How to Partner with ACA at Home

ACA's mission is to partner with parents in guiding their kids' growth from age 3 to 18. Our daughters and sons at all stages of life desire guidance, and a general meeting of the minds between school and home is key. How, when, and how much guidance we give them varies with their age, but guidance should never be completely shut off. If it is (or if we have a track record of giving it badly), our kids will go elsewhere for guidance. They'll look for it somewhere, one way or the other. Preschoolers need guidance for everything all the time, like pulling up their pants and not running into the table with their head. Post-college adults in the work force need it far less often but in deeper ways, such as how to apply what they know to the specific challenges they are facing. What are some key ways we can guide our own children at home, in partnership with ACA, at their unique stages of growth?

Early childhood
Look over their projects and drawings from school enthusiastically. Point out specific things they did well.

Read books aloud daily. Engage them by asking them to observe or find items in each picture. For books you've read a lot, play a game by pausing mid-sentence to see if they can complete the sentence themselves from memory. 

Sing songs with them. This is weird for us 21st-century people, but little kids are crazy about singing, and it's one of the most effective ways for them to learn anything. If singing is out of the question for you, check out audio resources like Wee Sing or Pete Seeger's stories and songs for kids

Draw with them, or do crafts together. Both working parents can jump in on this for a few minutes each week, and the kids will love building relationships and fine motor skills alongside you.

Set boundaries, have routines, and stick with them. Children crave order and predictability as a means of creativity and growth. 

Be physical. Early childhood till kindergarten is one of the most formative phases of a child's growth, and they need an overload of hugs and cuddles on a daily basis. From dads, too.

Elementary school
Oversee their homework each night. What do they need to do? Have they done it? Don't give them too much independence too soon. They will forget things, cut corners, and not understand everything -- totally normal for this age. A little regular guidance (while you're making dinner, watching the news, or catching up on the budget) goes a long way. They can't do it alone.

Keep them accountable. Make them quickly correct bad penmanship. Skim their math worksheet and circle problems they missed and need to do over again. You shouldn't hold their hand and feed them answers, but left completely to their own devices, their quality of work will degenerate over time. Set a standard for excellence, and invest them with a vision for its possibilities.

Make regular deposits in their emotional bank. Make a point of finding several things to praise about their homework or learning over the dinner table. They'll feed off your emotional energy -- so when you give off an aroma of excitement about their learning every day, they'll have more energy to do more. 

Challenge them with simple but meaningful chores at home. Give them goals, track those goals, and reward them for completion. Kids in the elementary years are already yearning for respect, and they want to be authentically helpful, not just treated like dumb kids. 

Laugh with them a lot. This might sound silly, but they need it to cope with the increasing stress of school and of growing up. You also need it, because they aren't so cuddly and cute any more, but they still need just as much physical affection and love as before. Deepen the feel-good part of your relationship with them.

Middle & high school
Continue to guide your kids with consistent task follow-through. As the fog of puberty hits (especially with boys), all the things you thought they had down cold somehow disappear down the memory hole. Consistency is key, and this does not mean you aren't preparing them for independence -- the precise opposite. Clean, rigorous standards of excellence are the very means by which strong, independent adults are made. But now your guiding them primarily via respect and not physical enforcement.

Talk regularly about school with them. Even if you can't help them with their pre-calculus homework, they still know you're interested and emotionally engaged with them. You're aware. Guide them with the knowledge and wisdom they crave, suffused with love, respect, and encouragement.

Guide them toward college and career awareness. What are they passionate about? What do they do well? (They might not be the same thing.) Excite them early with the opportunities that universities offer, the hard work it takes to get there, and the rewards they'll reap through God's calling on their lives afterwards.

Strengthen and solidify their sense of identity and purpose. They are children of God, chosen for a purpose, with work to do for his kingdom. Coming of age, as happens in high school and college, is often a time of deep doubt, regardless of what came before. Stay physical, continue to overload them with love, and regularly claim the good promises of God to them on their behalf.