatening. Check out the school lunch options. If the menu is mostly French fries and high-fructose corn syrup laden choices, get in the habit now of packing lunch daily so that your children continue the healthy eating habits you have instilled at home.
Be good listeners at home.
Children who have learned to express themselves at home with parents and siblings will have an easier time talking with their teachers. Demonstrate being a good listener by respecting your children’s feelings and giving full attention when they are trying to tell you something. Shouting, name calling, or deliberately hurtful remarks have no place in a home where respect for one another is valued and certainly will not be tolerated in the classroom. Following directions and working cooperatively in a group are other important skills necessary for school success. Children who thrive at school have daily experiences at home, which reinforce listening and build conversational skills.Eat together.
Sitting down and eating the evening meal together is a great time to share your children’s day. Children from families who eat together achieve higher scores on those all important standardized tests. Stumped for conversation? Ask your children what they learned today that they did not know the day before. Try to avoid questions that can be answered with just a yes or no.Teach patience.
Many teachers rightly complain that children come to school expecting everything to happen “right now”. This is just not how life works. Provide your children with opportunities to learn patience. These opportunities teach your children that everything does not happen instantaneously. Try growing seeds or working on craft projects. Children who spend endless hours playing video games and watching TV get exactly the opposite message. Limiting TV watching and video games benefit your children’s education.Read together.
Reading to your child every day is one of the most valuable ways to spend time. If a child is struggling with reading, the chance to listen to stories will help build his skills. Use the resources of your public library rather than purchase books impulsively. Don’t exactly know how to find books your children will like? Librarians are anxious to help you. Make sure you check out Story Hour and other free events at your local library. Get involved.
Involvement in parent –teacher organizations is not just for stay at home parents. Many parent-teacher organizations provide extras like computer equipment, cultural activities, and field trips. There are many ways you can assist these organizations without stepping foot in school during the workday. Your involvement lets you to stay connected with other concerned parents and gives you a chance to meet other single parents. Your children will benefit from these needed contributions and activities as well as see your hands-on commitment to his education.