The unofficial “last weekend” of summer is here and many of us are {easing?} back into fall routines. Earlier wake-ups. Practices. Packed lunches. Homework. Morning rush.

At the end of the day, my goal as a parent to to ensure that my kids grow into confident, kind, independent adults. It’s a bit daunting if you think about it. 

I had a chance to chat with Dr. Kimberly O’Malley of Pearson Education last week about strategies for making this your child’s best school year yet. I’ll be honest, the beginning of the interview is a bit like a press release or sound byte for NBC (can’t fault her, she was on a press tour and really well prepped and it was a press tour for ParentToolkit.com!), but towards the end she offered a few really great takeaways.

Parent engagement is critical for a child’s success in school. {You knew that.} But when I asked Kimberly to break down what engagement really looks like, she didn’t spout off a long list of chores to add to your parent “to do” list. No — volunteer in the classroom is NOT on the list (yay for less working/busy parent guilt!). It came down to one simple strategy:

Ask questions. 

The key to school year success can be broken down to two words. Ask questions.

Not the kill-and-drill type questions that put your child on the spot and require them to spout facts back {Who was the 17th President of the United States?}. The type of questions that help your child explain their reasoning and — quite frankly — help you understand your child better. How did the character solve the problem? Would you have solved the problem the same way? Asking probing, open-ended questions not only strengthens your child’s analytic skills, it helps enhance their social and emotional well-being as well.

Homework time — especially with young kids if it’s anything other than reading a book together — can often feel like a chore. {It does in this house}. They’ve been in school all day and the idea of getting out a worksheet packet to complete is akin to eating overcooked broccoli. For you? It’s one more box to check off on the long evening to-do list.

But what if we took that time and re-envisioned homework time as a space for engagement? If you think about looking at homework time as a time for engaging with your child, it might actually become less of a chore. It’s a balancing act. It can’t be about you ‘helping’ them because that would be counterproductive to fostering their independence (slippery slope to helicoptering).  For older kids, having them complete their homework independently but knowing that they’ll have a few minutes of mom or dad’s undivided, distraction-free attention afterwards to talk may be the motivating factor they need.

So if you do one thing this school year, it’s this:

ask questions.

… and take time to listen to the answers.