Give Hints and Suggestions Not Answers

Continuing the theme of helping children become independent problem solvers, give hints and suggestions not outright answers.

A few examples:

  • When your first graders asks, “mommy, how do you spell elephant?” Avoid spelling it for them. Give hints and suggestions for how they can spell it. You might offer to help them learn to look it up in the dictionary. If your school encourages inventive spelling (and I hope they do through second grade), you might say, “listen to the word and try to figure out what sounds you hear, those are the letters to write down,” and then slowly, stretch out and clearly enunciate, “el-e-phant.” Here you are teaching them ways, not just to spell elephant, but also how to figure out future words.
  • When your fourth grader asks you for the answer to a long multiplication problem, you might offer to do the first step, or you might offer to work through another similar problem to teach them the steps, and then stay with them while they work through their own. You might offer to read aloud the pages of their textbook that cover how to solve these problems.

The idea is to give them enough to get back on track. You are supporting the problem solving process without doing the actual work for them. You are also hoping to provide them strategies for the next go around.

Ask Them How They Want to Be Helped

Whether your four-year-old is working on a hard puzzle, or your fourth grader is struggling through math homework, when they ask for your help, start by asking them how they would like to be helped. If you swoop in and give them your brand of helping, you may be doing too much, which discourages independent problem solving or frustrating the system.

I learned this the hard way. When my older daughter was learning to read, she asked me to please just give her the word when she got stuck. I explained that, if I just gave her the word, she wouldn’t learn how to best sound out words on her own. Her valid point back was that when she was reading and had to stop to sound out words, she would lose the storyline and be confused going forward. She also said she was getting plenty of practice sounding out new words at school, thank you very much. So, I started just giving her the words when she was stuck. This lasted a few months as she was gaining skills at school and then it tapered off.

When my younger daughter was learning to read, and she would get stuck on a word, I just gave it to her. We went on like this for the first several months. One day after I gave her a word, she stopped and said, “please stop doing that! If you keep giving me the words when I am stuck, I will never learn how to read them myself.” She was right, I was slowing her progress and should have asked her how she wanted to be helped.

Soon after they are old enough to ask for help, they are likely old enough to explain how they would like to be helped.

Building Academic Motivation

Throughout your child’s education, it is important to build a sense of home-school connection. There is benefit for your child’s academic motivation if they feel you value their school, and that their school welcomes you. There are so many ways you can work to build this bridge.

  • Take an interest in their progress – Ask how school is going, what they do or don’t enjoy about their day and keep up with their grades. This also allows you to intervene early if there is a concern.
  • Check and discuss their homework – Unless their teacher says otherwise, err on the side of checking homework for completeness and effort rather than accuracy. If you do check for accuracy, make a note to let the teacher know where they originally struggled.
  • Expand on school learning – If they are learning about a war, take them to that monument. If they are learning to count money, make them the family banker who pays with cash and counts in both directions for every purchase.
  • Participate at school when and how you can – If you have the time, be a room parent. If not, go on the fieldtrips and send in supplies whenever you can. Be sure to meet the teacher, and at least keep up with the PTA.

Other way to build motivation:

  • Read aloud everyday – Reading skills are essential for success across academic subjects. Building a love of reading and related skills is a strong piece of later academic motivation.
  • Help them to fully investigate their own areas of interest – If your child is interested in the rainforest, take them to the rainforest room at the aquarium and the zoo, watch the rainforest episode of Magic School Bus or join the Rainforest Alliance.
  • Share your own learning – Let them know when you take classes or read books on new topics, let them know you are excited about learning.

