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EDUCATION : After Studying, There's Still Time for 'The Simpsons'

October 21, 1990|MARY YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES and Mary Yarber teaches English and journalism at an area high school. She will write an occasional column on education for The Times

Ask teachers to name the most important factor in a student's success and they will probably tell you it is parent involvement in the child's studies. After a few weeks of school, I can tell which of my students have someone at home who monitors their schoolwork and which students don't.

With a few easy techniques, you can help your son or daughter achieve more in school, regardless of the student's grade level or your own educational background.

Provide a quiet and comfortable place in the home where the student can study. You don't have to buy a computer or set of encyclopedias, although these are certainly helpful; a table and good lighting will do.

One resource that every study space should have, though, is "Webster's Collegiate Dictionary," because good spelling and precise language are needed in all subjects and grade levels. As an English teacher, I've used many dictionaries but prefer Webster's because its range of vocabulary can serve a child from elementary school through college.

Make sure the student is not interrupted while studying. Phone calls, dinner and chores can wait until the schoolwork is finished.

Studying should become part of the routine at home, so help your child choose a specific block of time just for schoolwork--and the earlier the better. Work that is done late at night is often rushed and halfhearted. I can usually tell when a student's assignment was frantically written somewhere between "The Simpsons" and bedtime.

Look over the homework when it is finished, even if it is a calculus assignment and you barely passed algebra. You are checking to see that it is complete and neat, not necessarily correct.

Television is the greatest temptation away from homework, but it can add to a child's studies when used properly. Monitor what your child watches and for how long each day, and make sure there is a healthy balance of programs.

Yes, I watch Paula Abdul videos, Dodger games and scary movies. But I also watch the evening news, science documentaries and ballet. An hour of mindless TV is fine after the homework is done. But make the second hour a documentary program--then turn it off for the night.

Taking your children places can enhance their studies and give them a world view that helps them see the value and interrelatedness of what they learn in school. Visit museums of art and science, concerts, ethnic festivities, libraries and sports events. Your child's teachers can suggest exhibits or shows that relate to subjects covered in class. Many teachers give extra credit for reports of such excursions.

You can also improve your child's reading skills and strengthen your bond through sharing of ideas. Take turns reading an assigned story, newspaper article or book, then discuss what you have read. You don't need to stage a quiz or scholarly debate; just compare likes and dislikes, feelings about characters or experiences from your own lives that are similar to the reading.

Watch the news together and then discuss it. Which events or people could directly affect your own lives? Which happenings anger or inspire you? Who are the most powerful, admirable, or dangerous people in the world today? These questions and others that will naturally arise also add to the world view and bring reality and immediacy to what is learned at school.

You are now working to improve your child's schoolwork, so eliminate any bad influences. Aside from home and school, where does your child spend free time? Who are his or her friends? Do they support or cancel out the goals and values you are trying to teach?

These seem like basic questions, but many parents are dangerously unaware. Some parents do not even know their children are in gangs until one is arrested or shot. In short, be able to account for every hour your child spends away from home and school.

Above all, make a big fuss over academic achievements or improvements. Write a list, with suggestions from the child, of rewards you will give for better grades. When I asked one of my classes what makes them work harder, they all shouted, "Money!" The students did, however, also mention some no-cost alternatives such as extending weekend curfews, allowing extra TV or stereo time, or skipping a dreaded chore.

Of course no parent, not even Ward and June Cleaver, can do all of these things every day. But by using techniques that fit your own schedule and budget, you can work as the teacher's partner in making your child more successful in school.

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