The following post was written by Scott Moore and originally posted earlier this month at his “Building a Better Dad” blog, and he has graciously agreed for me to republish it here. Though his back to school tips are aimed at non-custodial fathers, they apply equally to all non-custodial parents, and we hope that you will find them helpful:
As summer draws to a close and we approach the new school year, there are challenges we non-custodial fathers face when it comes to our child's schooling. Below are some measures we can take to make sure we are involved in our children's education:
Ensure the school knows you are the father
This may seem unnecessary, but depending upon your relationship with your ex, you need to ensure the school knows you are the father. Confirm they have your accurate contact information and that you are listed as an emergency contact.
Make sure the school knows you have a right to your children
It can't hurt to provide the school with a copies of the relevant portions of your divorce agreement which state your rights as a father. This removes the “he said she said” aspect and makes it clear to the school who has what rights regarding the children.
Familiarize yourself with the school
If you can visit – visit. If you cannot, look at their activities, general schedule, special events, etc. on their web site. Become as familiar as possible with your children's school so you can engage them in relevant conversation.
Introduce yourself to the teacher(s) and staff
Find out who your children's teachers are. Email and/or call them and introduce yourself and explain the nature of your relationship to your child in terms of how often you will see them and any other variables that may be important. But when doing so, be certain not to demean or criticize their mother in any way. Teachers do not want or need to be in the middle of your divorce. Also make yourself known to the school's guidance counselor. It is important that they know the child's living situation. Take care not to make specific references about the other parent or about what you suspect, but only about your arrangement with your child and any concerns you know the child to have regarding the divorce – not the other parent.
Make full use of the internet
Many schools have online or Email newsletters. Some classrooms have Facebook pages, or Instagram account, etc. Find out what is available for your children and make sure you are signed up for those opportunities. This is an easy way to be involved in your child's education and know what they're doing on a regular basis.
Once school has begun, there are additional ways you can stay involved:
Follow their grades and progress online
Most schools have password protected sites where your child's grades and progress are posted. Make sure you are signed up for this and that you check it regularly. This will help you see where they're doing well and where they may be struggling, as well as attendance and other matters.
Keep in regular contact with their teacher(s)
Schedule a time each month or some other regular period where you will call and/or Email the teachers to keep up with your child's performance. Note that time in your smartphone or whatever calendar you use so you don't forget.
Engage your child's interests
There are many things we can do to assist our child's education during the limited time they're with us and without making them feel like they're back in school. If your child enjoys social studies, take them to a nearby historical location. If they like spelling and vocabulary, play Scrabble or something similar together. If they enjoy math, challenge them with math questions when you're at the store. Be creative, but be involved.
Keep up with homework or special assignments
Stay involved with the teachers to know what assignments are ongoing. Before the kids come to your house, ask your ex, or the child's teacher if your ex won't cooperate, if there are any assignments due when they return to school. If you can help – do it. Don't put all the responsibility on their mother just because she's the custodial parent. You are still the father – participate.
Volunteer to help
Some of us are close enough to our children's school where we can volunteer. Some of us are not. For those of us who are not close, you may be involved by providing materials, donating money, or doing things electronically/online. When my daughter was in 4th grade, I volunteered to take all the pictures the teacher had posted on their Facebook page and put them in an online album. If you are willing, their teacher can likely find a way for you to help. Teachers want parents to be involved and will do what they can to assist.
Attend any and all events you can
Unless specifically prohibited by the court, make the effort to attend every event that involves your child. If you can't make every event, schedule the ones you can attend, mark it on your calendar, let your child know you'll be there, and show up and be seen. Even if their mother won't permit you to have any significant interaction with your child during or after, show up. Do what you can do and your children will notice. Show up, be positive, and be encouraging.
Assist with extra-curricular expenses
Generally, child support is not officially designated for extracurricular activities, but for “essentials” such as clothes, food, housing, etc. If you're told that the kids aren't signing up for activities due to the expense, offer to pay for them if you can, but consider sending the check directly to the school so there's no questioning the handling of the money. You can even offer to cover the expenses proactively. If you can't pay for all, pay for as much as you can. It may not be the ideal involvement, but if it benefits your child it's worth doing.
Last, and perhaps most importantly, work to improve communications between yourself and your ex. There are many options available – shared calendars in particular are helpful for keeping up with activities and schedules. This can be something general like Google Calendar, or an app specific for family communications, like SquareHub. It is understood that not everyone will be cooperative, but at least make the suggestion and give it a try. Improved communications between the parents means an improved environment for the children.
Just because you are not the custodial parent, that is no excuse for you to abandon your responsibilities for your child's education. Our situation makes it more difficult, but not impossible. Being a dad is more than just playing and even disciplining. It's about being involved, about teaching, about encouraging, and about supporting. Get involved with your child's education as much as possible. They will notice and will appreciate it. There's no better way to teach your child about responsibility than by example. Be responsible and be involved.