West Lafayette, Indiana - Making sure a child's return to school is met with joy instead of groans and rolling eyes is an important factor for improving student achievement from kindergarten through high school.

Marcia Gentry, director of the Gifted Education Resource Institute in the College of Education at Purdue University, has some advice.

"Children who like school tend to do well in school, and creating a positive perception of school begins in the home and continues throughout the school years," said Gentry, who also is a professor of educational studies. "It is not enough for parents and guardians to focus on school in the late summer when their children are preparing to return to school. Attitudes toward school are formed year round."

Much of a student's idea of learning is formed around experiences at school. But how the idea of education is talked about at home also plays a big role in whether a student looks at education with interest or disdain, she said.

Gentry said the institute's research group looks at several factors learning can represent for students, from interest and enjoyment to challenge and meaningfulness.

"Parents can model a love of learning by creating an atmosphere in the home in which information, learning and knowledge are important," Gentry said.

That atmosphere can develop in a number of ways. Traditional ideas of reading at home or using math flash cards can be used in conjunction with ideas like measuring while cooking or exploring the natural world at the local park.

Gentry said parents can open the school year by talking to their children about their own excitement.

That school-oriented conversation should continue as the year progresses, asking questions about something exciting or challenging at school that promote descriptive responses rather than one-word answers.

"The key here is to listen and defer judgment," Gentry said. "Pay attention to the child's response and ask more questions. It is never too late to show interest in and support for your child's schooling."

She said talking about school is only part of the goal. Parents should be there to help and support children in their homework, creating a connection between learning and the real world through meaningfulness, and developing a sense of "I can be successful" if they work hard.

"The bottom line is that parents and guardians must show an interest in their child's schooling, provide encouragement and support the child throughout school and create a home environment in which learning is valued," Gentry said.

About the College of Education

Purdue's College of Education meets the challenges of educating 21st century learners by discovering what works in education. The college prepares highly qualified educators and conducts research that informs how teachers teach and students learn. With a focus on integrated P-12 STEM education and a commitment to social justice and diversity, graduates are prepared to be leaders in education, business and society.