Educators want parents to prepare their children and teens for school by sharing a love for learning, the attitude that learning more is important, and the expectation that all children can become successful in school. How to do this? Encourage your child to read, write, and complete some math every day. For clarification, this does not necessarily mean to read a full book every day, write a complete story every day, or complete math problems over and over again. This simply means engaging your child in some sort of additional learning outside of school every day. If you can send your child to school with the attitude that learning is important, and that learning is fun, then your child’s teacher can take over and help your child move forward.
Educators also want parents to know that good readers become successful students. Good reading skills often translate to good writing skills and good math skills. What to do then? For younger children, start with the read aloud. Read to your child every day. Include fiction, nonfiction, newspapers, magazines, informational texts, letters, lists, and so on. Talk about what you read. Start with the favorite parts of the reading and progress to the author’s purpose. Progress further to the way the author introduced the story, and how the author showed something in an new and exciting way. The same applies for those nonfiction texts, newspaper articles, or magazine articles. Start with the favorite parts of the reading and progress to the author’s purpose. Progress further to the way the author introduced the text, and how the author showed something in a new and exciting way. For older children or teens, encourage daily independent reading sessions.
The number one objective for children and teens is to become successful independent learners. The goal is not to learn to read a certain book or at a certain level, but to know what to do when coming across an unknown word, and how to comprehend and understand texts for a variety of different purposes. Similarly, the goal is not to be able to complete one specific writing task, prompt, or piece, but to be able to write continuously through elementary school, middle school, high school, and beyond, and all independently. Likewise, the goal is not to be able to answer one particular math problem or word problem, but to master math for future tasks. Please note that this does not mean that your child can not ask questions. What this means is that your child knows what questions to ask, when to ask them, and how to use the answers.
In regards to reading, independent learners are able to read something for school, know why they are reading it, and comprehend it well enough to do something with it. For example, they can pick up a set of directions, follow them completely and concisely, and complete the task. More specifically, they can read something for science class, pull together the most important information that needs to be remembered for a test, used in a written paper, or used in an experiment. In addition, they choose to read for entertainment, continue to improve their skills, and pass along their love for reading to others.
In regards to writing, independent learners are able to respond in writing as well as to initiate writing. Responding through writing includes taking a prompt and moving forward with it, creating a focus statement, making an outline, proceeding with drafts, and answering the prompt completely. Initiating writing includes determining when writing will solve a problem or reach a goal, and addressing that problem or goal. This could be an additional paper at school, a letter to an editor, or a simple list.
In regards to math, independent learners are able to use math skills to calculate, add and subtract, multiply and divide. To be successful in life, most people need to be able to complete daily tasks such as counting, transferring money, balancing checkbooks, creating budgets, and measuring, all without help from others. Everyone needs to be able to tell time all on their own. Imagine making it through a day without referencing time? Try spending a day without looking at a clock or a watch. It’s almost impossible in today’s world. To be successful in school, to go as far as possible, your child needs to be able to do some math. Without it, your child wouldn’t be able to do science, or to become a nurse, a doctor, an engineer, or even a successful businessperson. Almost every business has a computer and needs someone who knows how to work with it.
So the questions become: How to help your child become a successful independent learner? How to help your child to think and act independently, making his own judgments based upon reasoned arguments and being able to defend his judgments? How to help your child become capable of acting for himself and on his own? This process will take time, practice, and patience.
Independent learners have a sense of commitment. They see learning as important, and they work at it. Learning becomes a priority, and they spend the necessary time at it. Independent learners are confident in their work and in their abilities. They feel confident in their ability as learners, having the courage to take risks, applying what they have learned, and making decisions. Independent learners are risk-takers. They approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and forethought, and have the independent skills to explore new roles, ideas, and strategies. Independent learners are knowledgeable. They explore concepts, ideas, and issues, all in-depth, that have local and global significance. Independent learners are curious. This means being curious about the nature of learning and the world, its people and its cultures.
For example, an independent learner who is committed to becoming a lifelong learner will set proper priorities, and will choose school work first and play time second. This does not mean that the child or teen never goes outside to play or doesn’t join a soccer team. For younger children, it simply means spending some time each day engaged in reading or writing. Perhaps reading before heading to bed. For older children, it simply means that school work is either completed first, or that there is a set aside time of the day for school work. Perhaps some quiet time to complete some school work or to complete some reading of choice.
Independent learners are thinkers. They exercise initiative in applying thinking skills critically and creatively to recognize and approach complex problems, and make reasoned, ethical decisions. Independent learners are reflective. They give thoughtful consideration to their own learning and experiences. They are able to assess and understand their strengths and limitations in order to support their learning and personal development.
For example, independent learners who are thinkers actually think while doing. They think while completing their school work: What will be the best way to complete this work? How can I finish the work completely? What can I add to show additional initiative or to show something in a creative way? If there is a problem, or if there is something that is difficult to solve, like a math problem that is difficult to solve, thinkers know where to go for solutions. They have seen something similar, or have witnessed someone else going through a similar process, and tackle the problem with success.
Above all, independent learners are inquirers. They develop their natural curiosity, acquire the necessary skills to conduct inquiry and complete research and show independence, and they actively enjoy learning. This love of learning continues throughout their lives.
For example, independent learners who are inquirers are the ones who constantly ask questions. Sometimes the questions can be answered by others, and sometimes the questions can be answered by themselves. Other times the questions may not be able to be answered at all, but can lead to additional questions. What is the difference between an inquirer and someone who is not an inquirer? The natural inquirer wants to search out answers. She will work to find those answers.
Educators around the world are unified on this message: one of the best gifts parents can give their children is the gift of learning. This begins with parents working directly with their children and continues with their children learning on their own. Those children who have been learning regularly since their earlier years often do better in school than their peers who haven’t been practicing. This advantage continues through the middle school years, the high school years, and beyond. Those children who have been working and practicing at home often become successful students who continue to become successful throughout their lives.
20 Read-Aloud Reminders
Read to your children every day.
Use Mother Goose to stimulate language development.
Dr. Seuss books to introduce and reinforce rhymes.
Choose alphabet books for beginning readers.
Read stories you and your children enjoy.
Discontinue reading books that are not being enjoyed.
Reread old favorites as often as requested.
Read slowly and with expression.
Children learn by imitation. You are a role model.
Stop and discuss new vocabulary when appropriate.
Encourage your child to build mental pictures.
Allow for discussion before, during, and after reading.
Ask open-ended questions such as “why” and “how.”
Try to connect or relate the reading to life.
Talk about the author’s purpose for writing.
Stop when frustration hits.
Invite your child to read to you.
Transition to sustained silent reading.
Smile a lot.
Laugh at the funny parts.
Bruce Johnson is an educator, reading specialist in Merrimack Valley School District in New Hampshire, member of CliF’s Advisory Board, and author of Helping Your Child Become Successful in School: A Guide for Parents. Learn more at www.guidesforparents.wordpress.com.