Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 5 of 10
Today we explore how to arrive on time and be ready to learn. In other words, here you will find tips for helping your child be prepared for the day.
Teaching your child the skill of being prepared, and enforcing routines and behaviours that allow them to achieve this, can be the difference between academic success and mediocrity. As a rule, children who do well academically are seldom the ones who arrive at school late, carrying half their project in their arms, sleep-deprived with disheveled hair and dragging a lunch box full of processed food behind them.
Whether we like it or not, routine is the recipe for being on time and having happy kids and parents. I might also add, that it is the answer to happy teachers too and most certainly contributes to academic success. The routines I’m referring to are morning routines, after school routines, homework routines and bed time routines. These routines are the cornerstone of children being able to arrive on time, ready to learn.
Your kids might buck against a new routine to begin with. However, when they know what comes next, what is expected of them, where the boundaries are and that there are no exceptions, they usually settle down and accept it quite quickly. Never give up on establishing childhood routines. It takes time and consistency.
Routines becomes even more important when there is big change around the corner, such as moving house or changing schools. Keep as many and as much of your old routines in place as you possibly can. It will help everyone in your family to transition through the change with greater ease and less disruption.
Routines allow for predictability and smooth the way for arriving on time, being prepared, experiencing less stress and feeling open to learning. Just the fact that having routines can reduce unnecessary stress for children should be enough of a motivation to implement them.
Routines also allow you to move away from constantly supervising your child every step of the way and allowing for more independence and ownership of tasks. This is important for the development of a child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.
As adults it is our job to create, initiate and maintain these routines to ensure that children will arrive on time and be ready to learn.
I can speak for hours about how diet affects a child’s performance, behaviour and readiness to learn. I tend to get on my high horse whenever the topic comes up, so please forgive me for doing so now. But really, with the access to information that we have today, there are no more excuses. JamieOliver has made sure of that with his food education drives that have reached out globally.
Firstly, breakfast is not negotiable. Grab a banana and a yoghurt for the kids and let them eat in the car if you have to. If you can, move away from sugary cereals and explain why you are doing so to your child. Educating our little ones about healthy food choices is essential and should start as early as possible.
If you’re packing your child’s lunch box with ANY of the following – chips, sweets, chocolates, biscuits, sugary drinks, McDonalds, left over pizza or two minute noodles – I’m talking to you, and I’m mad. The rest of you can skip to the next subheading.
None of the things I have mentioned above should be anywhere near your child’s lunch box, except for once a week, as a treat.
How can any reasonable person expect teachers to control 15 – 50 kids, in a confined space, who are wired on sugar, colourants, preservatives, MSG and a host of other bad things? If you want to sabotage your child’s ability to succeed at school, this is a very reliable way to do it. Do you have any idea how your angel behaves in a large group setting when they are high on sugar and MSG? Looking at the contents of the lunch box you packed, I’d say clearly not.
If your child is on medication related to behaviour and /or concentration and you are feeding them sugar and junk food, you may as well flush it down the loo. Any good that comes from taking the medicine is being cancelled out by unhealthy lunch box contents. There is a good chance that with a positive change in diet, your child won’t need medication at all to improve his / her concentration. You could save a ton of money and spend it on even healthier food options.
It may also surprise you to know that 100% fruit juice is not a healthy drink for kids and yet it is in every child’s lunch box almost daily. What is wrong with water? Ask any dietician whether it is healthy for kids to drink undiluted fruit juice on a daily basis? The answer is NO, because of the number of calories, the cavities it causes and the amount of sugar involved. This is not the way to ensure that your child will arrive on time and be ready to learn.
1. Provide whole grains and slow releasing carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose, the primary source of fuel for the brain. By including brown and whole wheat breads/rolls/biscuits meals there will be a constant trickle of energy for the brain to function optimally. 2. Include fresh fruit and vegetables daily Fruit and veggies provide the vitamins and minerals necessary for children to stay healthy and fight off unwanted germs. Including veggie sticks or fresh fruit is a better option than including a juice box. This is because unprocessed fruit and veggies in their whole form, as well as slow releasing carbohydrates, contain fibre which helps children stay fuller for longer and able to concentrate on the task at hand rather than a grumbling tummy. 3. Clean safe water is an absolute must. Research has shown that even a small degree of dehydration can impair cognitive function and concentration. 4. Provide your child with sufficient snacks for the day. Your brain needs two fuels to function, oxygen and glucose. Providing enough well compiled snacks will prevent a drop in blood sugar which will leave the child with less energy, more easily frustrated and with a feeling of hunger. 5. Plan carefully. With today’s fast paced life parents may tend to lead to convenient foods or even giving their children tuck-shop money. These foods are often high in sugar and fat which may impact a child’s weight. Childhood obesity has been proven to impact on disease status in ones later years of life.
