The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Reading Readiness

As parents you can do many things before your child goes toschool so that

he will be ready to learn to read. One of the most important is for you to read

to your child. While reading, you can put your finger under the word so that your child begins

to associate the sound of the word with the printed word. It

also helps to stop the story and ask him what he thinks will

happen next, or how the characters feel, or how he would like the

story to end. There are endless questions that help to keep your

child involved and to use his imagination.



If your child does not enjoy these questions but only wants

you to be close and to read to him, sometimes the same story over

and over and over again, do just that. Parents reading to their

children should first and foremost be a pleasant activity.

 

After doing all of these pre-reading activities, some

parents are surprised and dismayed when their child goes to

school and does not seem to be learning to read. The child does

not get an “S” for Satisfactory but gets a “N” for Needs

Improvement. If this happens to your child, immediately request

a conference with the teacher in order to understand your child’s

program. The better you understand the program, the more helpful

you can be. It is very important that parents take this action

early in order to bring about change and eventual improvement.

It is not helpful to wait until the school year is over to find

out why your child is not making progress in reading.

The reason for this is that, if there is an undetected

problem, your child may be missing out on appropriate reading

instruction in the very important early grades.

 

By third grade most programs are geared to children who have

already learned to read. Children are given books in science and

math and sometimes social studies and are expected to know how to

read them. Less time is spent on learning the mechanics of

reading. More time is spent on using reading as a tool for

learning. Children who are not on grade level are at a

disadvantage and it is very difficult for them to catch up. Each

year they fall further behind. If your child is not on grade

level in reading by the end of the second grade, it might be to

his advantage to be given another year at second grade in order

to become efficient in using reading as a tool

 

One little girl had not learned how to read by the end of

second grade. When she transferred to another school, her mother

requested that she be placed in second grade again rather than

going on to third grade. The new school ignored the mother’s

request and put the child in third grade. The girl’s mother

acquiesced because now her daughter’s new classmates may feel she

was being “put back”.  After two weeks in the new third grade,

the child herself asked to be put into second because she could

not read. She understood that until she could learn to read, she

could not do the third grade work. As a second grader, I am

happy to report that she is doing well and making progress. She

feels good about herself as a learner. Out of the mouth of babes

sometimes comes great wisdom. I encourage parents to be just as

wise.

 

 

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Teach Your Child Problem Solving

As the new school year begins, it helps to remember the following:

1. Children cannot control or change what the adults in their

lives choose to do. Therefore we need to help them to become

problem solvers and to look to themselves for solutions. Try not

to step in and solve problems for them rather look at problems

that arise as opportunities for children to learn and put into

practice problem-solving techniques. You show them more respect

by giving them these opportunities.

 

2. To be successful problem solvers, children need to believe in

themselves and to take responsibility for their own behavior.

You can help them by:

a. providing opportunities for them to accept themselves.

b. help them to use mistakes as a way to learn and not as an

excuse to say: “I’m a failure and no good.”

c. help them to take responsibility for their day.

d. use encouragement and catch them being right.

 

3. Provide opportunities for children to learn to develop

communication skills. This can be done over the dinner table.

Each member of the family can be encouraged without fear of

interruption or riducle to tell something good that happened that

day.

 

4. Provide opportunities for children to be empathetic.

Piaget says the purpose of education is moral and

intellectual autonomy. Concern for others is as important as

intellectual development.

 

5. Provide opportunities for children to understand and to

accept their unique temperaments and learning styles.

 

6. Monitor the images of violence your child is exposed to on the

TV, on-line, games, books.  Encourage stories which demonstrate

solving problems by compromise.

 

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Why Do Some Children Thrive in Adversity and Others Fail

The  question the researchers posed themselves was:  Why  do

some children succeed in face of adversity while  others–growing

up in the same circumstances–fail?  A corollary to this question

might  be:  Why do some children–who have all the advantages  of

the good life–fail?  These are interesting questions.

 
One  answer to both questions seems to be temperament.   The

survival  of the human species depends on adults bonding  to  and

wanting to nurture babies.  That is why most babies are cute  and

cuddly.   Their  survival  and the survival  of  the  human  race

depends  on  their doing this well.  Babies with  even,  pleasant

temperaments  survive.  Abused babies are likely to be those  who

cry  a  lot, do not like to be held and have  temperaments  which

resist change and novelty.

 
Ann   Masten,  associate  director  of  the  University   of

Minnesota’s  Institute  for Child Development says she  has  seen

films  of  Rumanian orphanages where there is  always  one  child

running  around looking happy.  Although there is not much  adult

attention  in the orphanage, this child manages to get it all and

survives.

