by Robert J. Doman Jr.
Summer is over at last. The kids are back in school and you are getting settled into the new routine. Don’t get settled too fast, because now is the time to reorganize, get your act together and to do it right!
By the time this article reaches your homes, you have probably already started the settling process. The children are getting used to getting up early again. You’re discovering what a few hours of peace and quiet can mean to your sanity and you’re probably already slipping back into some of the same old bad habits. Don’t do it; take the time now and look at where you are going, where you would like to be going and how you can get there. Get organized, look at all or as many factors involved as possible and put together your game plan. If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.
Let us look at some more common problems and conflicts that arise from the interaction of parent-child, parent-teacher, child-teacher, parent-child- school, and home program.
A decision was probably made last spring or during the summer about what class your child would be attending this fall. For most there was little or no decision made, your child merely went to the next grade. For many of you, however, making the choice of class was not achieved as easily. Depending upon your child’s particular needs and the availability of special services within your community, your decision and that of your school could have been difficult or more painful than root canal work. However, when the decision for class placement was made, that decision was based largely upon supposition. What you, the school, or both “thought” would be best. Now that your child has had some time in the classroom you can look at the placement knowing how it is rather than how you thought it would be. With your new knowledge you may wish to make a change if you think another placement may be better. Act now, don’t spend the rest of the year wishing you had.
If you are looking for the ideal class placement, chances are great that you will be disappointed. You do, however, want to find a class that meets most of the basic criteria for an appropriate placement. The classroom environment should be positive, affording the child the necessary structure. Material should be presented at the level of your child or as close as possible. The other children in the class should be functioning at a level so as to provide your child with good models and the child should perceive the class in a positive way. Many parents ask me whether I think they should put their child into a “normal” class or a “special” class. The question is one that I can rarely answer for them because it depends upon the particular “normal” or “special” class and the child. Remember that by assuming more of the responsibility at home for your child’s education the less crucial the class placement is.
Length of School Day
In general, children under six can handle a half day of school and children six and over a full day. By a half day and a full day I am referring to a three- and six-hour day, respectively, with fifteen minutes travel time to and from school. For many children the time required to ride to and from school on a bus is excessive and greatly adds to the length of time they are away from home. For the child with relatively severe problems and a lengthy home program, the parent may wish to only utilize a half-day school program. You should not expect your child to spend six hours in school, plus travel time and expect them to perform well at home for a home program which takes two or more hours to accomplish. Many families have discovered that if they take the children to school themselves and pick them up that it greatly reduces the child’s time away from home. A rule of thumb for appraisal of school versus home time, is that the greater your child’s problems the greater their need for individual attention, and the greater the child’s needs for individual attention the less able the school to provide for your child’s needs.
Organized sports, music lessons, dance lessons, gymnastics, Karate, choir, church activities, social organizations, scouts, etc., there are many activities that may be vying for your child’s time. All the activities mentioned and others may be positive and productive but must be viewed within the context of the child’s needs. Time is limited. Time used is invested so invest it wisely. Each extracurricular activity that is worthy of the investment must be directed toward a particular need of the child. It must also be incorporated into the child’s schedule on a priority basis. Because an activity is fun, a friend is involved in the activity, or because you think that it would be nice may not be sufficient reason for the investment. As an example of what is often a poor investment (not always) is the investment of time and money in piano lessons. Some children really want to play the piano. Some families are musically inclined and can regularly provide the child with special opportunities to develop and use musical talent and ability. However, many parents make their children take lessons and very few of those ever develop a skill that they can use in their lives. Look at the cost when deciding the worth of the investment. A child who takes piano or violin, or whatever lessons and practices for fifteen minutes per day is making an annual investment of 5,475 minutes. That is a very large investment. Can your child afford it? If “yes” great, go for it. If your child has some major or minor inefficiencies that go unattended because there is not sufficient time, the lessons are very possibly a very poor investment. Measure each extracurricular activity and its value against your child’s needs and the value to their future.
Homework and Program
One of our more difficult dilemmas that we face once school has begun, is that of homework and program. This year, according to a national report on the status of American education, you can expect your children to be bringing home more work than ever before. “If the children of our country are not learning as well as they should be, give them more homework.” There is no way to address this issue without looking at the homework. While doing this, please bear in mind some points we make in our tapes and seminars. First, the educational process is one in which we provide input to produce output. Second, with rare exception, is that individualized education is the most efficient form of education. Third, many ways traditionally utilized to put in information are inefficient, slow, and negative, turning the child off to learning rather than turning them on to it.
