Bruce Feiler’s, “It’s Okay to Skip that Bake Sale” (NYT, 8/31/12) came out just in time, as I waded through a barage of PTO mailings and school emailings informing me of all the ways in which I can “get involved” at the kids’ school this fall. Is it just Feiler and me, or have schools’ demands on parents time gotten out of hand? I don’t think I ever once saw my mom at school during the school day, unless I’d forgotten my lunch or got sick and needed to be picked up. Was I wounded, stunted, and traumatized as a result? Not exactly.
Volunteering at school is wonderful and appreciated for those parents who are interested and available. I admit it, though: even when I’m available, I’m just not very interested! If I have a few hours’ break from parenting, I need that mental space for being an adult away from kids. Call it selfish, bad parenting or whatever you will. Days spent at school are inevitably followed by evenings spent too burnt out to be a good, involved parent once the kids get back home.
Feiler’s article suggests that these feelings are widespread, and he discusses a backlash among frustrated put-upon parents, including one California blogger who started a campaign entitled “Just Say NO to Volunteering.” It also turns out there is zero correlation between how much time you spend volunteering and how well your kids perform in school. David Levin, an educator who oversees 125 schools, notes that this issue especially “becomes a problem…when families that can’t volunteer feel they’re not carrying their weight. When in reality, if their kid is coming well rested to school, with his homework done on time, and is behaving well, the parents are doing their job.”
Which leads to the three things that experts agree we parents must do:
1. Meet the teacher. Having a good relationship with your kid’s teacher helps ensures that you will stay on top of your child’s needs and progress. Make sure he or she knows that you are fully available to address any concerns. Teachers also expect more of those students whose parents are engaged in this way.
2. Ask good questions. Let your kids know you have high expectations and ask them substantive questions at the end of the school day—not “how was your day?” but “what did you learn in science this morning?” This kind of involvement does improve kids’ performance.
3. Put your children to bed. Sleep-deprived students cannot function well at school. Check out this article on the recommended sleep times for children. The author is slightly skeptical about the rigid sleep times that have traditionally been recommended, but she offers helpful information on meeting your own family’s sleep needs.
And now, if you’re so inclined, go ahead and drop those kids off at school tomorrow, and don’t return a minute before 3:30p!