 
Survivors,  research seems to show, are those  children  who

have  easy temperaments and who reach out and find  a  competent,

supportive adult who helps them.   These resilient children  have

an  appealing quality about them which is attractive  to  adults.

When such a child reaches out, an adult usually responds.


 
Some concerned citizens are making it easier for children to

find   this   concerned,  caring  adult.   Companies   like   the

Kirkpatrick  &  Lockhart law firm have mentoring  programs  which

match  the  children  up with a mentor.  One  lawyer  became  the

mentor for a girl, who despite living a life which would  destroy

most people, was described as having a “sweetness” about her.

 
The  children who reach out come not only from  economically

deprived  backgrounds,  but from all walks of  life.   They  have

learned  to solve their own problems.  They find the  environment

that helps their development, perhaps a church group, or a social

organization  or  a sports club.  If these are not  available  to

them, they spend a great deal of time at the home of a friend  or

relative who offers more support and stability than their own.

 
These  successful  children have a plan for the  future  and

know  what they want to get out of life.  They are  not  passive.

Schools help them by providing them with the skills they need  to

be successful.  One researcher found that the best predictor  for

later  success  was  strong  reading skills  by  the  4th  grade.

Parents need to be alert to this and not let a child be passed on

from  grade  to grade without reading skills at  least  at  grade

level.


 
Schools are the traditional place for these children to find

caring  adults.  There are not enough personnel in the school  to

fill  the  need,  however.  Since this is so  important  for  the

success  of  children,   it is  critical  that  companies,  other

organizations and individuals take on some of the  responsibility

for providing mentors.


 
All adults are potential mentors.  When a child reaches  out

to  you, recognize the gesture and be there, ready,  willing  and

able to provide support.

Posted in Behavior, Educational Reform, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Parenting, Teachers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning to Parent

Dr. Heather Weiss of the Harvard Family Resource Project is

finding that more and more parents are taking courses in

parenting. She is presently involved in a three year study to

determine the effectiveness of such education. Psychologists are

also exploring the reasons for this trend. Dr. Elkind of Tufts

feels that many parents are confused about how to raise their

children in a society that is so different from the one in which

they were reared. Other reasons given are: the increased mobility

and the resultant isolation of the family, parents’ attempts to

avoid the mistakes of their own parents, and the fact that many

younger parents seem more comfortable with the idea of taking

courses to learn skills.

 

Most of us have to learn to be good parents. We learn this

skill either from having good role models in our own parents,

from associating with other parents or by taking courses. It is

a skill that cannot be left to chance, because children are our

most important resource. What happens to them in their formative

years does have an effect on them as adults.

 

 

The results of recent research seems to confirm this

conclusion. Dr. Patterson of the Oregon Social Learning Center

is studying 500 families and finding that there is a very strong

relationship between parents’ irritability and children’s

aggression in school. He also found that in the act of

disciplining, many parents actually taught their children to be

disobedient because there was a lack of follow-through on the

part of the parents. These same parents seem to be unable to

resolve conflicts in the family.

 

Dr. Elaine Blechman’s studies at the Albert Einstein Medical

College find that families which give children numerous

opportunities to be problem solvers were those that had open

discussions and these children were better adjusted socially and

perform better in school. Dr. Hoffman from New York University

finds that most parents use one of three approaches to

 

discipline: reasoning, assertion of power and withdrawal of love.

The best results are obtained when the parent points out to the

child the consequences of his actions and how they affect others.

His research shows that children of parents who rely exclusively

on force and threats produce children who are aggressive in

school. Parents who discipline by withdrawing love, on the other

hand, sometimes produce children who are passive and withdrawn.

 

North Carolina has begun a program called Project

Enlightenment because of that state’s conviction that early

interventions in children’s lives make a difference. The focus

of the program is to educate key adults. One of the services is

called Talkline. For parents of children, up to age six, it

provides a call-in telephone service for developmental guidance,

referral information and general information. The fact that

parents needed such a service was attested by the fact that

parents not only called in but also complied with the suggestions

they received on techniques, books, and courses and that they

followed through on referrals.

 

One place to learn parenting skills is in high school,

preferably before teenagers become parents. There are many

excellent programs developed for this purpose. Certain parenting

skills may be inborn and instinctive. However, the higher

parenting skills required for nurturing and raising children in a

complex society such as ours, must be learned and it is never too

late to begin.