As adults it is our job to control our kids diets and to educate them about healthy eating.
Children consistently need an age appropriate amount of sleep to be alert and ready to learn all day. If you have your routines in place, you should be able to get sleep right with your kids 90% of the time. The National Sleep Foundation tells us that most school aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep a night.
Without enough sleep it is impossible for a child to perform at their peak, academically or otherwise. So each day that your child is tired adds up to another day where they have lost out on information due to slow thinking or a lack of concentration.
We also know that not enough sleep can cause irritability, changes in behaviour, sleepiness, difficulty concentrating and moodiness. Not only can a lack of sleep affect academic performance, the ability to concentrate and feelings of motivation, but it can also increase irritability. Irritability can lead to conflict, causing relationship problems and problems with authority.
With today’s busy schedules it is quite difficult for children to catch up on sleep, much like it is for adults. Therefore, disciplined routines are essential so that sleep is not compromised.
As adults it is our job to create healthy sleep routines, which will ensure that our children arrive on time and are ready to learn.
Another life skill that children need to be taught from a young age is organisational skills. Kids who have weak organisation skills struggle with handling information in effective ways. Simple tasks, like packing up toys and putting them in the right place, can begin the process of learning to be organised.
Weak organisational skills frequently lead to difficulties in setting and identifying priorities, making and sticking to plans, staying with a task and reaching end goals. This makes it difficult for a child to arrive on time and be ready to learn
Organisation and Following Directions – Children have to focus on what needs to be done and then plan ahead, which requires mental organisation.
Organisation and Learning to Read – When matching sounds to symbols, learners need to file this information in a way that makes it easily retrievable. As learners progress through learning to read and striving for fluency the filing system in their head becomes more complicated, requiring more complex organisational skills.
Organisation and Literacy Learning – Literacy is a combination of reading, writing and grammar skills. To navigate between these three a child requires a number of organisation strategies.
Organisation and Learning Math – Math is a very organised subject. There are many rules and procedures to follow. As math gets more abstract and complex, children with weak organisation skills have trouble coping because they can’t create their own categories for sorting the information.
Children first learn by example and therefore it is important that organised behaviour is modelled in the home. They need to be taught that lego goes in one box and building blocks in another box. Norms like this also teach categorising skills to children, which later leads to the ability to organise information.
Letting children know implicitly that they are expected to be organised, and why, really helps. We also need to praise them when they get it right. If they can understand the reason behind a rule they are more likely to cooperate sooner or more frequently. It needs to be pointed out to them that there is a correlation between organisational skills and success at school. These skills have to be learnt and practiced as we are not born with them.
Set an example for your children. If you’re tidying up, packing your bag for the next day or making tomorrows lunches, make them aware of it and let them do the same alongside you. They can tidy their rooms, pack their school bags neatly, pack any sports bags they require and can even get involved in sorting out lunch boxes. If they forget or leave a bag at home, do not drop it off at school for them. Don’t take the responsibility or the opportunity to learn away from them. We have to realise that sometimes helping is actually hurting and that mistakes are an opportunity to learn. Being left out of the swimming class will ensure that their swimming bag never gets left behind again. The less you do for them, the more they will do for themselves.
Being organised allows children to stay focused on the task at hand and maximises learning time instead of wasting it on chasing down pencil bags and other resources needed at the time.
As adults, it is our job to model good organisational skills and to help our children to develop these skills. It is part of arriving on time and being ready to learn. Since it is impossible for us to always be there to run around after our kids we need to instil skills that allow for greater independence.
Arrive on time
Teaching your kids the value of being punctual is as easy as making sure that you get them to school on time almost every day of their school careers. I say ‘almost every day’ because we are all human and there are going to be those days where life does not cooperate. That’s okay, because kids also need to know that it is alright to be human and fallible.
The problem lies with those parents that are consistently late for school on a regular basis. Strangely enough, these are usually the parents who live within a few roads of the school. They cannot even use traffic as a plausible excuse. When a teacher addresses the problem with these parents, they never seem to get the severity of the problem. Punctuality is just not a priority for them.
The unintended consequence of a child being late for school on a regular basis are enormous and far reaching.
Firstly, they’re embarrassed because they stand out for reasons that they have no control over. If this happens daily their embarrassment grows.
This leads to daily stress and anxiety.
It is very disruptive to the start of the day for the teacher and it becomes incredibly annoying over time. The class register is always incorrect, early morning administration is incomplete and then requires followup, preparation routines are missed or interrupted and it generally starts the day off badly for everyone.