The other night my son asked for assistance with his geometry homework. He had not the slightest idea how to do the assigned problems. It has been over twenty years since I had geometry and the assignment that he brought home bore no resemblance to anything that I can remember. I could have said, “Alex, it’s your assignment not mine. Go back into your room and just keep reading over the material until you get it, even if it takes all night.” If that had been my choice he would have spent hours learning to hate geometry. He would have been looking at something that did not make sense to him and providing his brain with wrong information. Instead, I sat down with him and tried with him to make sense out of the material, if possible. We completed the assignment together slightly improving the quality of input. The result was that he did not spend the evening in frustration. We did make some discoveries and found geometry somewhat interesting. Alex learned that he should really pay attention in class. He would even go to his geometry teacher after school and make sure that he understood so he would not get lost this early in the year. By the way, we got half of them right; it’s not impossible after all. I think we are getting the hang of it and I bet that we do even better the next time.
One problem surrounding much of your child’s schoolwork is that of “instructional level” and “frustration level.” Giving a test to discover what your child knows produces a grade level at which he or she is functioning. This level is called his or her “frustration level.” This means that if I were to give the child material at that level, that the child could not do the work independently without experiencing frustration. Therefore, in order for the child to work independently, I should give the child material a grade level below that point so that the child can work without frustration. This is all true, and if the child is to be working on output and working independently the “instructional level” is the appropriate level at which to do it. Let us call it what it is: the “output level.” Rather than call the level at the height of the child’s knowledge the “frustration level” let us call it the “input level.”
There is obvious value in output. However, in analyzing the investment of our child’s time we need to keep a balance between input and output with the weight leaning to the former for the child who is behind and needs to catch up.
Homework is used primarily to reinforce that which is presented in school. Homework is also given with the assumption that the parent is not going to take much, if any, of the responsibility for the child’s education. For the parent who is actively working with their child on a home program, the basic premise upon which homework is constructed is erroneous. Teachers and involved parents must acknowledge that the teacher’s responsibility is situational and temporary while the responsibility of the parent transcends that of the teacher and is relatively permanent.
The role of the involved parent is such that you must analyze homework in light of what you are doing with the child yourself, provide assistance when it is needed and requested direct study time and technique to improve your child’s efficiency and use of time (e.g., have the children put definitions, dates, etc., on tape), and establish good lines of communication with your child’s teacher so that your efforts can complement each other.
Communication Between Parent and Teacher
Countless times I have had parents tell me that they thought everything was going well in school. Then the report card came out and it was too late for them to do anything about the problem. Communication between parent and teacher should occur weekly and when a particular problem exists, on a daily basis. Most teachers want your child to do well. Most teachers welcome the involvement of parents, and most teachers want all the help that they can get. Speak with your child’s teacher or teachers. Establish lines of communication, be it regular notes sent back and forth, weekly meetings or telephone calls, etc. Let the teacher know that you are involved, and plan to be involved. If you are unable to elicit the cooperation of the teacher, speak with the school principal. A teacher’s job is to work with the children and the parents. A teacher who is unwilling to cooperate with parents, or who feels threatened by a parent’s involvement, needs to change or be changed.
Do not bet your child’s future on his or her ability to structure their time well and to use their resources to the best of their ability. Help the child by establishing a structured routine and by following it consistently. Establish study time, homework time, program time, and free time. Limit the use of the television, stereo, and telephone. When establishing a structure, be firm but reasonable. The first thing to schedule, not the last, is free time. You cannot expect a child to spend six hours in school, come home to homework and program, then go to bed so that they can get up the next morning smiling and eager to begin a new exciting day. Time needs to exist each day in which the child can be a child, to relax and have fun. If you create a negative environment, do not expect a positive child.
The person who coined the phrase “Terrible Twos” didn’t have a teenager. Working with a teenager requires a terrific sense of balance knowing when to pull back on the reins, and when to let them have their head. If I were to identify the three most common problems parents have in dealing with their teenagers they would be: 1) being negative not positive; 2) not providing them with sufficient structure; and 3) attempting to assume their responsibility.
Do not be afraid to establish structure. The nature of the beast is such that they resist structure, but really welcome it. Teenagers are at a point in their lives where hundreds, if not thousands, of options open up to them. They are required to make many choices before being equipped to do so. If we can provide them with a firm structure to eliminate some of those choices we are doing them a great favor.
Your teenager should be responsible for their own grades. As a parent you should provide the structure, a place for them to work and study and assistance when needed. It is not your responsibility for the grades received: If the grades are good, they are your grades; if they are poor, they are your grades. Either way, your child is not being given the opportunity to earn and own his or her own grades. As a parent of a teenager, assume your responsibilities, not theirs.
Create a Positive Environment
First and last, put it at the top of your list, the bottom, and in the middle: Create a Positive Environment. Now is the time get organized, reestablish your commitment, and get going. Your child is worth your investment.
Reprinted from the Journal of The NACD Foundation (formerly The National Academy for Child Development)