Getting Ahead of the Class
February 24, 2011 ~
The focus parents and teachers have regarding education generally centers on children performing at grade level. This perspective is largely a result of the American school system’s age-based learning approach. It’s easy for students to fall into the trap of “knowing just enough” or “doing just enough” to advance to the next grade level. This approach will get your child through school, but it might not provide all the tools necessary to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy. Here are some ways to harness and feed that little voice inside your head that says, “I want my children to be all they can be,” while embracing their natural curiosity and desire to learn. Keep their learning minds and spirits aiming high. Remember, our goal as parents is to help our children gain the skills needed to be independent, contributing members of our society.
Encourage the Inquisitive
Children are born curious; curiosity is as much a part of children as the desire to nurture is part of parents. These natural instincts can combine to help both parent and child grow. So when your young and curious loved ones ask questions, remember it’s because they want to understand and learn something. It’s easy to get frustrated by “Why, though?” and “How come?” But if you recognize that their questions are a natural part of their learning process, you might discover you have more patience for helping them find the answers.
Whenever possible, encourage your children to ask questions. If you don’t have the answer, just say so. When that happens, check out FactMonster.com, an online almanac, encyclopedia, dictionary and loosely speaking, “a destination with a whole lot of answers at your fingertips.” This will teach your children to seek out the answers on their own and inspire them to take charge of developing their own knowledge base. Get your children in the habit of looking up words in the dictionary, and then sharing the definitions with you and the family. You can also encourage your children to underline words they don’t know in their own books, and then write them down at the back of the book, where there are often empty pages. This is a way for your children to record and appreciate all the new words they learn from the books they read.
Some of the greatest questions have sparked answers that have changed our understanding of the world. “Why do things fall from the sky?” a young man once asked, and a few years later the theory of gravity was born. Try to teach your children that being curious about the world we live in is one of the most powerful motivators toward learning anyone can have. It also sends the message that asking questions is not a bad thing, but rather an opportunity to understand and mature. Make it a point to arm your children with this power, and you will see them absorb information you never imagined possible.
Prepare for Resistance
At some point along the way, you’re likely to encounter opposition. This may come from your child, or it may come from a teacher. If you have a child who asks a lot of questions, this may be difficult for some teachers to adjust to. Lots of children don’t ask questions, and some teachers have grown used to not having to answer them, especially if they stray from the curriculum-based learning programs that teachers are held accountable for completing by the end of the school year. If you find yourself in this situation, remind your child to try and listen to any and all directions before asking questions.
If your child begins to show disinterest or you notice that his or her inquisitive nature is fading, try sparking it with something new to explore. Set up some news feeds online with topics that you know your child is interested in. Every once in a while, take a look at your inbox for an interesting article. New articles your child reads can make the world seem new and exciting. The novelty of it all will ignite new enthusiasm for learning, and in most cases, this will overcome the boredom or rejection he or she might be experiencing in the classroom.
Reading at grade level is good. Reading one or two grade levels ahead is great as long as children are absorbing and understanding what they read. The goal shouldn’t be just about the phonetic comprehension of sounds but should also focus on idea retention. Mastering retention will provide benefits across all subject areas and aid your child in mastering test-taking skills. If your child picks up a book that will prove to be a reading challenge, embrace his or her desire to overachieve. Even if that book will be assigned next year or the year after, taking on tougher reading material will bring you together for more conversations and introduce new words that your child may not have experienced.
It certainly won’t hurt if your child has already read a literary classic before he or she studies it and breaks it down in class a year or two later. Advanced reading reinforces the material and will give your son or daughter a better understanding of broader literary concepts so that when he or she is tested on the material or asked to write a book report, his or her thinking will be even more critical than if he or she had only read it once. Remember great writers like Shakespeare are often read and interpreted differently at different times in one’s life. Great literature is timeless, and can be appreciated over and over again.
If the book your child has chosen proves too big of a mountain to climb right now, there is always next time, or it can be an opportunity for you to read the book to your child. Ask your child to read a few sentences and provide support while he or she tackles sounding out new words. This is definitely a time-consuming task, so only take it on if you feel you can commit to it. We don’t want any tears or books flying across the room in fits of frustration. If you think your child has picked a book beyond his or her ability to understand (even with you helping), try to guide him or her toward a book with a similar topic, but one that is written at a more appropriate reading level. If your child is enrolled at Kumon, speak with your Kumon Instructor to review the books in your child’s level and the next level. Kumon’s recommended reading list is available to all families and lists hundreds of award-winning titles by difficulty to help your child pick the most appropriate book for his or her reading ability and interest.
If you want your child to be a superstar in the classroom, give him or her the support he or she needs to excel in his or her studies at home. Fostering an inquisitive mind, a tenacious mentality and a desire to aim high academically will help solidify a strong foundation on which excellence in the classroom can be built so that a lifetime of success can greet your child at every corner. Learning doesn’t end when your child leaves the classroom. The beauty of possessing a love and appreciation of learning is that it lasts a lifetime.