To learn more about this and other ways to build motivation and manage homework, join me for my workshop on Managing Homework and Academic Motivation. This is scheduled for September 18th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Play Builds Academic Foundation

Our Preschool Play Program is very play based. Open play is available the whole class time, with group play activities presented throughout. While we don’t focus on academics, we have a firm belief that play provides a strong foundation for later academics. Here are a few ways:

  • Challenges in Play Build a Sense of Industry– The more you can challenge kids to do something faster, build something taller, to problem solve together or think about something in a new way, the more they are having experiences at rising to meet challenges. As children meet challenges, they build an ‘I can do it’ or ‘I can try it’ attitude which is helpful later in the classroom.
  • Pretend Play Builds Representational Thinking– It is a cognitive jump when children start using representation in play. This happens when they use the block as a ‘telephone,’ or the sidewalk as their ‘pool.’ Representational thinking happens most often during pretend play. It lays foundation for later symbol use and academic representation. This means the letter ‘B’ can more easily represent the sound ‘buh,’ and the number 3 can more easily represent three objects.
  • Open Ended Toys Pull for More Flexible Use and Creative Problem Solving – Children playing with basic toys such as blocks, balls, art and craft supplies and dolls tend to use the toys in more flexible ways. Buy toys that do less, so the children will do more. This means, if you are buying a doll, buy the basic one rather than the one that talks or grows hair. When the doll has a given function, children play in a more narrow way; buy open ended. Flexible use of toys often includes more creative problem solving in play.
  • Reading Aloud Daily Helps Build Successful Readers– Reading aloud with children to encourage a love of stories and books is one of the single most important factors in their eventual reading success.
  • Social Problem Solving Practice Benefits Group Work – Much of elementary school work happens in groups. The more practice children have at solving social conflicts the better.

Tips for Starting Kindergarten

The start of Kindergarten is an exciting time! If your child is starting this fall, there are many things you can be doing to get them ready.

  • Preview the school – Spend some time this summer playing on the school’s playground. Visit their website with your child to view pictures and videos. If there is a preview day or back to school night, attend this as a family.
  • Read books about the start of school – This includes Kindergarten Rocks by Davis, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Slate and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Talk about your own positive early school experiences – Parents stories can go a long way towards providing a sense of comfort and excitement. Keep your stories about school upbeat during this time.
  • Get back to your bedtime routines at least a week before – Being well rested helps to provide a smooth start to the school year as a whole and to each school day. It is good to set a firm bedtime and routine for the evening and the morning. It’s best to start this at least a week prior, so it is expected once the year begins.
  • Provide and start using a calendar with them – The start of the school year is a great time to introduce the calendar and mark days off as you go. If you can, start this in Kindergarten with tracking field trips and other special events, it will be easier to use tracking tests and projects as they get into the later elementary grades.
  • Read aloud with them everyday – Reading aloud as a daily activitiy is one of the best ways to build readers. For Kindergarten, it lays foundation for phonemic awareness and builds listening skills.

Kindergarten Readiness

As a follow-up to my Kindergarten Readiness workshop today, I wanted to post a few notes:

  • Kindergarten teachers are not often as stressed as parents about an individual child’s readiness for Kindergarten. From the teacher’s standpoint, there are two main categories, academic readiness and social readiness. Across studies, social readiness ranks higher on teachers’ scales of importance. Social readiness includes things like being able to listen and follow directions, being able to sit still, being able to participate in a group activity and play skills like sharing and turn taking.
  • It may be important to consider the tendency to wait a year of other families in your school district. With some children starting who turn five the day of requirement, and others who bypass that by more than a year, there is a wide age range for children entering the classroom. This increases what was already a wide range of skills.
  • If you are planning to delay the start of Kindergarten for a specific reason, the next step is to start thinking about the best use of that year. If there is a specific concern, see the right people, get the right homework, read the right books. Make a plan to use the time wisely.

This is a topic that could stand further discussion. Please post your related questions in the comment section below.

Types of Preschools: From Our Panel Discussion

I learned so much at our recent panel discussion on types of preschools, and am excited to share this with you. Each year we invite speakers from a variety of area preschools to speak about their philosophy and the importance of their approach. Each also talks a bit about what happens in the typical day of a child at their school. I’ve included a few highlights as well as contact information from the various programs.

