And Then School Happens…
A simple sentence in an Education Week article titled “Brains and Schools: A Mismatch" by Alden S. Blodget was so powerful, it actually took my breath away. “Children are natural learners, alive with questions. And then school happens.”
Two researchers (Marzano, 2003 and Hattie, 2009) looked at factors impacting students' learning. They both concluded that the most important variable of student achievement fluctuates daily according to the quality of instruction a student receives. Or, if a student has a high level of achievement it is because they are influenced by a high quality teacher. How does a parent know if their child's teacher is delivering daily quality instruction or one whose impact is sadly,”then school happens”?
I just spent four days with our 26 month old grandchild and, yes, he was alive with questions. A walk around the block found us watching a large tree being cut down (at least 10 questions), a pile of rocks on the sidewalk (seven more questions), finding a worm and an ant (four excited questions) hearing thunder (three nervous questions) spotting five dogs (another seven questions). Those little walks confirmed what I believe is true from that article ... “children are natural learners, alive with questions”. As a grandmother, I felt that by answering his questions and exploring with him, I was part of my grandson's high quality teaching environment, complementing his parents and caregivers.
My years as a full time teacher were fun, exciting, and challenging. I felt connected with most of my students and their families. That powerful sentence, “ And then school happens”, reminded me that not everything ended as planned. Some lessons didn’t go so well. There were chats in the teachers' lounge about kids who didn’t progress or had behavior problems. And, the difficult parent conferences that had differing views on “my” student and “their” child.
We don’t want our ‘natural learners’ saddled with ho-hum teachers, rigid curriculums, and joyless learning just because “school happens”. Educators and neuroscientists continually research what works to help children learn. Parents and teachers together need to be aware of what the research states, and using these data as guidance.
Dr. Bruce McCandliss of Vanderbilt University states that a pre-reader's brain response to speech predicts future reading skills. Parents are encouraged to talk and read with a young child, perhaps unaware that this helps develop a future successful reader. A study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley at University of Kansas discovered that the average four year old child in a welfare home hears about 13 million words addressed to them while a child in a professional home hears 48 million. This huge gap is difficult to make up before beginning school and, once in school, a child still may never catch up.
Looking at social skills needed for success, research (Bhavnagri & Parke, 1991) states that the toddler years benefit from adult supervision while playing with peers. And, a preschooler also benefits from working out problems with peers with adult intervention when necessary.
If the role of being in charge of educating your preschooler sounds daunting, then just begin simply. Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D. states that “repetition is key to the development of a child’s brain. Repetition leads to skill mastery, which increases confidence and builds self-esteem.” A child’s brain takes in the world through the senses - sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. Using repetition and the five senses, here are two really simple activities with guidelines to get you started!
1. Learning about the letter "A"
*Have a child find an apple in the refrigerator or on a tree
*Ask how the apple feels (hard, soft, mushy, wet, dry, etc.) Say “a” ... "apple"
*Ask how the apple looks (color, size, shape, etc.) Say “a” ... "apple"
*Ask if the apple makes a sound (hold up to ear, roll, take a bite, etc.) Say “a”... "apple"
*Ask if the apple smells (hold up to nose and describe the smell as a whole apple and after it is cut) Say “a” ... "apple "
*Ask how the apple tastes (sweet, tart, salty, etc.) Say “a” ..." apple"
*Place the apple on a piece of paper - Say “a” ... "apple" and write an upper case and lower case "A, a" under the apple
• Using 3 toothpicks or craft sticks make an upper case "A" Say “a” ... "apple"
• Let your child copy and make an upper case "A" using 3 toothpicks or craft sticks
• Ask your child to touch the apple and say “a” ... "apple"; child traces with finger upper case "A" on paper with finger and says “a” ... "apple"; child traces with finger lower case "a" on paper and says “a” ... "apple"; child points to toothpick "A" and says “a” ... "apple"
2. Emotional/Character Development - Love/Forgiveness
*Select from a group of magnetic letters the following letters - two letter I’s; two letter L’s; four letter O’s; two letter V’s; two letter E’s; two letter Y’s; two letter U’s. Instead of magnetic letters you could use small pieces of paper or blank index cards with the letters. Ask child to help you find the letters.
*Using a magnetic cookie sheet or the front of the refrigerator select the following letters. When you select each letter say the name of the letter and the sound the letter makes and let child repeat - I - L- O -V - E - Y - O - U and place on the surface to spell “I LOVE YOU”
*Share with child what love means - special in my heart and head, feeling of joy, etc. Encourage your child to tell you something they “love” - a sibling, an animal, a toy, etc. Explain that it is important for everyone to know that they are loved and special. Chat about how we know we are loved - hugs, kisses, helping, smiling, rub on back, etc.
*Point to letter "L" and say the sound and then ask child to point to" L" and say sound
*Ask child to make with the remaining letters the words "I LOVE YOU" under the words already on the cookie sheet
*Count how many letters are in the word "LOVE" (4)
*Ask your child that if you are loved, would you have a happy face or a sad face? Can you smell or taste "LOVE" (cooking and baking can be love activities, etc.)
*Ask if there is someone the child would like to tell that he loves
*Check youtube.com for singing the song “Skinnamarink”
There are links between learning, thinking, and our emotions.(Ajzen and Fishbein, 1980) Sharing techniques for good emotional health is part of becoming a successful learner. Importantly, this is all done while playing and having fun with our “natural learners." Finding the balance between research based learning and fun is made easier for busy parents, preschool teachers, and caregivers with a free website. Now every child can have a successful beginning to school when parents and teachers use www.ifnotyouwho.org