July 28, 2015

Looking Ahead To The New School Year

Whether your child will venture forth on her very first school experience this fall, will transition to a new school, or will just start the next grade at her old location… now is the time to take some steps to get the year off on the right foot. Here are some thoughts:

Remember who’s going 
and who’s not. 
Even though it’s startling to realize you’re the parent of a child old enough to start kindergarten or middle school (or even college), going to school is your child’s experience, not yours. So while you might be inclined to dress for success the first few days on a new job, your child more likely wants to dress for comfort or dress to blend in. When you shop for school clothes and school supplies, practicality and your child's wishes are the qualities to shoot for.

Keep your worries to yourself. 
You might be anxious to know that your child was assigned your preferred teacher or gets into your choice of school or is chosen for a special program.  That’s understandable: most of us would like to be granted our every wish. But don’t share your anxieties with your child. As you know, not every wish comes true and if your child knows your wish was disappointed his perception of his new class will be tainted. Don’t set things up for a bad beginning.

Realize that every experience is educational. 
One of the great advantages going off to school has over home-schooling is the diversity of experience that school affords. Children have to learn to adapt, work things out, and make do. This is not a bad thing. Learning to get along with others on their terms is probably the single most-important part of the school curriculum. Don’t try to manage every detail or make things “right.” They may actually be right, right now.

Be hopeful and be glad. 
A cheerful, positive outlook is a great gift you can give your child. Help him start the new school year feeling optimistic and capable. Finish up the summer on a high note and look ahead with anticipation.

It’s going to be a great year!

(c) 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Get free downloads and more at www.patricianananderson.com

July 01, 2015

3 Quick Tips To Get Kids To Read This Summer

Famed Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl was asked once how to get a middle-grades child to read. The child’s parent said she’d tried requiring a set amount of reading time in order to earn video game privileges but that her child wasn’t reading with any pleasure. Instead, he was reading in a mechanical way, as if he was being forced to eat his vegetables. What, the mother asked, was she doing wrong? And, more importantly, what could she do right?

Before I get to Nancy Pearl’s suggestion of what to do, let’s look at why what this mother did wasn’t working. The problem is economic. The child was having to pay for something he wanted by doing something it was assumed he didn’t want to do. Just as requiring vegetables to get to dessert sends the message that the parent  agrees that ice cream is more desirable than broccoli, requiring reading to get to video games sends the message that reading is a chore, like making the bed, that has to be dispatched before being allowed to go out to play.

Setting up these if-then contingencies creates a value system. The activity of greater value is what must be bought by a less-valued activity. In the parent’s scenario, reading can never be fun for her child, since she’s already designated it as much less-fun than video games.

The first step in the solution to this problem is to uncouple video game play and reading. Instead of insisting that reading be done before games can be played, just limit the amount of video game play per day  and require a certain amount of reading each day.  No activity –reading or video games – should dominate the child’s time. Every child should get outside, should make things, and should play with friends, as well as reading and enjoying screen time.

At the same time, act as if what the child is reading is interesting. Ask him about the plot, about the characters, what he likes or doesn’t like about the way the author writes, and so on. Let him read aloud to you a passage he thinks is funny. Value his reading, not just as a ticket to something else, but as something interesting all on its own.

And then, as Nancy Pearl suggests, get the right books in front of your child. Perl suggests concentrating on funny books, even if these aren’t always books of literary merit. In addition, books of amazing feats, weird science, and strange facts are usually interesting to middle school kids, despite their sometimes lack of reliability.  All reading is good reading. Let your child read what he wants.

What if your child is required by his school to read a list of books over the summer? And what if he thinks these books are deadly dull? Again, separate this task from his own reading for pleasure.  And  because it’s separate, do it differently. Read these books together, working together to get them all read by the start of the school year. Your child will get more out of the experience than if he plodded through these on his own, because he’ll be able to talk with you about the story and you’ll be able to add your own insights. Just don’t let this sort of reading be confused with his own fun reading. Let him feel a sense of accomplishment for completing this homework task and a sense of fun in doing his own reading of what he likes.

Most of all, don’t tie reading to any sort of rewards or punishment. Make some reading every day a requirement but also put books in front of your child that he wants to read.

(c) 2015, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. Free downloads and other good stuff at www.patricianananderson.com