Due to the pandemic, many kids have had a rough several years of learning and now it’s time to refocus 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? You can help your child take optimal advantage of their learning environment by teaching them some basic learning skills. Your child doesn’t have to be top of their class to enjoy learning and be a thriving, healthy part of their classroom.
Here are some tips to help your child be a proactive, happy learner:
Being prepared to learn. Teachers notice when children come to school prepared to learn. They have the right school supplies. They have eaten breakfast. They have had enough sleep. They have brought back the permission slip for the class field trip. They have lunch money.
Yes, it’s a lot of work to keep up with your child’s activities at school. At some point, your child will need to take personal responsibility for these things, but not yet. Not when they’re young and are just learning how to manage responsibility. Be the parent who takes care of business and put your child in the best position to receive approval from the folks at their school.
Knowing when to listen carefully. Even the best student in the world can’t be on high listening alert all day. But successful students know when to listen carefully and this is one of the most important skills your child can learn. You can explain to your child that it’s vital for them to listen carefully when their teacher is giving exit directions before independent work times. These times usually come when the class is gathered, and a new subject is introduced. Before the children move to work independently in class, explicit directions are given. Good teachers usually leave written directions where their students can refer to them as they work.
Practice listening skills with your child. When are the times you need your child to listen and remember? Help them see the difference between casual listening and focused listening when they need to act on the directions given.
Knowing how to follow directions. It may seem easy to adults, but children often don’t know how to follow directions. Most directions given are sequential: “Get your paper, write your name at the top of the paper, then solve problems one through ten.” For some children, all the words get jumbled up and they fail to do the first direction correctly.
At home, your child can practice following directions and if they forget, teach them coping skills to try and remember. Listening and following directions are key skills in learning and the earlier your child can perform well in these areas, the better they’ll do on classroom assignments. Play a game in which you give your child two directions: “Go to the door and tap on it three times, then stand by the coffee table.” When your 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.
Knowing 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 interchange may bring a smile to your face, but it highlights the fact that many children don’t know the difference between statements and questions. 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 one of the most important skills a learner can master. It’s good to ask questions when you need information or clarification. It’s smart to ask good questions, but a child who hasn’t mastered the art of asking questions will be lost and without the information they need to do a good job.
At home, practice asking your child clear, concise questions. Ask your child, “What, exactly, do you need? And then prompt them until the question is clear to them. Vague questions from your child like, “How do I do this?” or statements like, “I don’t get it” leave the teacher wondering where to begin. When your child is asked a clear, concise question, you may receive a response like, “I understand how to write complete sentences using these words, but I don’t understand how you want me to change the action words.”
Being kind and being aware of others’ needs. Not every child will earn straight ‘A’s in school. Yes, there are average students in every classroom, and that’s okay if a child is working to their 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. This child plays fair. They notice 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 they are 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 with ways to help, share, or show others that 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 toys with your friends. Being a good friend is 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 you do. Give your child a boost by teaching them to master good classroom skills and watch them soar.
Jan is a retired teacher and the author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun. Find her at janpierce.net.
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