And we're off! The markers and marble notebooks have been unpacked, the first-day photos have been Instagrammed, and the first uneaten banana is turning brown and soft at the bottom of your child's backpack. Yes, we're back in the wonderful chaos of school with all that entails: PTA meetings, book fairs, fundraisers, and that evening where teachers and parents first come face-to-face. You probably already have a hundred issues whirling in your mind already, but there are some important questions to ask your child's first grade teacher on back-to-school night.
Not to be confused with parent-teacher conferences (which come just before the end of each marking period), back-to-school night is a less formal introduction to your child's homeroom and other teachers. You'll get an overview of what units will be covered in language arts, math, science, and social studies, and perhaps a breakdown of how grades are determined (some teachers put more weight on homework or class participation than on tests). The teacher may outline their expectations for the students, such as coming to class on time and with their necessary supplies.
Then once the teachers have had their say, the floor is open to parents. That's your opportunity to get answers to the questions that will help ensure a successful year for everyone. Here are some to jot down and bring with you on back-to-school night.
1What Are Your Academic Goals For Your Students?
There are certain academic skills most children should be able to achieve by the end of each school year. Individual schools and school districts have different standards, but in general, first grade is a time to improve word decoding and reading fluency, and increase use of punctuation in writing, according to school websites. Math goals for this age group might include adding and subtracting one- and two-digit numbers, understanding the properties of two- and three-dimensional shapes, and learning the value of coins.
2How Much Time Should My Child Be Spending On Homework Each Night?
The issue of homework (Too much? Not enough? Do kids need it?) has been debated for decades. Although one teacher in Texas got widespread praise for eliminating homework altogether, it's likely that your school is one of the majority that follows the guideline approved by the National Education Association and the National PTA: 10 to 20 minutes of homework a day for first-graders, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level after that. If your first grade teacher recommends more than 20 minutes, find out why.
3Should I Be Helping My Child With Homework?
First grade means not only more homework, but also more independence. Your child's teacher may want parents to take a hands-off approach unless the child is obviously struggling. One of the best things you can do is to provide a space and atmosphere at home that will make it easier for your child to focus on work. The U.S. Department of Education's homework guide, Helping Your Child With Homework, recommends setting a specific time for homework, offering a quiet, well-lit space, and eliminating distractions such as cell phones and TV during homework time.
4How Can I Keep Track Of My Child's Progress?
Thanks to technology, parents don't have to wait for report card time to find out whether their kids are performing on track. Through sites and apps such as ClassDojo, School Plus, and PupilPath, teachers can enter data such as test grades and class participation. Other apps, such as Remind, allow teachers to message parents either as a group ("Remember to bring in field trip permission slips tomorrow!") or individually ("Jordan didn't turn in last night's math worksheet").
5How Much Of The Day Involves Small-Group Instruction? How Are Students Grouped?
Having students work together in small groups for problem-solving or class projects promotes teamwork and cooperation, and can encourage shyer students to become more active participants. Small-group learning for math is a particularly effective way to teach mathematical concepts, according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. Find out how your teacher arranges groups (often, it's by skill level), and how they differentiate learning. How do they support struggling students? How do they challenge children who have already grasped the lesson?
6Do You Have A Snack Time?
The answer to this will vary, depending on your school and teacher. Some classes OK a short snack time, especially if there's a large midmorning or afternoon gap between meals, while other teachers may find it distracting. If your child's first grade class day includes a snack, find out if there are any restrictions such as a ban on junk food or nuts.
7How Can I Help Support My Child's Learning At Home?
Education doesn't stop the minute kids set foot outside the classroom door. Your child's teacher can suggest ways you can help your child learn even when it's not homework time. For instance, playing board and card games is a fun way to work on counting and adding, and having your child write a letter to Grandma will help strengthen their writing skills (and delight Grandma at the same time). Bedtime stories can still be a cherished part of the day at this age, but your teacher may suggest having your child read to you in addition to being read to.
8What's The Best Way To Get In Touch With You? Do You Have Office Hours?
Your child's teacher may be an "email me anytime!" type or a "I check my voicemails at 4:00 PM sharp" sort. They may have a specific day or time blocked out for parent sit-downs, or they may be more flexible. Whatever it is, you're more likely to get a prompt response if you use your teacher's preferred communication method.