Popular Washington Post education columnist and veteran educator Evelyn Vuko shares the inside scoop to ensure children get the best education possible. Drawing on her experience in the classroom-as well as input from authorities ranging from creative writing experts to solar physicists-Vuko gives grade-specific advice from kindergarten through high school.
Not only do children need to pledge they'll change their behavior, habits, and thinking to make each school year brighter than the last. Parents, caregivers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, principals, school bus drivers, mentors, and tutors need to take the pledge, too. In fact, anyone who cares about a child in school should renovate, revamp, and revise their thinking at the start of every school year. All it takes is a brave heart and an open mind.
The following suggestions help caregivers make every school year more successful and healthier for children:
Be a teacher. If you are involved in any way in a child's growing up, you are a teacher to them whether you've had formal training or not. Be proud of it. And stay with it until they are at least forty years old. Caring, conscientious, and ever-teaching adults are the most powerful change-makers in a kid's life.
Be the boss. You can be a friend and still be a kind source of authority to children. Boundaries are benign parameters that make kids feel safe and secure to do the difficult growing they all have to do. Don't be afraid to set limits, stick to them, and smile. Whining, pleading, and negotiating with kids undermine your role and cause them to lose respect for you. Be as good as your word.
Be a caped crusader. Be on the lookout for injustice, unkindness, prejudice, or poor manners that thread through the daily lives of you and the kids. Rectify what you can on the spot. At the very least, discuss incidents later in private, but don't give wrongheaded ideas – like ignoring someone who obviously needs help.
Give yourself a time-out. Borrow this age-old disciplinary method and use it to give yourself a breather when life with kids puts a strain on your good nature. It can be as simple as closing the bathroom door and taking ten deep breaths or making a show of leaving the room when behavior or noise becomes more than any self-respecting adult should have to bear. You deserve a break every day.
Learn how to calm yourself. Continue that deep breathing; take martial arts, yoga, exercise classes, or long walks. There's a lot to be gained by finding your center point and learning to stay there. Practicing your methods in front of kids every day teaches them that knowing how to calm yourself is critical to living healthfully and successfully in the world.
Be mannerly. Simple good manners aren't simple at all but powerful lessons that reinforce for kids the importance of human kindness and consideration. Hold the door open for the people behind you, listen more, don't interrupt others, and write thank-you notes. By your example and your instruction, you'll teach children to do it, too.
Leave neatness trails. Even if you never considered yourself a neat or organized person, pick up after yourself when a kid is near or watching. This could form a good habit. Leaving a clear, clean space behind you demonstrates thoughtfulness, reinforces order, and models efficiency. Kids need all those things for daily living and for facing the constant challenges of school.
Be a stuff editor. Don't let miniature plastic bear collections, magazines, newspapers, old clothes, plastic containers, books, or assorted stuff take over your life. Sort, discard, or donate your excess items regularly. Set aside special times, seasonally, to keep stuff from distracting and disrupting your life and the lives of the kids. The lesson is, don't let your possessions own you.
Speak a foreign language. Research shows that all language skills improve when kids under 10-years-old become familiar with a language other than their own. So do not stop speaking your native language or an adopted second language just because the kids attend English-speaking schools. Learn and speak and give them directions in a new foreign language. Venga!
Be a storyteller. Tell stories or jokes about yourself as a kid, about your grandmother, or about the lady in the supermarket today who surfed 15-feet on squashed grapes and came to a safe stop in the arms of the produce manager. Spontaneous oral presentations highlight the rhythm and beat of language, make vocabulary come alive, reveal the theater in daily life, and fire the imagination – all of which translate directly to the children's reading and writing skills.
Think out loud. Talking out loud as you ponder a new problem provides a time saving and simple way to teach kids how to analyze a challenge, consider alternatives, select a course of action, and solve the problem at hand. Do this for your own problems and offer your out loud strategies whenever thorny issues face them. If not for you, how many opportunities will they have to witness the inner thinking of an adult, especially of an adult that you want them to emulate?
Raise the bar. If you challenge yourself, it's easier to challenge children. Tell them, for example, that this year you're keeping the same study hours they do so that you can learn Italian. Ramp up their Spanish grades by offering to test them on their verbs if they will test you on yours.
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