Let me tell you a story. A true story.
When I was working with small groups of struggling students in an inner city school the nearest classroom to my small ‘closet’ belonged to a class of multicultural kindergarten children. The energy in that room was amazing. Despite language and cultural differences, the teacher made all the children feel special and set them on their path to school learning.
She was an amazing teacher who taught her kids much more than the curriculum.
I was intrigued by how well she managed this disparate group of young children. How she got many of them to have a head start on their learning.
I asked her how she knew which children were going to be successful. Which children were going to benefit from their year in kindergarten?
What she told me has stuck with me.
She said that she knew from the moment a child and the parents entered her classroom for the initial interview whether that child was going to have a good year or not. And that she was rarely proved wrong!
She knew from the first moment she met a child!
I wanted to know more. How did she know which kids were going to succeed?
This is what she told me. The kids who were going to be successful –
- looked around the room to see what was there
- listened to what she was telling them
- went to play with the toy or game that she left out for them
- asked their parent’s permission to play with the toy
- replied to her when she asked their name
- could take off their own coat!
These children were ready to learn.
Kids who were going to struggle to learn –
- hung onto their mother’s coat
- waited to be told they could play rather than ask permission
- didn’t reply to her when she asked a question
- were either shy or the opposite – ran around the room touching everything.
She knew that she would have to work hard to get these children ready to learn!
Next came the big question. Did she know why some kids were ready to learn and would have a successful year while others would always be behind the eight ball?
I was expecting a response that included reference to a child’s level of intelligence, level of language (remember this was a multicultural group – many of them spoke no English), cultural differences etc. Surely all these issues influenced how well a child would learn?
Her answer came swiftly and simply. And shocked me!
She said that is was parents who made the difference!
Parents were the ones that helped children be ready to learn. And, when a child was ready to learn she could teach him or her anything!
I knew that parents had an important role to play in helping children succeed in school. All my training and experience had taught me this. But I didn’t know how important parents are to a child’s success in school until I did my personal research and held in depth conversations with many parents who were trying to help their kids do well.
And even then it took me a few months to fully accept and understand what my research had revealed.
I am a teacher. I have been teaching students for over 35 years. I felt responsible for helping these children learn. Surely, it was me, the teacher, who was the biggest influence on a child’s learning?
It was hard to let this belief go. It took me a while to understand that yes, children need good teachers and good teaching has an enormous influence on how students learn the curriculum, pass exams, get good grades, but teachers can only make these things happen when parents have set the scene for learning.
Set the scene for learning? What the heck does that mean?
In a nutshell it means that parents have helped kids develop the vital foundational skills that make learning possible.
It means parents have helped their children develop empathy and sympathy so they become social beings. It means parents have ensured their children have healthy habits; they sleep and eat well and get exercise and regular physical check-ups. And it means that they have helped children develop a whole range of skills that are vital to understanding and processing information.
This sounds like a big job – and it is. But nearly all parents do this without even thinking about it. It becomes part of regular parenting and is not only not stressful but most of the time it is fun.
I was a teenager when my brother as born. My mother was ill so much of the child care landed on my shoulders. I loved it! I remember propping my brother against a door and encouraging him to take his first step! I remember laughing as he tried to use new words. I remember reprimanding him when he wouldn’t share his toys.
I didn’t know it but I was helping him develop the skills he needed to become an A student. I was setting the scene for learning.
The most important way parents can set their young child on a path to success is to give them language skills. When a child learns to talk and communicate he or she is ready to use language to explore the world, ready to learn to read, ready to ask for what is needed.
Talking and listening to a child is the most important thing parents can do to set the scene for learning.
It doesn’t even have to be English! Once a child understands the power of words he or she can transfer that knowledge to any other language without too much trouble.
The students who will be successful in school are not necessarily the brightest kids in class. They are the kids whose parents have set the scene for learning. They are the kids who have developed the foundational skills that make learning possible.
That’s the job of parents. Get your child ready to learn. Then teachers can spend their precious time pouring knowledge into brains that are ready for it.