It is disruptive to the child’s peers as the morning routine is interrupted. Everyone’s concentration is adversely affected. Other children start to get annoyed over a period of time and they start to show their irritation in mean ways, as children often do.
Being late regularly has a social impact on a child because no one wants to be in a group with them. This is mainly because these children are perceived to be unreliable and separate from the rules that govern everyone else.
The stress and anxiety they feel prevents the child from focusing and from being ready to learn, causing even greater disruption and another reason why no one wants to work with them.
This child remains on the back foot all day, trying to catch up as they haven’t had the preparation time and gentle start to the day that everyone else has had.
They sometimes start to be treated as if they don’t belong because the rules that apply to everyone else don’t seem to apply to them. Kids are mean to those who appear to be outsiders. These children sometimes drift between friends and groups of friends, but never seem to settle into steady friendships. They don’t really belong and this is when teachers really start to be concerned.
When a child is isolated, does not feel like they belong, feels self-conscious, stressed, anxious, left behind and unprepared, we, as parents and teachers, cannot expect them to be academically successful or working to their full potential.
I believe that many parents, who notoriously get their kids to school late, do not intend for these to be the consequences. In fact, I think they may be completely unaware that there are consequences when you don’t arrive on time and ready to learn. If you are one of those parents, I hope that my article has opened your eyes and given you the motivation to make changes, for the sake of your child.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 3 of 10
Developing a culture of reading in your home is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your children. If a child develops a love of reading, everything from that point onwards, in terms of their education, is that much easier. Experienced teachers will tell you that those children who read daily, and who read for leisure, are usually academically stronger than their peers.
No book and no reading taking place!
As teachers, it is often reported to us by children that there are no books in their homes – none owned and none on loan from a library. In addition, they also report that no one in their family reads, and more importantly, that no one reads to them. It breaks my heart to hear this. Read! Read anything and everything you can lay your hands on and let your children see you do it. Even if you struggle to read – let them witness it – they will respect you more in the long run. By watching you face up to the challenge they will know that reading is something worth struggling over.
Foundations for a love of reading
The foundations for a love of reading and reading fluency are set when a significant adult regularly reads, or tells stories, to a very young child. This is why, in so many families, it is called a bedtime story as it forms part of a nightly routine for approximately 365 days of the year. See my article on ‘Why you CAN’T skip reading to your child for 20 minutes per day‘ click here.
If you have not been doing regular bedtime stories, do not fear, as research tells us that it is never too late to start. If you do not have a book in your home right now, start making up stories as part of your nightly routine.
I know of families who write and illustrate their own stories on paper, folding them into books. The whole family gets involved and the stories grow and evolve through the laughter, imagination, knowledge and creativity that is brought to the table after dinner or on a Sunday afternoon. They treasure these family creations along with the few books they have, re-reading them every so often.
Another activity which has proven to work well for generating stories is this game:
Each family member gets a scrap piece of paper to write on.
Each person writes down 10 words.
Of these 10 words at least one word must be a name, one a place, one an animal and 3 words can be objects. The rest can be random words.
I always try to introduce one made up word for a bit of fun e.g. Oligonk.
When the lists are complete, put them in a hat and take a draw.
You have 20 minutes to write a story based on the 10 words provided.
These stories can then be read aloud, passed on or read silently and provide a variety of reading material.
Young children can work together with a parent. Older children can work independently.
For a fun additional activity, each person can illustrate the main character of their story e.g. What do you think an Oligonk looks like?
Read by example
If South Africa is going to improve its literacy levels, as it needs to, we have to start introducing regular reading into our homes as a matter of urgency. With a family culture of reading, children will start to read by example. They won’t feel that reading is only a school activity or a homework chore. I believe that reading is supposed to be fun, exiting, comforting and stress free. It should be one of a child’s favourite activities. Think of stories around a campfire in the old days.
In order to feel motivated to read for themselves, children should see adults reading around them on a daily basis. Things such as…
A child who sees the adults around him / her reading will know that reading is important and that literacy is important. A child that never sees people reading will believe that reading is only a school activity and is only for children. Unfortunately, if none of the adults in your family are book worms, you’ll just have to fake it. The school curriculum of today does not allow as much time for reading in the classroom as my generation had growing up. Therefore, if you want your children to be literate and fluent in reading, you had better start playing your part.
South Africans spend twice as much on chocolate each year than they do on books.
Before you mention that books are unaffordable in South Africa, as a reason for why we lack a culture of reading, consider this: South Africans apparently spend twice as much money on chocolate each year than they do on books (see Further reading – Literacy: Once upon a time, parents taught their children to read). Based on this alone, I think we as South Africans can afford to start a culture of reading. Buy books, instead of sweets, and save money by not paying the dentist.
