A Great Education

     As your children are progressing into and through their school years, as a parent, you have the ability to turn an average education into a great one. With several concrete suggestions, you can help your children acquire crucial skills they will need in their future ahead.

Providing a Positive Role

The first step achieving a great education, according to Gordon Myers, founder of Street Smart Kids, you must have clearly defined purposes.

Once defined, Erika Burton, PhD., founder of the online reading program Stepping Stones Together, advises parent involvement is essential to improving the whole child. Research shows that school-age children spend 70 percent of their waking hours outside of school (Theodorou, 2008). “Parents are a child’s first role model and teacher,” says Burton.  “Children develop their first beliefs and understandings about the world around them from the guidance and learning opportunities provided by their parents.”

Taking Action

Parents need to set good examples in all or as many areas as possible. Significant time, resources and effort is required to raise any child in this or any country, advises Myers. He believes children should be encouraged to learn techniques to improve their relationships with parents, teachers, and mentors to ensure a better quality education and childhood experience.

“Kids will be better off if their parents prepared them early to understand and accept that their destiny is ultimately in their own hands,” says Myers.

Reading Fundamentals

Starting early can begin with your newborn, especially with reading.  Studies prove literacy has been found to be the strongest predictor of academic success (Werner & Smith, 1992).  Dr. Burton states this is not surprising as all other academic areas stem from reading and understanding.  So pull out those books and follow Dr. Burton’s tips to begin developing your little one’s reading skills. 

Babies develop early vocabulary through a parent or caregiver pointing to and explaining things in the world around them with age appropriate vocabulary explanations.

For toddlers, letter identification in books, around town, and in a child’s environment, as well as answering the “why” questions to enhance a child’s curiosity and awareness of reading and discussions. Recent research has affirmed that simply reading books to a child does not enhance their vocabulary or literacy skills.  Identification of the words on the page and accountability for them in the form of rich discussions leads to a child’s greater literacy development.

Four and five-year-olds need to engage in literacy activities in a fun, non-threatening environment focusing on accountability for words on the page and understanding of ideas beyond the direct story lines. Parents can point to words on the page and helping their child see the beginning reading text and illustration connections.

Cultivating Thinking Skills

     According to Walter G. Meyer, author of Rounding Third, children need to cultivate their thinking skills and the younger they start the more beneficial it would be for them. “Challenging children to think for themselves,” says Meyer, “that kind of learning can take place every day with all sorts of lessons.”  He suggests parents ask children questions. “Why do you think the spider makes a web like that? Why do you think this jar of peanut butter is twice as big as that one and it doesn’t cost twice as much?”  All of that leads to critical thinking and helps children examine the world around them.

Creating Brain Power

     Parents can teach children to use their brain by using good examples as a learning tool. Meyer recommends planning activities, such as a hike.  While on the hike, take a photo of a bird or plant. At home, spend time with your child researching what kind of species you photographed. Or visit historic sites, such as Valley Forge, but before you go, do a little homework first. Use questions to initiate curiosity about the upcoming visit. “Why was George Washington at Valley Forge?”   Together, using books and the Internet, search for the answers to promote uses one’s brain.

Seeing the World Beyond

Encouraging children to see the world through different viewpoints is crucial. Rebecca Thiegs, co-founder of a digital literacy educational resource called Stage of Life, believes the majority of students are very narrow-minded in their view of others’ perspectives, whether that’s politically, geographic, economic, racial or generational.  Thiegs states this is a central reason for the occurrence of core academic problems, bullying and apathy. “Students don’t have a wider perspective that helps them emphasize with others or grow and learn from the exposure of various points-of-view.”

An entertaining activity is reading the classic Three Little Pigs and The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, which the latter book offers a unique twist to the story. Borrow them from your local library. Kids will see two different perspectives to the same story.  

Learning All Year Long

Dr. Burton knows parents feel their kids need a break during holidays and over the summer. However, Dr. Burton advises taking a break from the routine of school and related activities should not mean ignoring the wealth of cultural, historical, and interesting opportunities around you. She says most museums offer a wide variety of exhibits with interactive components. Children’s museums provide hands-on activities for children to engage in practical situations such a taking care of babies, shopping, creating, measuring, and playing instruments.

Summertime provides the unique availability of outside concerts to entice the musical and kinesthetic senses of your child.  Or take advantage of car trips. The next time you’re in the car Dr. Burton recommends counting things that start with the letters of the alphabet all the way up to Z.

“Learning should never end,” says Burton, “and should always be approached with a wily sense of interest and fun.”

Pittsburgh author Mj Calloway specializes in home, family and travel.

Aspects of a Good Education

The aspects of a good education go beyond reading, writing and arithmetic.  Jennifer Little, Ph.D., founder of Parents Teach Kids, defines what the aspects of a great education should include.

  • Academics
  • Critical thinking skills – above what’s taught in school
  • Awareness and respect for all the forms of diversity on this planet – cultures, languages, social structures, biological varieties and appearances, religious/beliefs, arts, talents, intelligences
  • Self-motivation
  • Responsibility and management of self-care and health
  • Social skills – manners, verbal and non-verbal communication, acceptance of others as they are, skills and abilities of forgiveness and apology, behavior
  • Managing and recognizing emotions and having appropriate responses for others’ emotions
  • Compassion for self and others – volunteering and giving of self and resources
  • Productive use of leisure time and skills – sports and other activities
  • Contributing member to family, groups and society