Often we think that certain perfect conditions have to exist before a child can learn ? the perfect class size or the perfect teacher, for example. These situations become sticking points for parents, and each of them have had hundreds of books and articles written about them, so I?ll not cover them in detail here. But I do want you to think about these issues in a different way?..
Class Size. Much research has focused on the best class size for learning, without any definitive answers. It?s often assumed that smaller classes mean better teaching and more individualized attention; but I?ve seen awesome teachers in classes of 34, and very poor instruction in classes of 6.
While schools try to keep elementary-age children in smaller classes, in larger classes kids will learn to be more flexible and independent in solving problems; and they also learn how to get along with different types of personalities. And we all have to deal with crowds in many types of settings, from shopping malls to traffic jams.
Doing this successfully requires learning how to control our emotions and our actions in such stressful situations. The only way to learn this is to practice it in safe environments, like at school ? in class, in the hallways, and around campus.
Good Teachers. We all want the best teachers for our kids, just like we all want the best bosses. But many excellent teachers aren?t recognized; so don?t assume that just because a teacher is well-known (or the favorite of your best friend), s/he must be perfect for Jill. This is not to say that parents shouldn?t have some input into what teachers their children have ? but it does mean that even the very best teachers aren?t the best fit for every child.
Even the best teachers have different personalities and instructional styles; so the teacher that is a great fit for Jason, may be very disliked by David. This means that David begins to learn how to deal with people that are different from him, and have different ways of approaching a problem.
These are situations that all of us deal with every day ? with our boss, our neighbors, even our friends who make us mad from time to time. If we never have to deal with conflict or discomfort, we never develop the tools nor learn the skills and patience required to resolve them; and we don?t do as well as adults, at home, in the community, or in the workplace.
Best Curriculum. There?s more than one way to teach reading, and math, and everything else; and they all purport to be the ?best.? But while Jill may learn better using phonics, if she is exposed to sight words she also learns that there?s more than one way to accomplish something, and she will develop cognitive flexibility ? a critical part of an effective executive function.
Learning how to learn is about becoming skilled in diverse ways of approaching problems and situations ? if we are always taught in the ?best? way for us, then we never learn those skills, and our future learning ability is compromised. So don?t be fooled by the next, best magic curriculum ? the best teachers use many different approaches to reach their students because they know that each student learns a bit differently, and that most students benefit from being exposed to more than one method.
Best Schools. We all want our kids to go to the best schools; often interpreted as a private school or a charter school, given the negative publicity about school districts. These schools often do provide a smaller environment, which is important for some children at certain stages; and, because they are not expected to serve all kids, regardless of learning needs, they can focus their curriculum and programs on certain content areas or specific processes (such as Montessori).
Know this, however ? certified teachers, whether they teach in private schools or charter schools are all trained in the same universities. The programs they use ? Montessori, Waldorf, All Kinds of Minds, STEM, etc. ? provide training to all teachers who come to them; and you will find all of these programs in district schools everywhere. The textbooks, workbooks, instructional and testing materials, and equipment all come from the same publishers ? Pearson Education is perhaps the most prevalent. There are no special books or library materials just for private schools.
There are excellent teachers and programs in public as well as private schools, so base your school choices on culture, creativity, special programs you desire, and the specific needs of your child rather than on media hype about type of school. The best school for Jason or David or Jill may well be your neighborhood school.
Speaking of Labels. There?s a fad for grading entire schools ?A? to ?F.? Some states have even established rather onerous ways of dealing with them, from removing all or most of the staff to closing the school entirely. Know this ? school labels are a conglomeration of diverse data sources that are no more descriptive of the school than IQ scores are for kids. The formulas differ from state to state, but are often 35-40 pages in length; and the numbers that come out at the end are, quite literally, garbage.
Schools are very complex places ? they cannot be described in one letter grade, or two or three. If your school is labeled ?Failing,? then you should certainly make a point of observing and becoming familiar with the staff and their programs; but do not fret if your school isn?t an ?A? school. Some schools with excellent leadership and staff have been decimated and/or closed because they didn?t conform to a required Average Yearly Progress (AYP) or some other arbitrary score.
Virtual Learning. Technology is a wonderful tool, but we all need concrete, hands-on experiences to learn about our world. Sitting in front of a TV, computer or I-Pad cannot take the place of real experiences. Virtual learning is best used for drill-and-practice to reinforce already-learned skills and knowledge, and for developing independent learning habits; and the Internet is great for doing research. Technology is often used as a motivator, but virtual learning can also be very isolating and non-productive when it is over-used as the primary teaching method ? not all students will be able to use it well, especially at younger ages.
So what is it that does make the big difference ? if not small class sizes, the best teachers and schools, the best curriculum and technology? Some of the things we know are:
Positive development is dependent upon positive love and nurturing ? children learn what they live, and relate to the world based on that knowledge, whether good or bad.
Parents are every child?s first and most important teacher ? your children will learn your beliefs and attitudes by what you do more than what you say.
Your proactive, positive involvement with your children at home, at school, and in your community is absolutely critical.
Positive emotional development is essential for cognitive and intellectual growth ? children who are neglected or abused do not learn well.
Children who do not learn will interact negatively with other people ? at home, at school, in the community, and at work ? seriously impacting themselves and our society.
The foundations for future success are laid almost entirely in the first five years of a child?s life ? years that are under the control of you, his parents.
Parenting is a lifelong job that requires complex skills at each age and developmental level; and as parents we continue learning new skills along the way. It?s not about being a ?perfect? parent; or about having expensive toys or equipment, or the ?very best? programs. It?s about letting your children know that you love them, will protect them, and will help them become happy adults.
We?ll talk about five essential keys to smart parenting, focusing on your relationship to your children, and what you can know and do to give your kids their best shot in life. Briefly, you will learn about:
Those years from Birth to 5
TWO essential qualities for parents
THREE critical parent roles
FIVE characteristics of SMART kids
RESOURCES ? putting it all together
Raising SMART kids starts with smart parenting ? what can you do to raise ?smart? kids?