We begin teaching our children the moment they are born. Intuitively, we teach them to eat and develop sleep patterns. We progress to teaching them to smile, make noises, move about. We get excited when they can speak and begin to see the light bulbs go off as they learn their letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. And voila! We have prepared them for preschool. We pat ourselves on the back, buy a cute backpack and shed a few tears of pride as they head off to school. Right? Well, not so much anymore.
The state of the educational system in our country is a heated and often a politically based issue. This article is not intended to be a commentary on this state of affairs, but rather a navigational map to help wade through the choices that have resulted from the varying opinions of how to teach our children best. At the core of all educational systems is the concept of helping our children learn to better not only their own lives, but those of their generation. We want our children to have the best opportunities for success. The following are some suggestions for achieving this broad based goal keeping different agendas and opinions in mind.
1) Develop your “Educational Philosophy”
2) Research your options
3) Understand your community
4) Know your child
5) Stay involved
6) As with most parenting decisions…you can change your mind!
Develop your Educational Philosophy
Take some time to sit down and develop your educational goals for your child. Consider the bigger picture…what is it that you want your child to take away from school? What hierarchy would you place upon the typical answers…acquisition of knowledge, working together with peers, development of critical thinking, or simply a love of learning? Having a clearly defined framework will allow you to put all the right educational choices in place for your child without the drama of having to rethink each step or be swayed by a classmates or neighbors choice. Keep it simple.
Research your options
Find out what types of schools are in your area. Keep an open mind and explore
schools that you might initially think are not right for your family. Even a school that you don’t end up at, might offer you a glimpse or tidbit of education that you had not considered. Just gathering the facts will help you make a more informed decision. It can also be quite valuable to talk with families who have been at different schools.
Understand your community
It is important to not consider these weighty issues in isolation. Know what social
practices are common in your area. I am particularly referring to notions such as
“educational red shirting”. Some communities tend to hold children with Spring and Summer birthdays back another year before starting Kindergarten. This would make them the older kids in the class and potentially more advanced academically, socially, and athletically. There are also communities where kids go to preschool for 3 years and those that do not go to preschool at all. While I am guessing that these types of practices might occur to some extent or another in every community, knowing which ones prevail in your community might help.
Know your child
Better than knowing your community, is knowing your child. The good news….no one knows your child better than you! You can have your child’s IQ tested and evaluated for school readiness, etc, but there isn’t an expert in the world that can tell you more about your child as a whole than what you already know. It is true that testing can reveal aspects of your child’s intelligence or learning patterns that you have not yet discovered or perhaps explain behaviors that you were not able to label. For these reasons, I believe testing can be valuable when considered with your child’s other characteristics. Is your child introverted or extroverted? Do they like to learn or does there seem to be a road block? Are they happy around others or struggling socially? Does your child seem more advanced than other kids or behind other kids? When you begin to think about your child, be careful that you are seeing them for who they truly are and not who you want them to be.
So even after you make what seems to be the most monumental of all decisions…you are not off the hook! It is very important to play an active role. It is important to engage with your child every night about what they did that day. This will encourage sharing, conversations, and questioning. It will send the message to your child that they and what they are doing is very important to you. At the same time, you will keep your finger on the pulse of their learning. This will allow you to quickly address problems that arise and make adjustments as needed.
You can change your mind!
As your child grows, he/she may require a different educational environment. Not only do you need to keep an open mind, but be amenable to changing it! Sometimes it is only through experience that we can truly evaluate a choice. Don’t be afraid to cut your losses and try a new tact. With growth and maturity, comes a say in the decision making process. Listen to your child. Weigh what they may have to say, then remember that you are the parent.
Ultimately, you are responsible for the first 13-16 years of your child’s education. You will set the tone and expectations for these years of learning that will greatly shape who they become. We have a very influential role in the lives of our children. We can help nurture a love for learning that will in turn help them succeed, reach their potential, and be happy. There are no “right’ answers to these questions or choices. Do you have any additional tips or insight on parents just beginning, or even ending, their child’s education journey? Leave them in the comment section below.
Esse Health Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine at Watson Road
9930 Watson Road, Suite 100
St. Louis, MO 63126