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From the Teacher's Desk: Show a Little Tenderness

Understanding your young student is the first step toward success this school year

Charles Sisson

Published on: September 15, 2016

Father and son at computer

For me, being a parent isn’t always easy but the power of parenting is the strength we find to always be our best selves for our children. One way you can directly help your child is by being her advocate throughout school. Here are a few tips to be a constructive cheerleader this school year.

1. Give your child love and encouragement

All students will be challenged at some point in school. What can a parent do? Remind your student that learning happens in exciting leaps followed by plateaus that require patience and perseverance. A calm, measured adult perspective helps children to embrace this. This is particularly important as you may be the only adult in your child’s life sharing this message about education.

2. Be honest

Rather than negative messages like "I guess you're just not a math person," instead try “Even if it’s tough, I know you can do it,” “I believe in you!," “Once you’ve put in the work, it will be easy for you" and even a simple “Good job!” Don’t think that matters? You’re reading an article written by a dyslexic who “just wasn’t learning to read” but who, thanks to his mother’s encouragement, went on to learn not one but three different languages.

3. Take assessments with a grain of salt

Feedback from schools, particularly report cards, can range from a vivid, insightful portrait to a hurtful reproach to a bland avalanche of nonsensical alphabet soup. Be on the lookout for today’s sugar-coated red flags, i.e. “does well when” (aka “doesn’t very often”), “has many strategies to” (aka “needs all these strategies or can’t”) and “has trouble with transitions” (aka “disruptive”).

Whatever the form of assessment, the goal is to know if your child is meeting well-researched developmental milestones. Here is a list of some of the most important ones.  

Age 3

Math: Counts to 5 by rote; understands quantities 1 to 3

Reading: Converses in complete sentences; plays at reading

Age 4

Math: Counts to 10 by rote; understands quantities to 4

Reading: Attempts writing; identifies letters and corresponding sounds for some of the alphabet

Age 5

Math: Counts to 13 by rote; understands quantities to 6

Reading: Masters the alphabet; begins reading (able to track words from left to right, top to bottom); writes with some conventional spelling

Age 6

Math: Counts to 30 by rote; understands quantities to 10; adds to 6; subtracts from 5

Reading: Reads simple texts aloud with ease; sounds out words with some accuracy; uses punctuation

Ages 7 and 8

Math: Counts to 100+ by rote; understands corresponding quantities; counts by two, fives, tens; adds, subtracts double-digit numbers; multiplies and divides with some accuracy

Reading: Understands that writing is a process (plan, draft, revise, edit and publish); writes for self-expression; transitions to “reading to learn” from “learning to read”

For a more complete list consult some of the excellent resources online including “The ABCs of Child Development” and “Developmental Stages of Infant and Children”.

4. Know your child as a student

To best help your child, you have to know your child’s abilities. Teach her where she falls on the learning continuum. To do so, try these activities with your child based on learning style:

  • Kinetic: Play sports, dance, play outside, take something apart and put it back together, do origami or other fine-motor art project
  • Interpersonal: Spend time with friends, join a club, lead an activity such as a charity drive
  • Intrapersonal: Practice mindfulness, become your own personal growth coach, set goals for the year or other age-appropriate interval
  • Linguistic: Read, write jokes, play a word game like Scrabble, enter a spelling bee
  • Logical-Mathmatical: Write or solve a riddle, follow a recipe, play a strategy game like chess, code with (because who doesn’t want to see a hippo and a unicorn chat and dance around the screen?)
  • Musical: Sing, play an instrument, listen to music and count out the beat, write poetry
  • Naturalistic: Teach your dog a trick, go on a hike and explain what you see, visit a zoo, swim, go green and be an environmentalist

5. Have a reality check

Ask yourself, “Who is my child beyond the paperwork?” Is she sharp with numbers? Does he impress others with his precocious vocabulary? Can she carry a tune? Can he get the dog to wait with a biscuit on its nose? Can she post a video of that to YouTube?  

There are ways outside of the classroom to monitor your child's development. Have him measure ingredients and cook a meal. Have her tend the garden, classifying and sorting different plants. Ask him to care for a pet or organize a community service project.

Focus on your child’s strengths and excitement. Knowing what your child can do gives you well-grounded confidence in conversations with your child’s teacher, allowing you to broaden their instructor’s view of just who this young learner is.

This article was originally published by Bright Pathways.

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