Educating Yourself – What does your child need to know?

To help your child succeed in school, you have to embark on an education of your own – learning what your child needs to know. There are a few ways to do this and thereby get a sense of how he or she is doing and, more importantly, how you can help.

  1. Talk to the teacher. Understand what type of instruction is taking place in your child’s classroom- and what kind of assessment – is being done. Ask for a copy of the syllabus so you know precisely what will be taught. If you have a question or concern, set a conference with the teacher. Ask how you can encourage the learning that is being done in school.
  2. Visit the school and the classroom. You might even spend a day in the classroom, if you can, observing what is taught and how. This will allow you to relate to your child’s learning much more directly than if you never observe the classroom. Get a sense of the school’s goals and achievements from the County Office of Education’s School Accountability Report Card at http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/shopping.html).
  3. Look at the homework each night. You don’t need to do the homework, but it is important you see it. Is it at the right level? Too easy? Too hard? Can you see the progress that is being made? Whenever you can, encourage your child’s work with very specific praise. It is best to say things like, “I really liked the detail in this sentence,” or “Your handwriting looks good here.” And, it should go without saying, be firm about allowing time for it to be done.
  4. Read to your child, and encourage his or her reading. Reading is unarguably the cornerstone of all learning. In 1998, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that nearly 40% of the nation’s fourth graders were not reading at basic grade level. You should understand how a child learns to read, especially if yours is under five or having difficulty. An excellent guide from the National Institute for Literacy is at http://novel.nifl.gov/nifl/partnershipforreading/publications/reading_first2.html. Read to your child, find out what he or she likes to read (or have read), read in front of them to set the example. 
  5. Understand the state standards, assessment tests and local school evaluations. The standardized tests (STAR/SAT 9) are, rightly or wrongly, measures of your child’s learning. It helps to understand how he or she will be evaluated. You can find these tests online at http://star.cde.ca.gov/ and http://star.cde.ca.gov/star2002/.
  6. Make it real and make it fun. Learning can be fun and that will help your child learn better. Rent movies that are dealing with themes he or she is studying, such as Rome or Egypt. Take trips to museums or other places to dovetail with studies. Not only does this encourage learning, it has been shown that reading comprehension is improved when children make personal and visual connections with the material.

Brad Diskin is the CEO of UROK Learning Institute, a San Diego company with a highly effective, research-based, reading intervention program.

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