All too often, getting a good education for your child can seem like a mad dash down the aisles of a superstore.   Fueled by fears of falling behind, it’s easy to think you must grab just the right beginning reader books, the best seat at Back-to-School night, and the most popular teachers—and do it all now, before someone else beats you to it!
But is that attitude really best for kids? For them, school goes way beyond books.   Especially in elementary classrooms, they are learning how to make and sustain community. They are starting to make new friends…and so can their parents.
In fact, research shows that when parents embrace this community spirit, join in school events and help out, their children actually do better in school. Don’t worry: this doesn’t mean that now, on top of your other commitments, you need to be PTA president!   With just a few simple steps, you can do a lot to promote a welcoming school climate.   And chances are, you might even find yourself basking in the warmth you’ve helped create. Here are four ideas:
  1. Make a Class List. Often, school directories aren’t available until the second month of school. In the first week, pass a clipboard around, type it up, and let the teacher send it home. Offer to add new students if they arrive midyear. Send out a new draft, with an extra copy for your teacher.
  1. Share Photos. If you photograph a field trip, give your teacher extra copies, or even make a class display.   If you videotape a class play, check with the teacher: there is almost always some parent who couldn’t make it, and whose kid is miserable. Offer an extra copy—and you’ll have made a family’s day. The next time you can’t make it to an event, maybe someone else will help you out, too.
  1. Team up on teacher gifts. Before winter holidays and at the end of the year, parents often like to give a gift to the teacher. Instead of an individual gift, consider pooling resources. That way, people need only contribute a few dollars; but they add up fast and build unity.
  1. Keep an ear out for family transitions. Families can be overwhelmed by a new sibling, or by serious illness. Classroom parents can make all the difference with a meal, a play date, or with rides to school.
These are just a few ways to reach out and build good feeling at school. Don’t expect to do them all at once; even one can make a big difference. Over the years, education will still have its hectic moments—but a sense of caring can make them all seem worthwhile.