Libraries are an underutilised resource in South Africa
There is a library of some variety in every community in our country, which is practically free. I’ve looked up libraries across Johannesburg on Google Maps for my students, in an attempt to prove to them that there is a library on their doorstep.
As a child I visited the library every week, along with my mother and my two sisters. It was just something that we did and we never questioned it. The expectation that we would read was no different to the expectation that we’d would brush our teeth, take a bath or do our homework. My mother spent hours reading to us, until we could do so for ourselves. It paid off as we are all avid readers today. Our family culture of reading is stronger than ever. My retired parents read for a minimum of 6 hours a day on average, sometimes more.
Advantages of reading
Reading and a family culture of reading leads to…
a wider vocabulary
greater exposure to good grammar, spelling and punctuation
improved visual memory
improved writing skills
development of the imagination
improved analytical thinking
improved verbal skills
greater general knowledge
being able to educate yourself on any topic
What’s not to love about reading?
No matter your own level of literacy, find things to read and read them in front of your children. Be the example!
Read with your children whenever you can.
Even if your own reading fluency isn’t perfect, never be shy to try reading to younger learners. You can use pictures and voice animation to tell the story. They’ll love every minute.
Reading pictures is part of the pre-reading strategies that need to be encouraged in young children.
When children see adults trying to do something that they are not good at or find difficult, they start to believe that it must be important and that they should also try. There is never any shame in trying and this is a life lesson that children should learn.
Ask older children in your family to read stories to the younger children or even to the whole family. It is good practice for them and they can play a part in developing your family’s culture of reading.
Join your local library and visit regularly, along with your children.
Teach your children how to take care of books. Have a special place in your home where library books are safely kept.
Collect free magazines from stands outside the shops and scatter them around your home.
Bring home the newspaper if possible.
Create a print rich environment.
Ask friends, family and work colleagues to collect old magazines for you.
If there is someone in your family who is unable to read, ask them if they would be willing to make up stories for the children – it will help to spark their imaginations and will go a long way is helping you to develop a culture of reading and storytelling in your home. Old people are usually very good at this and as such they are a great resources.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 2 of 10
Today I want to discuss why you should always speak positively about your child’s teachers, the school they attend and the education system, despite what you REALLY think. Today’s children need to value their education more than ever in order to improve their chances of success in such a competitive world. However, significant adults in the lives of children might be hindering them more than helping.
Complaining has become a national sport.
South Africans have a tendency to be very negative and critical these days, often with good reason. Weekend after weekend we sit around our braais, with our families and friends, and furiously complain about the lack of service delivery, the increase in crime & corruption, the state of local municipalities, the desperate state of our education system, potholes that are so prolific that people put pot plants in them as a warning, the dropping of educational standards, how there is no value in today’s education, how inept, pathetic, lazy, worthless and over paid teachers are – and on and on it goes. All of this takes place within earshot of the children. Some can sing this song better than our own national anthem.
I once sat in a beauty salon listening to a woman and her daughter bore the poor childless manicurist to death, for TWO hours, with complaints about her child’s teacher and school. It was apparent that she saw no value in her child’s education, despite the fact that her child was at what is generally known to be a good school. In the name of self-preservation, I shuffled off before my nails were dry, and went and bought a teacher a gift.
Children are sponges and will spill the beans
Children listen to and absorb everything we say, especially when it has anything to do with school life, juicy details about teachers or themselves. Not much has changed since we were growing up.
Let’s be fair, children do not always know what is okay to share and what is not. In the same way that teachers get to hear about your marital problems, botox injections, drunk driving and financial woes, they also get to hear what you say about them. Teachers overhear children telling their friends what their dad said about Miss G last night. Sometimes, what you say gets flung at at their teachers angrily, as an excuse or as a threat. It is apparent that what they are overhearing is damaging to the teacher-child relationship. Let’s face it, it is very hard for your child to behave respectfully towards an educator that is openly and regularly devalued at home.
South Africa is a tough country to live in. Each individual is already faced with umpteen obstacles and challenges in their daily life. Is there really a good enough reason to burden our children with even more negativity?
The greatest impact of these overheard discussion is on the child and not the teacher. Wake up! You are modelling that it is okay to have a lack of respect. By doing so you are hurting your children, their education and their relationship to the other significant adults around them.
Seeing value in education is key to motivation
In order for our children to value themselves, and feel motivated at school, they need to hear that what they are applying themselves to – their school life – is worthwhile and valuable to their family and their community. This is fundamentally important, as this is their whole world.
