Seven-year-old May is curious, intelligent, and generous. She is full of life and gets along well with her friends. Kindergarten was a breeze, first grade could not have gone better. Then, around the first week of second grade, she started to wake up with a stomachache. “I don’t like school,” she said, “and I don’t want to go anymore.” Then there’s Jake, a seventh grader who often stays up too late playing video games and moves so slowly in the morning he misses the bus. “I don’t like school!” he told his dad. “It’s like going to prison!”
Rafael, and older student, is on the verge of dropping out of high school. “I’m bored, and it feels like a huge waste of time,” he said. “Nothing they teach has anything to do with my life, and besides, I need to start earning money to help my family.” Students in every age group struggle with disliking school. But there are ways to help them, which can make a huge difference for their future. Here are 10 ways to keep students engaged in school.
1. Create opportunities to connect with peers.
There is a lot we can do to equip our children for relationships. Get to know other dads and moms, coach a team, and sponsor class activities. Create opportunities for your kids to be with other kids. When children feel isolated, school is neither nurturing nor safe.Students in every age group struggle with disliking school, but there are ways to help them.
2. Make sleep a priority.
A National Health study in the United Kingdom labeled lack of sleep “a hidden health crisis.” Staying up late with unsupervised screen time affects attendance, concentration, performance, and behavior. Kids who get enough sleep tend to like school more and show an increase in student engagement.
3. Provide reading support.
Reading impacts everything. Once a child falls behind in reading, his or her grades and confidence suffer. Tutoring, encouragement, and practice at home are critical from the early grades.
4. Engaged children feel less restricted.
Most students feel “hemmed in” at some time or other. “Joyful learning,” Peter Gray argues in Psychology Today, “requires freedom.” Children crave freedom. They are kids, and they don’t like to be restricted, hedged in, and told what to do. In the short-term, get involved in PTA as a volunteer, encourage your child’s teacher to be imaginative, and be a positive part of the solution. In the long-term, invest yourself in the ongoing conversation around what education might look like going forward.
5. School doesn’t have to be boring.
To get a higher level of student engagement, kids need to be challenged and motivated. As parents, it is important that we understand our kids’ capacity to learn and take responsibility for engaging that potential, both at school and at home.
6. Increased engagement makes school more relevant.
Teens need to feel a connection between school and the next step of college or a career. As parents, we need to make sure not only that our kids remain engaged but also that schools meet our kids’ individual needs in preparation for what comes next.
7. Create a stable environment at home.
When home life is unsettled, children often lose focus at school. When a student loses focus, it’s hard to enjoy learning. Your child may well struggle at school because of something that’s happening at home. Rather than allowing home challenges to interfere with school, make your home a safe place.
8. Encourage your child’s self image.
Every child is unique. That’s good, but life can be difficult when a child stands out for any reason. Many young people feel rejected, out of place, or isolated by their peers. Encouraging your kids’ self-image can give them confidence in school. Affirm their their individuality.
9. Utilize the school staff.
Teachers and other school staff often provide encouragement, support, motivation, counsel, coaching, and other critically important interventions. Young people can access these support systems to their potential.
10. Give your kids a vision of the future.
School takes all day long and lasts all week, and then there is homework. Make it clear you understand how your kids feel. At the same time, remind them that a little investment in homework today translates into better grades, clearer comprehension, and a portfolio more likely to open doors of opportunity down the road.
Sound off: What are some other ways to improve student engagement?
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is your favorite part of school?”