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The School's Role in Influencing Child Development

While you've been the primary teacher in your child's life for the first few years, it's time to broaden his horizons and let others help him develop into the smart, confident and respectful adult you know he'll become one day. While the school's first responsibility to its students may be academic, the job doesn't end there. When you send your youngster off to school, think about all the ways the staff and students influence your child. According to Irene Shere, Director of the Early Childhood Consultation Center, "The way that teachers interact with children and the way that teachers encourage interactions between children affect each child's development in important ways."

Academic Potential

Ideally, the school's role is to bring each student to her individual, maximum academic potential. While its effectiveness may vary from school to school, it's not enough to teach the ABCs and 123s and call it a day. A significant amount of schoolwork throughout the grades is dedicated to helping children become expert problem solvers and solution-seekers, skills that will come in handy in just about every personal and professional aspect of a child's adult life. Therefore, in addition to an academic skill, problem solving is an essential life skill. It's "the ability to analyze a situation, propose a solution and, should that solution not work, be able to re-strategize to try again," according to Shere. The problem-solving mentality encourages kids to keep trying, even after flunking the latest math test. They will push and persist because that mentality also dictates that there is a solution; it just hasn't been found yet. and that sounds like a challenge.

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Social Skills

He's got straight A's across the board. But without some healthy social skills, your youngster won't make it through his first job interview, and he'll probably be going stag when prom night rolls around. The school plays an important role in helping children learn to interact positively with their peers and teachers. They learn about healthy relationship skills and develop them further through interactions, both in the classroom and on the playground. According to Shere, "The emotional and social maturity of a child provides the important underpinnings for child development in all other areas.When educators ignore children's emotional and social development, this can often lead to adults who are very academically gifted but who struggle in their daily lives due to lack of self-esteem and/or social skills." Children spend a large portion of their day at school, and it's vital that a school's curriculum is designed to help its students form solid social relationships or to "connect with other children and adults in a caring and empathetic manner."

Character Building and Self Concept

Now that he's getting straight A's and he snagged that first job, it's time to focus on his character and his values. Character building is not an alternative to academic achievement, but rather an essential adjunct of it. Just as the school provides lessons on reading, writing and arithmetic, from the very beginning it also focuses on helping kids learn about compassion, respect, empathy and integrity. At first it begins with basic lessons like "raise your hand to speak" and "keep your hands to yourself." Later, it develops into argumentative debates about moral and social issues. By the time your child graduates high school, he should have a fairly firm grasp on his own beliefs, values and how he views himself. If he feels he's an inept communicator, it's unlikely he'll pursue a career in law or public speaking. It is this understanding of who he is and what he values that will help determine his academic, professional and personal pursuits.

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Broadening Horizons

The school can introduce a child to a multitude of opportunities. From early on, children are often exposed to different nationalities, cultures and traditions, helping to shape their viewpoint of the world around them. Field trips and interactive projects let your child try out new things, while each different subject in school gives her a taste of what could await her in the future. As children get older, many schools offer a variety of extracurricular opportunities to further whet your youngster's appetite for the future. In a single place, your child can join the swim team, sign up for cheerleading, volunteer to work with younger children, run for school treasurer and give chess club a try. All of these experiences help to develop a child's interests, build self-esteem and shape the course of her later academic and professional life.

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