Tangled- Parents as Teachers
Welcome to my 5 part series on Parent Involvement called Tangled! A tricky and often messy subject worthy of controversy. In this series, I’ll try and untangle the common parenting dilemmas related to our roles as disciplinarians, mediators, teachers, coaches and therapists.
How much you should help your 1st grader on their homework? How should you intervene if you daughter is picked on by other girls? Or should you?
What if your child constantly complains about their teacher? What if your child athlete isn’t maximizing his potential on the playing field?
Should your home be a dictatorship or a democracy? Do you want your child’s friends to hang out at your house?
You may want to shake or hug me, and that may shift depending on which post in the series you’re reading. With no parenting manual exiting the womb with a crying newborn, we might as well learn from parents whose children are blowing their own bubbles out in the real world.
These parents, like me, now sit back with excitement and trepidation. We watch their bubbles soar up into the blue, praying and hoping not too many pop in their face. We privately yearn for repeated validation that we did our number one job well.
PARENTS AS TEACHERS
My daughter was in 3rd grade and assigned a project. The requirements were to visit a museum or historical site and prepare a poster with information and photos about the experience to present in front of the class. My daughter chose going to the jazz museum as it sounded less boring than the other options.
Prior to leaving on a Saturday for our mandated field trip, I asked her if she had a camera and a notebook. “Why do I need a notebook?” she asked. I told her she needed to take notes while she was there so she wouldn’t forget what she saw. “It will be much easier if you jot down ideas while you’re there. It will make finishing your poster easier later,” I continued while she rolled her eyes returning to her room to retrieve her notebook.
When we arrived at the museum, my daughter had no idea how to take notes. Or how to decide what was important enough to write down. So I told her what to write and explained my decisions. I asked leading questions and gave her tasks such as finding her favorite quote in the room. I directed her thinking and much of her time there. “If your classmates asked you why jazz was so popular in the urban community, what would you say?” “What makes jazz sound different from the music you listen to?” And so forth.
When it came time to do her poster, she had a plethora of notes and this energized her. She felt the reward preparation brings. Together we worked on the poster. We brainstormed ideas. I did not hold back just because this was her project. She had never had an assignment like this before and she yearned for instruction and direction. I gave it to her. She made the final decisions and the cutting and pasting began.
The poster was done and she was proud. Then I said, “What could you do to go beyond what the teacher expects? I explained that a “C” student does enough to get by, a “B” student does a good job with assignment, and an “A” student goes a step beyond what is necessary. “What type of student do you want to be?” She said what she knew her mom wanted to hear, “I want to be an A student.”
So the brainstorming began again just when she thought she was done. She suggested adding more color which she did. I suggested adding a piano keyboard to the bottom of the poster that would allow the poster to stand on its own. “That’s a cool idea, Mom, but that will be a lot of work!” “I guess we better get busy then!” I said.
I helped draw the keyboard while she colored in the keys and added some glitter. The look of pride on her face when it was done! She was thrilled that she went the extra mile and felt ownership even though I had assisted. A life lesson about “going the extra mile” was implanted on that day.
What’s the moral of this story?
Providing concrete direction to children when they are young is not stifling their own sense of self, but opening up their spirits to what is possible within them.
If I am capable of teaching, I’m going to teach to accelerate their path.
Children don’t know what they don’t know. Self discovery is one way of learning and being taught is another. I am here to be a role model, to set expectations, and to put tools in her toolbox she is going to need as she gets older. Teachers can’t do this alone.
Think of it this way-
Rather than expect “A’s, teach them how to attain them.
Rather than preach values, role model them.
Rather than say you value education, contribute to it.
Rather than praise everything, make your praise dependent on evidence.
This parenting philosophy is very different from parents who do the work for their children. If you want to create self-entitled, lazy, unappreciative kids then do their projects or write their papers while they watch television.
So here are my tips when it comes to hands-on involvement in your child’s education:
1. Partner with your child on school projects or anything new assigned to them through 3rd grade. Brainstorm, question, guide, and assist. Learn your child’s creative process and share your own. Role model hard work and expectations of greatness. Take the reigns as often as necessary to teach. Stretch their willingness.
2. Begin to back off in 4th and 5th grade. Remain present and available but allow your child to take the lead. Give your child confidence with a “You’ve got this!” attitude. Provide constructive criticism and be an editor. Act as the “polisher” rather than the “carpenter.”
3. By 6th grade shift total responsibility to your child. Set high expectations including timeliness of assignments. Give them a long leash and privileges that come with good grades. Do not hover or control. Direct them more toward their teachers or school resources for assistance. Provide targeted editing, transportation for supplies, or brainstorm ideas if asked. Lean your involvement toward organization and time management strategies.
4. Be a chaperone or assist with fundraisers regardless of your child’s opinion. It sends a positive message that you care about their school and you want to show your support.
5. Regardless of your child’s school performance or age, always go to parent-teacher conferences and award ceremonies. Your child and his teachers need to see that school is a family priority. Come home and share what you learned about them from their teachers.
It takes effort to parent, patience to teach. Think of it as planting seeds in your child’s garden. Start young and watch them cultivate seeds you may have originally planted. By middle school they’ll have the courage, confidence and skill to plant their own. All you have to do is occasionally help them pick the weeds:).
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