Getting to Know Your Child as a Learner - 6 Ideas for Supporting Your Student at Home
Kate Remillard

 

A few years ago, I sat down with Emma Whitman, then Director of Lower School, to talk about my role at St. George’s. I was teaching in first grade at the time, and my son Oliver was getting older. 

“Emma,” I said, “you know you have to move me before Ollie gets to first grade, right? You can’t let me be his teacher. That would be a nightmare!” Of course, Emma agreed that was best. I moved up to fourth grade, successfully avoiding my children, always with the intention of switching grade levels again when either of my children got close to being in my class. I strive to be the type of teacher that can teach any child. Except my own, of course. 

And yet, here we all are… at home, taking on the new task of teaching our own children. Trust me - this is tough! Being a teacher does not actually make it feel easier. I know the content, and I am well-practiced at asking probing questions, but there is something inherently difficult about teaching your own child. Every day, I become more and more appreciative of the fantastic team of teachers my children have at St. George’s. I am so thankful for the structure they continue to provide and the way they have continued to stay in my children’s lives.

Of course, I am not alone. My husband (a former teacher who still works in education) has been a partner through all of this. We will admit-- the first full week did not go well. Some assignments went well, but others were a battle. Our kids miss their friends, and we saw behavior difficulties surface because of those underlying feelings. 

This week, we have been stepping back and trying to come up with a plan. As we did so, a few key ideas surfaced. We thought it would be helpful to share some of those ideas. If you are struggling, some of these suggestions may resonate with you, too.

Idea #1: Treat this as the beginning of the school year

All teachers in elementary education know this basic tenet: “Don’t begin core content immediately.” Parents are often surprised by this, but experienced teachers know that you have to get to know students as learners before you can successfully teach them. When we begin in August, those first weeks are devoted to building a community of learners, getting to know each child’s strengths and areas of growth so that we can properly support them in the months to come. 

As we dove into Pre-K4 and 1st grade lessons last week, my husband and I realized that we needed to step back and get to know our children as learners. We’ve spent this week observing our children as they completed their activities, asking ourselves questions like: 

  • What activities does she seem to like best? 

  • What can he do on his own? With what does he usually need help?

  • What types of questions is she likely to ask?

  • What happens if I don’t read him the instructions? Will he get it on his own?

  • Why is she so frustrated? 

Right now, we are not pushing our children. We are stepping back, letting them build their independence, showing us what they can do. We want them to do as much as possible on their own. The academic “push” for each of them can come later if needed, once they have developed confidence in this new learning environment. As needed, we are communicating with their teachers to let them know what is going well and what is not working for us.

Idea #2: Establish routines and expectations

Another part of those first six weeks is establishing routines and expectations. Children thrive when they know what to expect. Routines build independence. As much as possible, we are giving Ollie and Zoe a structure so that they know what will happen each day. Math after breakfast, outside time after lunch, etc. We also found it necessary to set expectations related to electronics. Ollie loves using his iPad for learning, but he became hyper-focused on it. We set up a bean jar for him to earn beans throughout the day for respectful behavior. When he gets all of his beans, he gets to use his iPad. We also set up a routine for once he is on the iPad: read on Raz-Kids, then Reflex, then Dreambox. When the timer dings, the iPad gets turned off. It is the same every day. 

Idea #3: Let your child take breaks

Children - and adults! - need breaks. School, especially St. George’s which is so student-centered, is full of breaks. Wiggle breaks, “brain breaks,” bathroom breaks, and food/water breaks are all important. The younger the child, the more breaks they need. Let your child tell you when he needs a break. 

Often, children seek breaks because they are frustrated or overwhelmed. Difficult tasks may lead your child to dawdle or procrastinate. If your child is taking a long time to complete a task, you can insist that your child takes a break. Before the break starts, ask your child when she will return to the task. For older students, ask how much time the task should take. After the break, help your child honor her commitment to return to the task. Set a timer so your child can focus on finishing the task within a reasonable amount of time.

Idea #4: Get your child outside

As much as possible!

Idea #5: Have your child read aloud to you

As we all know, reading is essential for learning. Initially, children just work on learning to read. Around third grade, children transition to reading to learn. They will continue reading this way for the rest of their lives. COVID-19 is a threat in many ways. For teachers, we worry most about the way this interlude will impact our students’ reading development. 

Like many in the St. George’s community, we have always read with our children. For Ollie, who is of reading age, we have begun the routine of having him read aloud to us every day. As he reads, I ask him to explain what he is reading or define a particular vocabulary word. My questions help him clarify his understanding as he goes. Reading with my son this way has taught me more about his abilities than I ever knew before! 

Idea #6: Listen to your child

My final observation is not academic but developmental: listen to your child.

There are so many reasons that school is important for children. A hidden benefit of being with one’s peers each day is that children get to relate to each other on their own level. They can share their ideas, explore, crack jokes, be silly… in short, be themselves. Children are not little adults. They need outlets to be themselves. Whenever you can, slow down and listen to your child. Laugh at his jokes. Giggle over whatever she thinks is silly. 

In closing, I want to emphasize that these musings are just a few of my own ideas. These are not particularly research-based or reflective of school policy-- they are just my own thoughts, borne out of my own teaching experience and parenting struggles. If your family is finding this transition to be difficult, you are not alone. I encourage you to reach out to your child’s teachers. They know your child best and can provide specific ideas and supports. Our counseling team is fantastic - having your child check in with Molly Sanders (Early Childhood and Lower School) or Tamara Claverie (Lower and Middle School) can help, too. 

St. George’s is our village. If we did not realize it before, we certainly know it now. That village is something to cherish. 

 

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