I grew up in a generation where the teacher’s word was final. It didn’t matter what excuses you made, your parents believed and trusted the teacher when they said that you hadn’t been doing your homework, you had been disruptive, or that the detention they gave you was merited. It seems all those children have grown up with resentment. All those years of being ignored, not trusted, not given the benefit of a doubt… now, together they rise to stand up against the teacher.
In the last several months I have been working in a school where I have witnessed this first hand. The entire parent-teacher dynamic has shifted, and I feel parents in particular have lost site of what educating your child entails. First and foremost, it is a joint endeavor. Your child’s success is the goal of every teacher he or she will have (otherwise they wouldn’t be teachers). They will be provided with the same opportunities and attention as all of their peers, but what the teachers cannot control, and what will differ from one student to the other, are the opportunities and motivation they receive at home.
The number one predictor of a child’s academic success is parent involvement. Parents who read to their children have higher rates of reading achievement, and it escalates from there. Higher rates of reading achievement leads to higher rates of self confidence, which leads to higher levels of academic success. Simply having books around the house gives your child opportunities to look through them, or familiarize themselves with them. Furthermore, families who engage in conversation with their children, asking them questions as simple as “how was your day?”, “what did you learn at school?” will increase their conversational skills, their cognitive abilities and reinforce what they had already learned.
It seems these days that “common knowledge”, is not so common anymore. This was something I realized a long time ago when I heard that many of my friends had never heard of Darwin. We had attended the same schools, met the same people, been there for the same conversations, and there is no doubt in my mind that they had at some point been exposed to Darwin, Darwinism or the theory of evolution. So why was it that they could not recognize the name? After an immense debate on what is considered “common knowledge”, I believe that those friends will now never forget who Darwin is. They probably hear the name more often than ever, they spot it on car bumpers and hear references in movies. This is known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, basically implying that it is due to selective attention. These things were always around, but those same people did not pay attention to them, as it was never given any importance.
Therefore, when teaching our children, shouldn’t we expose them to as much as possible?Teach them the importance of “common knowledge”, talk about current events, geography and history, even at the most basic levels. Ask questions and promote critical thinking. That way, when they reach the classroom and the teacher mentions Darwin, your child may be the first to mention the theory of evolution or survival of the fittest. When the teachers mentions Shakespeare, your child might remember Romeo and Juliet (even though you might have spared them the details of the tragic ending). The teacher will show that she is impressed by his or her knowledge, and this will motivate your child to learn more, and consequently become more likely to succeed.
In other words, if “selective attention” is a thing, why not help create “the selection” that which your child will be focusing their attention. Remove “I don’t know” from their vocabularies, and replace it with “I’ve heard of that before” or “that rings a bell”. Now, it can be their teacher’s turn to capture their curiosity and guide them to fill in the gaps.
To sum up, here are some things every parent should do in order to raise motivated and “smart” children:
- Read to them: This can start from the crib. Show them picture books and let them grow into bigger, more detailed ones.
- Make conversation and ask questions. Ask them their opinions and remain neutral, if you disagree challenge them but don’t judge them. Allow them to back up their thoughts with facts or experiences.
- Let them play and explore and learn from their surroundings.
- Show them that you value education by educating yourself and demonstrating that you too can always learn new things.
- Involve them in story telling, create your own stories together.
- Teach them about their culture and the cultures of others. Why someone else’s values might differ from theirs.
- Teach them to be respectful! Students with higher behavioural issues, have lower rates of academic success. Lead by example. Demonstrate respectful behaviour towards your peers, other family members and especially your child’s educators.
- Limit television – everything in moderation is okay. But limiting television can then increase the time your child spends playing with toys, which stimulate imagination and brain activity.
- Praise your child for their effort, even if they don’t get the intended results. It is always important to acknowledge good behaviour and teach them that we can learn from our mistakes.
- Motivate them and encourage them! Simply be there for them! We will not all raise geniuses in every field, but if we can teach them to be good people, and master at least one field then we are shaping them to lead successful lives.