Nature Immersion Preschool – Discovery Woods

Think: education through nature. If you have an appreciation for the outdoors, Discovery Woods provides a perfect environment for children to learn literacy, math, social studies and science through an outdoor curriculum. Their indoor program provides inquiry based learning with teacher-child negotiated projects while their outdoor program encourages a deep study of the local environment. An overall goal is to build early learning habits and dispositions to create a life-long learner.

Laura Champe Mitchell, Parent and Office Coordinator

Vienna, near Wolf trap

www.discoverywoods.org

Play Based Preschool – Country Day School

This school provides a play-based program that nurtures the the whole child and looks at individual progress. Over the preschool years they introduce academics in engaging, play-based ways. There is a strong focus on daily life and social skills. I am partial to Country Day, I enjoyed being a teacher and then a a parent there.

Wendy Jones, Parent Educator

6418 Georgetown Pike in McLean 22101, 703-356-4282

www.countryday.org

Cooperative Preschool – Sleepy Hollow Cooperative Preschool

Sleepy Hollow is a cooperative preschool that has a parent run board and parents working in the classrooms to support the classroom teachers. The focus for two year olds is is to help them find a sense of security in their first experience away from home. The threes and fours enjoy a child-interest driven curriculum. Added benefits of cooperative preschools often include a community of like minded parents and a chance to make lasting friendships as parents spend so much time working together.

Mary DePippo, Parent

7610 Newcastle Drive in Annandale 22003, 703-941-9791

www.sleepyhollowpreschool.com

Montessori Preschool – Brooksfield Montessori

Montessori is known for providing rich work materials that support math, language, practical life and sensorial development during independent time. Children work and meet challenges at their own pace. Brooksfield provides this classic montessori experience and adds imaginative play, creative dance and spanish.

Mary Anne Duffus, Founder

1830 Kirby Road in McLean 22101, 703-356-5437

www.brooksfieldschool.org

Reggio Emilia Preschool – Beverly Hills Church Preschool

In a Reggio Emilia inspired preschool, teachers are trained to watch, listen and learn from children to build the cirriculum around the class interests and strengths. Teachers help children to fully explore and expand on their ideas through a project centered approach. Children are also encouraged to work together to enrich the group and individual learning process. There is also a strong focus on open ended art.

Kelley Organek, Director

3512 Old Dominion Blvd. in Alexandria 22305, 703-549-7441

www.bhcpnet.org

Waldorf Preschool – Potomac Crescent Waldorf School

Waldorf is known for their open-ended all natural materials. They are focused on building a child’s imagination and creativity while laying strong foundation for later academic challenges in the preschool years. The experiential approach builds an intrinsically motivated learner.

Alice Trembour, Teacher and Director

923 South 23rd Street in Arlington 22202

703-486-1309

www.potomaccrescentschool.org

High Scope Preschool – Columbia Baptist Preschool

Columbia Baptist is newly becoming a High Scope program. High Scope strives for hands-on teacher and child initiated activities across five areas including literacy, social and emotional development, physical development, arts and sciences. Teachers observe children across experiences and note their progress through Child Observation Records. The program provides an exciting learning environment to challenge the individual child.

www.columbiabaptist.org in Falls Church

Hosted by – Parenting Playgroups

Our own Preschool Play is a small, play based program open to children two to four years old. Children participate in open play in the preschool classroom, two art projects, a sing-along, movement game, snack and story time each day.

Rene Hackney, PhD.

Falls Church and Alexandria, 703-237-0733 or 703-922-0044

www.parentingplaygroups.com

Five-Year-Old Concerning Behavior at Home and School

Hi Dr. Rene,

Please help, I have a five-year-old boy whose behavior is pretty bad at school. He is spitting and trying to bite other kids! I dont know why he is doing this because he gets a lot of our attention and loving all the time. He is finding it hard to take instructions and discipline at school. We do find it hard to discipline him at home too. I’m at my wits end, and don’t know what to do to help him with it? Please, can you help? I have tried time outs in the naughty chair and taking toys or his laptop away from him. Nothing seems to be working.

