I received an email from a parent asking me to write some tips to help parents (new and experienced) provide reading, writing and math instruction to their children at home or in addition to what they learned in school. Often parents feel like their hands are tied when it comes to helping their own children to learn, especially when the parent has a learning disability. I want all parents to realize that they are the first educators their children will ever meet and they have a huge set of advantages – time, opportunity, trust, skill, and knowledge about their children. For your child to be a good student, you have to show them the way and you are equipped – trust me.
Tip 1: Read books that you are able to read fluently. By reading a book fluently you are teaching your child how to read in a conversational way. Do not worry whether or not book is simple or complicated. It only matters that your child hears the text come to life in a way that resembles everyday conversation.
Tip 2: Read books with numbers in them. This allows your child to build number sense and helps them to see numbers in a universal way. This is especially good for small children who are just beginning to talk.
Tip 3: Phonemic Awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate phonemes or what experts say is the smallest unit of sound that can differentiate meaning. This is something you can do in the dark. Play a game with your children. Turn the lights off or have the child cover their eyes and practice sounds. You can say /b/ and have your child mimic the sound. You can choose any letters for the night, but it works best if you choose letters that combine into one word (like /b/, /a/, /t/ (bat), so throughout the lesson your child is actually spelling words phonetically.
Tip 4: Phonics is putting the letter symbols to the sounds. After you have a child spell the words using the sounds – then let them see the word and say the letters. You can do one or two words each time you play, but the more you play the more vocabulary you can introduce and this will help your child spell in the long run. It is also fun and can be a great way to get your child excited about learning!
Tip 5: Highlight/underline vocabulary in the text and help your child to create child friendly definitions for those vocabulary words. If you are struggling to define a term, look it up. It is great for your child to see you search for information in a dictionary or online. This allows your child to see and use other resources. Write those vocabulary words on an index card with definitions on the back. When you have down time (or as a barter for some TV time) quiz your child on a few words from the deck of index cards.
Tip 6: As soon as your child can write more than the alphabet, have the child write the definitions. Writing is a tough skill to master, help them practice as often as possible.
Tip 7: Keep a notebook with your child – a journal – making it beautiful or whimsical on the outside makes it more unique for your child. When you move about your day, point things out and have your child write them in their journal. For instance, say you decide to take a stroll to the local park. You can point out bugs or clouds or cars and say, “Hey (child’s name here). Look at that (item here). Let’s write that in your journal.” Then write, Today I saw a (item). Let your child write the sentence that you wrote. If your child is older have them write a short paragraph about whatever it was you saw. Be sure to remind them about it the next time – we call this activating prior knowledge – when children associate new skills to what they already know, they tend to maintain that information.
Tip 7: Speak in complete sentences and encourage your child to do the same. Set the expectation that you and your child can use proper sentences.
Tip 8: Practice math problems with your child. This is easy. Example: Take boxes out of the cabinet. Set a few on the counter. Talk out loud about how many boxes you have on the counter. Take some away or add some and talk out loud about the process. Count the number of boxes you have and then speak the number sentences. Example: I placed 5 boxes on my counter top. If I add 3 more boxes, I have 8 boxes on my counter top. 5+3=8. I know this sounds monotonous, but it helps your child to see how to add and subtract. Do this when you are shopping at the grocery store or any other place where you can discuss numbers. The more you build the better you get.
Tip 9: Many times parents tell me that the educational system has a responsibility to bend to meet the needs of their child. This is an interesting perspective. Even if the educational system bends to meet the needs of the child through their high school years, that will not always be the case when that (now) adult goes to college or when they find a career later in life. As hard as it is to come to terms with, we must teach our kids how to work around others in a way that might be outside of their comfort zone.
Example. My daughter has severe ADHD. She wants to be an accountant in a business office. For that to happen she had to go to college. The majority of college campuses are not designed for different types of learners. She had to learn to sit through the interview without bouncing, she had to learn how to directly respond to questions, and she had to prove that she could adapt to the culture of that school. She will have to do the same thing when she is ready to find a career. For that reason, we spent a lot of time teaching her how to sit still and focus. We trained her how to hear questions to ascertain what was being asked. We pushed her to find outlets after she got out of school so she could get through an 8 to 10+ hour workday.
I hope she finds a career that she loves, but I also feel better knowing she has the knowledge and the skills to make it in a world that is not accustomed to her way of doing things. We did that not by teaching our daughter about the world as we hoped it would be some day, but by teaching her about the world as it is. I have no doubt that one day I will find her working while dancing – in a company that has a great deal of confidence in her ability to do what it takes to get the job done.
Parents, I understand that reading, writing and math are hard things to tackle. However, I want you to think about it under these types of terms. If your child wanted to be a dancer, football player, journalist, etc., you would ask them to practice the skills they needed to be successful at those things. Academic skills are no different. For our children to become better students they need the skills. You don’t have to do all these things at once. You can just take one tip and apply it. I give you these tips because they worked for me.
Please continue to write. If you want more details on any particular tip, I am happy to spend more time. I wish an abundance of blessings to all of you and your children. If you have tips to share – please feel free to share.