Hello from the International Reading Association’s annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. As luck would have it, I am presenting a seminar entitled “The Power of Parents: Building School and Home Connections,” based on a series of kits I have developed. The kits train parents, teachers and administrators how to work together to best meet the needs of each particular child.
As a parent you need to know that your child is important to her teacher. Your child is vital to the success of her teacher’s classroom and the school. Good teachers and administrators recognize how important you are to the development of your child, and they are excited to work with you to help your child. Contrary to what a lot of policymakers and folks in the media will try to have you believe, most public schools are doing a good job. As a matter of fact, their success is severely understated and under-reported, while the extraordinary successes of a few well-funded private and charter schools is heralded (there is plenty of data to show that a public school receiving the same funding as these success stories would achieve the same, or better, results). We can talk about that in a future column.
Let’s talk about you. You are your child’s single greatest teacher, and we educators need you to work with us. Together, we can move mountains.
I understand what you are going through, as I am a proud (and sometimes frustrated) parent of three. I know a lot about education, and even I can find the school system overwhelming. So what can we do together to do what is in the best interest of your child?
We simply need to connect the “DOTS.”
Do Play. The “D” in “DOTS” stands for “Do,” as in “Do Play.” It sounds like common sense, but – as my friend Davy Tyburski likes to say, “common sense is not common practice” nowadays. The role of play is critical in your child’s development. It sounds so easy, and that is why many folks scoff at its importance. Well, standing, walking, talking and eating are all fairly “easy,” yet critical, processes. The benefits of playing with your child are as widespread as a healthy diet, so make sure to “feed” your child’s emotional and psychological development by playing board games, going on outings and spending plenty of silly moments together.
Observe and Model. The “O” in “DOTS” stands for “Observe,” as in “Observe and Model.” Being the father of three children who have all grown up under the same roof, I am constantly amazed by how different my son and two daughters are from one another. All are gifts from God who have their own distinct gifts, and my job – as their father – is to determine their strengths and weaknesses and accommodate them. While my oldest daughter is naturally very motivated, my son can take some prying to do certain things. Meanwhile, my son is one of the kindest souls I have ever seen, while my daughters often fail to empathize with those around them. As parents, we need to observe our children and model for them expected behaviors. As an educator I can confess that before I meet most students’ parents on “Back-to-School” night, I can easily match them with their children, as they behave similarly. Kids who are late to school usually have tardy parents, quiet children often have quiet parents, etc.
Talk About Books. The “T” in “DOTS” stands for “Talk,” as in “Talk About Books” with your child. What can I say? Reading is my passion, and I have gratefully passed along that passion to my children (despite school’s attempts to take it away by requiring meaningless exercises, like book reports). If you want your child to succeed in school and in life, your child needs to be a passionate, efficient reader. Make life easier on your child by giving her the joy of reading. I can guarantee that children who like to read usually turn out to be better readers than their peers who detest it. Why? They choose to do it on their own outside of school, and every extra minute your child spends reading enhances her “reading muscles” the way exercise helps your overall physical fitness.
Support/Reward. The “S” in “DOTS” stands for “Support,” as in “Support/Reward” your child’s reading. By support I mean that you need to follow the interests of your child: if she wants to read nothing but fashion magazines, let her read fashion magazines. If she is fascinated with lemurs, help her get her hands on as many texts about lemurs as you can find (I speak from experience on this one). And when I suggest you should reward your child for reading, I do not mean you should give her pizza and candy for getting through Little House on the Prairie. That just creates a new generation of obese children who think of reading as a chore. Rather, reward your child with frequent trips to libraries and bookstores. Heck, discount stores like Dollar Tree and 99 Cent Store have all kinds of inexpensive books, writing supplies and other items that send the message to your child that reading is a reward in and of itself.
Parenting is not easy. Nobody hands you a manual at the hospital.
You need to understand, though, that you are doing a good job. If you read this column, I know you are a good parent because you are a concerned parent (my theory states that concerned parents = good parents). You want what is best for your child, and by working with your child’s teacher and your school’s administrators, I am confident that together we can move mountains with your child. More importantly, we will make learning fun and meaningful for your child so that she becomes a lifelong learner.
Danny Brassell, Ph.D., is “America’s Leading Reading Ambassador,” helping parents and educators inspire kids to love reading and achieve more. He is the author of 14 books, and he acted as the lead consultant for the Building School-Home Relationships kits (Shell, 2012) that have been enthusiastically adapted in school districts across the country. A father of three and professor in the Teacher Education Department at California State University-Dominguez Hills, he is the founder of The Lazy Readers’ Book Club, www.lazyreaders.com, Google’s #1-ranked site for cool, “short book recommendations” for all ages. Watch video tips and learn more from Danny at www.dannybrassell.com, where you can check out his TEDx-Village Gate talk The Reading Makeover and download other free resources.