Sincerely,

Agnes

Dear Agnes,

There are two main issues to address here. The first is finding a consistent discipline plan at home. The second is to enlist help to best address the behaviors in the classroom. I am going to point you to good resources for both.

You can learn a positive discipline approach by reading, taking live workshops or online classes. Good books include

  • Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson
  • The Parent’s Handbook: Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Dinkmeyer and McKay
  • How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish
  • Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline by Bailey
  • Setting Limits with Your Strong Willed Child: Eliminating Conflict by Establishing Clear, Firm and Respectful Boundaries by MacKenzie

Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a parenting workshop on positive discipline. In the DC area there are classes through our Parenting Playgroups office (www.parentingplaygroups.com), the Parenting Encouragement Program (PEP at www.pepparent.org) or SCAN (www.scanva.org).

There are also many online services which offer positive discipline workshops. This includes ours at Ask Dr. Rene (www.askdrrene.com), Positive Parenting (http://soullightcreative.com/positiveparenting/) and Positive Parenting Solutions (http://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/) among others.

Quite a bit more information is needed to provide a helpful answer about his behavior at school. The first thing I would do is take a parent-teacher conference and ask for as much description of the behaviors as you can and request that the school develops a specific plan to address him. This likely will include an objective observation. I often provide observation services to schools and families in our local area. Request that an objective professional provide classroom observation time and a teacher interview. This could be done by your school’s guidance counselor or school psychologist or a hired, private school psychologist. This person should be able to provide a list of recommendations for what is needed in the classroom. It could be there is a learning concern or social skills difficulties that is impacting classroom behavior. It could be that a fresh pair of eyes can contribute more than the teacher’s current view. Be open to listening to any and all recommendations.

I would be happy to provide more specific answers to the school and home situations if you’d like to send more detailed questions.

Sincerely,

Dr. Rene

Exactly! Downside of E-Readers for Young Children

So, I’ve been asked many times in the last year for my thoughts about young children playing on iPads or reading on Kindles. My answers always lean towards it being better to play with toys or each other and read books rather than screens. Even when it’s just to occupy them because you need a minute, I would much rather parents hand their three-year-old a crayon and piece of paper than a phone with an open app. When it comes to early reading, my sense has been there is value in experiencing the book, in turning the pages, taking in the pictures and talking about the story. Thankfully, my favorite technology writer Lisa Guernsey has pulled together a fuller answer in her Time Ideas article titled Why EReading With Your Kid Can Impede Learning http://ideas.time.com/2011/12/20/why-ereading-with-your-kid-can-impede-learning/?xid=gonewsedit. If your pre- or early reader is already on a screen, check this out for tips on how to use it better and consider setting and enforcing time limits.

Lisa Guernsey is the director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative and author of Into the Minds of Babes: How Screen Time Affects Children From Birth to Age Five. Great book!

Holiday Reading Tips

I’d like to share a few of our holiday traditions that revolve around reading. We’ve compiled a stack of 25 Christmas themed picture books. Each night, starting on the first of the month we include one in our read aloud time before bed. On the night of the 25th, we read what was their favorite The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Scarry.

Each Christmas morning there are three new books for each child under the tree. I recognize they quickly get set aside for the toys and tech gadgets, but I think it is important to have books be a piece of the gift exchange. As they’ve gotten older, we’ve branched out with more reading related gifts. This includes book marks, box sets, a writing journal, magazine subsriptions (thanks grandpa!) and now a kindle. I recently read a suggestion to wrap one book and leave it on the child’s bed, so the first thing they open on Christmas morning is a new book. For you last minute shoppers,  http://www.bookswithbows.com/DanaHome.asp is an online service that sends your loved one a book-a-month based on the categories you select.

You might also check these great holiday reading tips from Reading Is Fundamental  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTgEorSmd7o&feature=youtu.be. In this clip, Dr. Judy Cheatham reviews tips to build a love of reading over the holidays. Enjoy!