Step 2 - REFLECT: Page 1

Thursday
Jul012010

What Makes My Child Thrive?

This page covers:

  • Tips on sizing up your child’s best learning environment
  • The theory of multiple intelligences
  • Questioning your child’s readiness to start school
  • Using your new-found insight to guide you in the school search

It’s time to take an even and open-eyed look at your child.  Obviously, this decision is going to affect him or her more than anyone, so taking stock of the kind of school that would bring out their best is significant. 

Start by listing five or so recent situations in which you witnessed your child turned on to learning, being noticeably joyful and relaxed, and aglow with excitement. Now consider:  what were the common elements between those moments?  Let’s try to break it down a bit.  We’ll look at physical environment; interests, talents and intelligences; and school readiness.

Physical Environment

As you look at your list, think about where your child was in these moments.  For some kids, these great learning moments have a lot to do with their physical environment.  For some kids, a recess of grass and climbing and bouncing and shouting is pivotal to their learning, as it expends physical energy in order to harness mental energy back in the classroom. Other kids are captivated by natural spaces and are most engaged when watching a caterpillar eat or planting a seed.  Some kids thrive in an organized space; others love the freedom of a more haphazard setting.

Think about these questions: 

  • What do these places have in common physically? 
  • If my child had his choice of where to spend three hours, which would s/he choose?  Farm, museum, woods, neat clean room, art studio, playground, amusement park, library? 

Child Interests, Talents, and Natural Intelligences

Once again, take a closer look at these moments when your child was really turned on to learning, and ask WHAT your child was doing, and HOW s/he was learning. Was s/he learning a new sport?  Studying a leaf?  Writing a story?  Playing an instrument?  What subjects and experiences really get your child going?

These leanings can translate directly into favorite subjects at school.  Which subject areas come naturally, and which do you predict will need more explicit instruction?    Clarifying these will help you know what you are looking for, and guide your critical eye when visiting schools.

Yet another way to look at these differences is by looking for broader learning patterns.  There are many ways to think of these, one of them being Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.  This theory holds that the traditional concept of intelligence is too narrow, and that there are many kinds of intelligence, including: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, body-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.  While his theory is controversial, we still find these categories as useful in defining the strengths that your child demonstrates, as well as areas where s/he could be more challenged and developed. 

Questions to ponder:

  • What does my child learn easily?  What subject areas don’t appear to come naturally?
  • What seem to me to be my child’s natural intelligences?
  • What are some recent examples of things that my child has taught him or herself to do without prompting from an adult?
  • Do I want to find a school that plays to my child’s strengths, develops his or her weaknesses, or is balanced in focus?
  • What interests and talents do I expect to support outside of school, and which ones do I expect to be addressed at school?

Note: Our contributor, TherapistMama, offers more on understanding your child's temperament, searching for a school setting that fits their needs, and helping them master their moods. And if your child is on the shy side, you can learn to embrace the many gifts of introversion!

Readiness

This one is for parents of incoming kindergartners who have children with birthdays hovering around that September 1st cut off date.  Although these days, even parents of spring babies are asking the question:  Is my child ready for kindergarten?  Redshirting, as it is dubiously called, is the increasingly common practice of starting kids in kindergarten a year late in hopes that a delay will make for a more socially and intellectually mature child primed to handle the pressures of school.

There are good reasons to wait a year, and good reasons to forge ahead.  Many parents of boys cite their slower maturation rate and argue that there is little downside to allowing boys another year of growth before kindergarten.  Most kindergarten teachers pipe in their agreement on this point.  Others point to the changes in education over the past ten years which has led to raised academic expectations for kindergarteners and noticeable increases in pencil and paper activities.  Some see that their child is not ready for the larger and more independent social dynamics of the kindergarten year.  Some kids are on the smaller side and need a year to catch up physically with their peers.  And some parents just think ahead to that sophomore year in high school and consider the advantages of their child being the oldest (and perhaps wisest?) in their peer group rather than the youngest trying to keep up.  Protective dads of girls feel this one especially pungently.

But as with every position, there is the counter-argument.  Indeed, there are good reasons to go ahead and sign your child up, even if his birthday is just before the deadline.  Perhaps your child is tall and will tower over children significantly younger. Or, s/he is precocious and shows real eagerness to be in kindergarten, and is in danger of being bored if you wait.  Remember that the four-year-old that you are scrutinizing across the room in February is not the child that s/he will be in the six plus months when that first day of kindergarten rolls around.  It is hard to estimate readiness six months in advance. 

Questioning “readiness”:

  • What signs of emotional, social, and academic readiness do I see in my child?
  • When I consider my child as a teenager, I see him or her happiest as the oldest/youngest in the group because…

OK, I did my thinking, now what?

Now the harder part (not that this was easy)...  What do you do with this information?  Some (including Gardner) would say to seek a school that encourages and fosters what your child does well already.  Others would advise you to seek out a school that does just the opposite – one that will balance him or her out with strong instruction in the subjects or styles that don’t inspire him or her.  We don’t have the answer, but we encourage you to ask the question. 

Thinking about this may lead you to consider some areas that you would be willing to supplement outside of school.  For instance, you may have a very artistic child and decide that isn’t a priority in a school setting for you, in part because you plan on sending him to art class at least once a week.  It’s worth noting at this point, and you can always check out our suggestions on Supplementing.

Note: As parents we ask ourselves all these questions because we want our kids to succeed in school. It's worth pointing to current research that deems "Self-Control" and "Character" as true keys to success. The bottom line for most of us is that we hope to raise happy kids - and for that, we love this resource.

Hopefully you’ve done some Q & A regarding your child and have plenty to ponder now.  The take away from this page is that you’re at least a little more focused on what kind of learning environment(s) will bring out the best in your child.  This additional clarity alone will help guide you as you look at your school options and other learning opportunities.

« previous pagenext page »