All four of these featured books take their philosophical cue from the title of Bob Dylan’s album Bringing It All Back Home. The best way to help your kids have fun learning at school is to make your home a place where what happens at school really matters. In the process, you’ll also be helping school become a place where what happens at home—love and support, study habits and simple values—really matters.

WHICH SCHOOL?

We all want our kids to go the best school. The question is, what does “best” mean? Turns out, despite the fact that today’s parents are more educated, motivated and informed than ever, we are short on the skills needed to evaluate the quality of our children’s schools. The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve can change this. Peg Tyre, author of the best-selling The Trouble with Boys, gives parents a crash course in what to look for. She focuses on “seven essential domains of education” we need to know in order to help preschool, elementary and middle school children. These include test scores, class size, teacher quality and the best practices in teaching reading and math. Each chapter investigates a topic starting with a bit of history, details of current practices (good and bad), a checklist of questions for each school and a handy list of “take aways,” thoughts to keep in mind as you investigate. The checklists in particular make it easy for even the most overwhelmed (or clueless) parent to become “a more sophisticated member of your child’s learning community.”

LIVING TO WRITE

Literacy expert Pam Allyn has already written the definitive book for parents on reading, What to Read When. Now she turns her attention to writing with Your Child’s Writing Life. Why do kids need a “writing life?” Allyn give three research-based reasons: Writing “fosters a child’s emotional growth,” “helps develop critical thinking skills” and “leads to a guaranteed improvement in academic achievement.” Plus, a love of writing is a gift that can last a lifetime.

Parents can unlock a child’s potential with “Five Keys” embedded in the acronym WRITE: word power, ritual, independence, time, environment. These can be tailored to each child’s “personal comfort and unique learning style” and energized with easy, creative prompts. A chapter on the stages of writing development helps parents understand a child’s changing capabilities and enthusiasms. Allyn gives tips on creating an appropriate environment for each stage from birth up, including recommendations for books, activities, toys or materials, plus a list of “writing elements” a child might exhibit. Chapters on common challenges (like fear and frustration), great books to inspire writing and cures for writer’s block (by age group) round out a groundbreaking resource.

BE THE CHANGE

The End of Molasses Classes teaches that home and school should and can “support each other in the education of all children.” Ron Clark, named “America’s Educator,” author of the best-selling The Essential 55 and founder of a revolutionary teaching academy, knows firsthand how a few basic changes can transform a classroom, a school and a child’s entire life. Clark shares 101 strategies, some for teachers, some for parents, all aimed at helping kids succeed, in the best and widest sense of the word.

For example, parents can cultivate drama-free mornings so the school day can start right, read all the communication sent home from school, get to know other school parents, use car time to talk about what children are learning and stop rewarding kids for doing a mediocre job.Examples for any adult include: “set the tone for a love of learning,” “define your expectations and then raise the bar,” “uplift those who help raise your children,” “listen,” “provide students with a chance to shine” and simply “have fun.” Clark will help parents keep molasses un-metaphorical and right where it belongs: on cornbread and biscuits, not in classrooms.

TIMELESS TEACHINGS

When a report card from the year 1915 turned up among a beloved uncle’s effects, authors and family educators Barbara C. Unell and Bob Unell noticed a “Home Report” section completed by parents and returned to the teacher. It included topics like “things made,” “books read,” “money earned,” “manners” and “hours worked,” and, by its very presence, made the assumption that the best education comes from an active partnership between school and home. The discovery inspired Uncle Dan’s Report Card: From Toddlers to Teenagers, Helping Our Children Build Strength of Character with Healthy Habits and Values Every Day. The authors argue that student learning and development is not just about academic achievement, but about the whole child. To succeed in school and in life, all kids “need structure, rules, routines and boundaries to feel calm and secure.” Parents, on the other end, need to know what to teach and how to teach it. The book gives the timeless tools and tips that can inspire kids to want to learn good habits, follow a “commonsense code of conduct” and become more self-sufficient. Everyone wins: parents, teachers, kids and the community.

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