Our children have had a rough several years of learning due to the pandemic and now it’s time to re-focus on classroom interactions. Some younger children haven’t had time to experience the way a classroom normally works. How do they behave in a large group? What if they need help? What if they make a mistake? How responsive will the teacher be to individual needs? Parents can help children take optimal advantage of their learning environment by teaching some basic learning skills. Your child doesn’t have to be top of the class to enjoy learning and be a thriving, healthy part of his or her classroom.
Here are some tips to help your child be a proactive, happy learner:
Be Prepared to Learn
Teachers notice when children come to school prepared to learn. They have the right supplies; they’ve eaten breakfast and have had enough sleep. They brought back the permission slip for the field trip and they have their lunch money.
Yes, it’s a lot of work for parents to keep up with all the activities at school. And at some point children need to take responsibility for those things themselves, but not yet. Not when they’re in grade school and are just learning how to manage responsibilities. Be the parent who takes care of business and put your child in the best position to receive approval from the folks at school.
Know When to Listen Carefully
The best student in the world can’t be on high listening alert all day long. But successful students know when to listen carefully and that is one of the most important skills a student can learn. You can explain to your child that it’s vital to listen carefully when a teacher is giving exit directions before independent work times. These times usually come when the entire class is gathered and a new subject is introduced. Just before the children move to work independently the explicit directions are given. Good teachers usually leave written directions where students can refer to them as they work.
Practice listening skills with your children. When are the times you need them to listen and remember? Help them see the difference between casual listening and focused listening when they need to act on the directions given.
Know How to Follow Directions
It may seem easy to adults, but children often don’t know how to follow directions. Most directions are sequential: “Get your paper, write your name at the top, then do problems one through ten.” For some children all the words get jumbled up and they fail to do the first thing correctly. You can practice following directions at home and teach coping skills if the child forgets. Listening and following directions are key skills in learning and the earlier children can perform in these areas, the better they’ll do on classroom assignments.
Play a game in which you give two directions: “Go to the door and tap on it three times, then stand by the coffee table.” When the child can do two directions correctly try for three. Keep adding until a mistake is made. Children can become quite adept at following directions using this method.
Know How to Ask Questions
Here is a typical conversation in a first grade classroom: Teacher: Does anyone have any questions before we start our work? Student: “My hamster had babies last night.”
This little interchange may bring smiles to adult’s faces, but it highlights the fact that many children don’t know the difference between statements and questions. And, they don’t understand the difference between appropriate questions and those that are off-task. Asking questions at the appropriate time and about the topic at hand is absolutely one of the most important skills a learner can master. It’s good to ask questions when we need information or clarification. It’s smart to ask good questions. But a child who hasn’t really mastered the art of asking will be lost, and without the information they need to do a good job.
Practice asking clear, concise questions. “I understand how to write complete sentences using these words, but I don’t understand how you want me to change the action words. Vague questions like “How do I do this?” or statements like “I don’t get it.” leave the teacher wondering where to begin. Say to your child, “What, exactly do you need? And then prompt until the question is clear.
Social Skills: Kindness and Being Aware of Others’ Needs
Not every child will earn straight A’s. Yes, there are average students in every classroom. And that’s okay if the child is working to his or her potential. But some children seem more adept at building relationships and maintaining friendships than others. This is the child who notices when a friend is sad or needs to borrow a pencil. This is the child who shares with others and takes turns. He plays fair. She notices when a friend needs encouragement.
Don’t underestimate the value of social skills when it comes to success in the classroom. Your child may not solve every math problem correctly, but if he is a good friend and a kind, caring person, you’ve got a lot to be proud of and the classroom is enriched. Help your child notice when others seem sad. Guide them to ways to help or share or show they care.
Practice: “Did you notice that Katie seemed sad today? I wonder if we could do something to cheer her up?” Or, “I like the way you shared your Legos with your friends. Being a good friend is really important in our family.”
Success in the classroom is more than achieving high marks on assignments. Just as in all of life, being a responsible, kind and caring person is just as important as being the best at what we do. Give your kids a boost by teaching them to master good classroom skills and watch them soar. Ψ
Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find Jan at www.janpierce.net.