Few things are more frustrating than seeing your talented, intelligent children come home with C’s and D’s on their report cards. You know your children are capable of more, but prodding and nagging get you nowhere — leaving you feeling powerless to change a situation that could have long-term implications for your kids.

What parents often don’t realize is that they have a lot more control than they think. Usually when smart kids bring home poor grades it reflects a problem with learning style or motivation. Once you understand what motivates your children and how best they learn, you can have a big impact on their academic performance.

For many kids, their investment in a topic ties directly with how relevant they think it is. If they don’t see how a subject or task applies to them or their interests, they can’t see a reason to learn it. Some kids, for example, won’t bother reading the book required in English because they can’t see how it applies to their ultimate goal of being an airline pilot. Others may not see why they need geometry if they want to be a journalist.

Your job is to help them see the relevance. Even if the subject is not directly related to their future careers, you can show them how it’s relevant to real life. If they don’t want to read To Kill a Mockingbird, you can discuss how bigotry is still present in today’s world, how it may affect them or their friends and ways to combat it. You can also offer to read it together so you can discuss other themes relevant in today’s society.

If you don’t understand the relevance yourself, ask your children’s teachers for ideas. It may never occur to you or your kids that geometry can help you determine the quickest route to the concert you’re seeing next week or how anatomy relates to athletic performance.

In other cases, children will see the relevance and want to learn but struggle to absorb all the material. In those instances, learning style may be at the root of the problem.

Some people learn by listening, some by seeing, some by doing and some through a combination of styles. Think back to times when your children have caught on quickly to new concepts. Did they watch you first; then do it themselves? Did they read a book about it, taking notes along the way?

School districts in the region have a number of charter schools to cater to these different learning styles. You may also find that some teachers naturally tend toward one style over another. By examining your children’s style and the options available in your school district, and by working with your children at home to reinforce learning in a way that works for them, you can help boost their grades — and more importantly, their information retention — significantly.

In addition to helping your children find relevance in school subjects and accommodating their learning styles, you can cultivate a home environment that values and rewards your children’s efforts to learn.

Some families plan a special family outing after each quarter or parent-teacher conference to celebrate their kids’ hard work. Others extend special privileges to children who try their best. Whatever you decide to do as a family, be sure to emphasize effort, not outcomes, and resist the temptation to use monetary rewards.

Because you’re working to instill a value, you need to demonstrate firsthand your own commitment to education. That includes modeling lifelong learning, but it also requires your involvement at your children’s school. Attend the conferences, talk with the teachers and administrators and support the school’s efforts to enhance learning.

Parents are their children’s best advocates. Advocating for your children’s best educational experience — with all that entails — is your best insurance they’ll perform to potential.

As published in the November 2007 Edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.