Schools are under increasing pressure to provide a higher quality education to all children. Many schools are improving, but they can’t do it alone.
Too many children – typically from poor families – start school with learning skills far below those of other children. By third grade, poor children are still behind – by one to three years in many cases.
Because some children start school with a deficit, it’s clear that a good education begins at home – and in infancy. Brain studies show that children’s ability to learn depends largely on their experiences in the first years of life. In short, the more you talk and read to your children, the better they can learn.
Read to your child every day. Check out children’s books from the library, or buy books at yard sales and thrift shops. Spend less time watching TV and more time reading. Avoid putting TV sets in your children’s bedrooms. Many TV programs contain adult content and violence, and watching TV can become a hard habit to break once children are old enough to have homework.
Talk with your children. Talk about what you’re doing – diapering, eating, bathing, all the ordinary things you do every day. Talking to babies stimulates their brain connections. As children listen and respond, they learn words. More talk means children learn more words, and more words means children can think faster and better.
Respond to your children. Crying is the only way a baby can communicate at first. Respond with tenderness and care. Your responses help the baby build trust and feel secure.
Look into your baby’s eyes, listen to the coos and babbles, repeat them, and encourage more talk. “Children should be seen and not heard” is an old notion and adhering to it can actually harm your child’s ability to learn.
As your child gets older, encourage questions. If you don’t know the answers, look for them together. Invite your child to share feelings, and opinions. This teaches children they have a right to be heard and that what they think and feel is important.
Give encouragement. Everything a child does starting at birth is about learning. Grasping objects, sleeping, rolling over, crawling, and walking are a child’s way of exploring the world.
Get involved in the child’s activity. Show delight and joy as your child learns to do new things. Provide a safe and orderly place to eat, sleep, and play.
Demand proper behavior. Teach rules of behavior by setting the example. Children imitate what you do. If you yell and hit, they will too. Set rules and explain the reasons for them.
Teach children to be responsible to their actions. Demand honesty and concern for others. Set routines for eating, sleeping, chores, and play so children know what to expect. Have high expectations: Say that you expect children to do well in school, go to college, and get a good job.
Enroll your child in high-quality preschool. “High-quality” is the key. Look for well-trained caregivers and teachers. Do they talk, read, and interact with children in a respectful way? Ask to see the facility’s license or accreditation. Ask for an explanation of learning goals, including how children learn proper behavior. Is the facility safe, clean, and orderly?
Once you choose a high-quality preschool, stay involved in your child’s learning. Attend open houses, parent meetings, and parent-teacher conferences. Drop in and have lunch with your child from time to time. Continue to read to your child at home.
As a parent, you have the power to make a difference in your child’s education. Turn your home into a learning laboratory by talking and reading with your child. Demand excellence in your child’s school – now and in the future.
“Texas Parenting News” Texas Child Care Fall 2009: 1