We force them to dedicate twelve years of their life to school. To get through these twelve years, and be successful, they are going to need a positive attitude, truck loads of motivation, a strong work ethic, tenacity, dedication, diligence, a sense of humour AND support from home.
If a parent is constantly criticising and tearing apart the system within which their child is trying to achieve, how can the child have any faith in the fact that their hard work is going to pay off? How can they believe that what they are striving for is going to be of value one day? How can we expect them to dedicate themselves to something that we obviously think is rubbish? Food for thought.
Are you hampering success? Ask yourself…
Am I unintentionally sending the message to my child that I do not value the people or the place I send them to for approximately 7 hours a day, 5 days a week?
Through the opinions that I express, am I hampering or helping my child’s ability to succeed at school?
With my words am I creating a bridge or a barrier to my child’s success in school?
When attending school, young children have the right to feel safe, nurtured and free of worry of the things that they have no control over. By this I mean the things that should only concern adults.
Children naturally feel stressed when they sense that confrontation between home and school is imminent. Why burden them with that? Feeling safe and secure ensures that their minds are free to focus on the job of learning – learning to read, learning to write, learning to speak, learning to calculate, learning communications skills, learning organisational skills, playing, fostering friendships – and all the other important childhood concerns that should take precedence over everything else.
If they do not trust and respect their teachers, their school and their education system, how can we expect them to be motivated to learn? If we devalue their achievements by devaluing the institutions they attend, how can we expect them to have the necessary self-worth to achieve great things later on?
Pride in one’s school is one area where private schools seem to have an advantage over public schools. This is an area where parents of public schools can play a very important role.
Always speak positively and respectfully about your child’s teachers and the school that they attend.
Have adult conversations out of earshot of your children.
Don’t burden your children with your worries and concerns about their school.
Help your child to value their education.
Approach the school directly if you have any concerns.
Follow the appropriate communication channels set out by the school.
Always keep communication channels open with your child’s teachers.
When the school and parents work together, the child wins.
Experienced teachers share things parents should do to set their kids up for success – Part 1 of 10
What I’ve noticed over the years is that the children who do well academically tend to have a strong family culture of regular family dinners. These children report having robust discussions about the days events, current affairs and other relevant topics. As a result these children often have strong verbal skills and a good dose of confidence, mainly because they get a lot of practice. Their strong verbal skills generally translate into stronger writing skills. This ultimately means that they cope fairly well at school.
As teachers we get to hear about your family’s daily life during classroom discussions. It may surprise you to know that we hear about the arguments, the money woes, which parent farts in the bath like Shrek, that crockery was thrown last night and who received a speeding fine and cursed at the cop.
Are you really listening to you kids?
Your children also tell us that you are completely inseparable from your phones and tablets and that you often don’t make eye contact when they try to communicate with you. They mutter that they are tired of you murmuring “Uh huh” “Mmm” and “I’m listening – carry on” when you are busy on your phone and really aren’t listening at all.
I hear the resentment in their voices. We, as teachers, hear them complain to their friends about the fact that both their parents work at the dinner table, taking business calls, because they are so busy setting up a new company. We know which families eat separately because of busy schedules or which families religiously eat dinner in front of the TV. As teachers we are privy to way too much information.
Dinner time and self-worth
I want to remind you that despite how busy your lives are and how commendably hard you are working to provide for your family, you must remember that children crave talking about their day with their parents. YOU are the significant adults in their lives and YOU matter most.
Dinner time is the perfect platform to feed their minds and nurture their souls through conversation. Conversation helps them to blow off steam and feel important. It helps to build their vocabulary and practice their newly acquired communication skills. It encourages them to think for themselves, find the words to express their thoughts and to practice social etiquette. All of this is invaluable.
Don’t underestimate the benefits of family dinners for us as adults either. We need them and benefit from them as much as our children do.
By regularly setting aside time for family dinners, you are sending a very powerful message – “I value you. I value the time I spend with you. I genuinely want to know how your day went. What you experienced and learnt today is something that this family values. I value what you think and what you want to say. You do not have to ASK for time to speak to us, your family. We want to listen.”.
Advice for Parents:
At dinner time put away all electronic devices, and turn off the TV. Remove all distractions.
Your children have a life away from home that they are dying to share with you – new experiences, successes, failures, worries and concerns, new knowledge & skills, new friendships, friendship problems or just the everyday things that they have discovered and experienced out in the world.
They share the attention of their teachers with a large group of children for several hours a day. Therefore, at home they need your undivided attention for at least a portion of the evening. Give it to them before they go looking for someone else who can give them the attention they need.