I enjoy the holidays but with 4 boys at home I have definitely run out of ideas to keep them busy and active without depleting all our financial resources.

This year we have to deal with the logistics of 4 children at 3 different schools as our eldest starts high school. Like a lot of parents I wonder where the time has gone.

Whilst not quite the same as starting school as a 5 year old, entering any new school always presents its challenges.

Certainly the emergence of a hormonal teenager is becoming quite evident in our household. As our kids are all close in age, the sooner we find a way to cope with the moody, uncommunicative self-absorbed individual that we struggle to recognise as our son the better.

New Goals for Back to school

Rather like New Year’s resolutions (or “revolutions” as our 10 year old calls them!)  I have sat down with all the boys and helped them set some goals for second half of the year.

The exercise itself has produced some interesting results; I have been at pains to remind them that there is more to life than achieving on the sports field and seeing how many days off school they can get through playing sport.

So we have looked at setting personal goals that incorporate some basic values, such as kindness and tolerance; some academic goals looking at areas that they may need to improve on; and some self improvement goals like being more organised in the mornings, making their own lunches (and eating them) and generally making life in our mad-house more tolerable for everyone.

With a bit of luck and a lot of wishful thinking it will probably last the first week.

But my own goal is to persevere. I have been guilty of being too impatient to show them how to do things and taking the “easy route” and doing it myself.

But I’m learning that it is actually rather fulfilling if you can take the time to show them and they eventually develop the skills for themselves. So as I think Ian Grant once said

Boys, by the time they turn 14, should be able to clean the bathroom to an acceptable standard, cook a roast dinner and mow the lawns”.

I can’t wait to see their faces when they have to clean the toilet bowl! (as you can imagine with 5 males in the house I am always on toilet alert, particularly when we have visitors).

A love of learning and getting involved

My main aspiration for my sons is to help them develop a love of learning.

Whilst we hope that they will be fortunate enough to have teachers and attend schools that will inspire and motivate them, we cannot rely on this and nor should we let it be solely the responsibility of the education system.

Don’t leave your child’s success at school to chance – try to be an active partner in this process. Make sure the teacher knows who you are and which child is yours.

Politely let them know what your expectations are and that you wish to be informed of the good the bad and the ugly. So often problems get left or overlooked and it can be too late to get a child back on track.

Offer to be Parent Help if you can afford the time – your child will benefit from your involvement and you will benefit through getting a better understanding of the educational environment your child is in.  I don’t know of too many teachers who aren’t grateful for some help every now and then. If you can go on school trips it is also an ideal way to observe the class dynamics and get to see how your child interacts with others.

I strongly suggest doing this while they are at primary school because I have heard from reliable sources that it’s not deemed cool at College!

Also enquire as to how the school monitors the children’s progress – some schools don’t volunteer information and you have to ask for results such as PATs or some of the new monitoring tools such as STAR or ASTLLE. Whichever method your school uses, it can provide valuable feedback on how your child is progressing. At first it may seem like a foreign language, but ask the teacher to explain to you what they use and what they mean in relation to your child.

My husband John is on the PTA and I sit on the Board of our boys’ primary school – both committee structures are vital to the effective running of any school. It is a great way to be actively involved in the future direction of your child’s education.

Elections for Boards of Trustees are coming up in March and I would urge anyone who really wants to make a contribution to put their name forward. Don’t be discouraged if you feel you may not have the necessary qualifications. School Boards are not purely made up of professionals such as lawyers and accountants – anyone who has a genuine interest in children’s education and is willing to be involved should take the opportunity.

There is plenty of professional development offered by the Ministry of Education and once you get your head around the jargon of NEGs and NAGs and all the bureaucracy, you will be away laughing.

Editor’s note: See our Education section for an explanation of the terms and abbreviations Susan has used in her article.

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Dame Susan Devoy is New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, and a World Open champion squash player. She's the former CEO of Sport Bay of Plenty and super-mum to four boys.

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