 

Posted in Behavior, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Problem Solving, Communication, Mediation

Before any citizen is sent out to make his way in the world,

he should have some expertise in the following areas: problem

solving which includes ability to communicate and mediate,

parenting and budgeting. Some people acquire expertise in these

areas by good modeling in the home. Most, however, will have to

depend on other resources one of which, by default, may have to

be the school. Learning these skills cannot be left to chance

because the future of our country depends on its citizens being

knowledgeable in these areas.

 

Let us start with problem solving. Recently there has been

a great deal said and done about teachers and citizens having

much more voice in what happens in their schools. In Chicago,

there now exists over 500 local school councils composed of

parents, local citizens, teachers and principals. The councils

can hire the principal, write the school goals and have a say in

budgetary decisions. The concept is wonderful and agrees with

everything that has been said in the research but in many cases,

it does not seem to be working. The main problem seems to be

that the members of the councils cannot work together. They

spend most of their time arguing. Perhaps if these adults had

been exposed to cooperative learning lessons while in school they

may have acquired the problem solving skills necessary to

function in a democratic society

 

Another example is the takeover of the schools in Chelsea,

Massachusetts by Boston University. In theory and according to

research, the innovations proposed should have worked. The

members of the University community and the school community did

not communicate well with each other, however. There are two

lawsuits pending against the project: one from the teachers and

one from the Hispanic community. The community feels that the

University is trying to run not only the schools but the city and

that while the university knows education, it does not know

public relations. Skills in negotiation and communication seem

crucial for change but there does not seem to be any provision

anywhere for students to learn and practice them.



Another necessary skill students need to learn is how to be

good parents. The most critical years for the developing child

are from birth to three. Unless new parents understand this and

know how to be their children’s first teacher, then these

children will have difficulty, especially in school, for a long,

long time. The best time to teach these skills is before the

students become parents.

 

Another problem area for our citizens is finances. Poor

financial understanding is probably one of the main causes for

dissension in families and leads to many broken homes. Students

need to be taught basic fundamentals. This seems to be a problem

that goes across all socio-economic levels. One jobless

executive laments the fact that she has no money even though she

was making $56,200 a year and her husband was making almost as

much. She is the mother of a 4 year old and a 10 year old. She

says she needed both of their salaries to pay the mortgage, car

payments and the necessities of life. The problem is, she

laments, since they were terrible savers, they now have no

cushion to live on.

Most of our citizens obviously do not have expertise in

these areas, so how can they teach their children. For better or

worse, I’m afraid the school system will again have to step in

and provide training for its students. Otherwise, no matter how

expert they are in academic subjects, our students and future

citizens will fail the game of life which is proving to be a

disaster for our country.



 

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Learning Styles

 

Children who have different learning styles require programs

which take into account these differences. Schools need to

develop curricula for children who develop at different rates.

There are some late blooming children who, if not allowed to

develop at their own pace, may begin to think of themselves as

unintelligent and become discouraged with learning. They may

even be given a label of learning disabled.

 

Children categorized as learning disabled generally show a

discrepancy between expected and actual achievement in one or

more areas such as spoken or written language, mathematics and

spatial orientation. This discrepancy usually is not the result

of sensory, motor, intellectual or emotional handicap and is not

supposed to be caused by a lack of opportunity to learn.

 

The child may have had the opportunity to learn but he may

not have had a program geared to his learning style. Some

children require the identification of an appropriate teaching

strategy and possibly individualized instruction in order to

master the curriculum.

 

Parents need to be aware of this in order to monitor their

child’s progress and program at school.

 

The following is a list of behavioral traits compiled by Dr.

Robert J. Schoonover, that parents can observe which would alert

them to the possibility that their child might have difficulty

with the school curriculum:

l. Difficulty with concepts of time and space.

These children cannot tell where one place is in relation to

another. They have no sense of time and learning to tell time is

difficult for them.

2. Poor sense of rhythm.

These children cannot learn poems or nursery rhymes because they

have no sense of rhythm. They cannot reproduce a series of

rhythmic taps.

3. Poor awareness of their own bodies.

These children have a poor body image. They may not know the

difference between right and left on their bodies and tend to

avoid activities that require skilled movement.

4. Poor ability to combine movement and vision.

They cannot follow moving targets and cannot judge distance or

direction by vision alone. They cannot catch or bat a ball.

5. Visual inefficiency.

Even with perfect vision some children do not notice things and

may not use their eyes to look at things at a distance.

6. Poor listening ability.

Some children can attend only to short sentences.They miss most

of what is said because they process information so slowly.

Others confuse words that sound alike. There are children who

cannot function when there is competing background noise.

?

7. Poor generalization.

Some children cannot generalize from their experiences. A child

who cannot see what corn, beans and potatoes have in common cannot

generalize to the word “food.”

8. Problems in attention.

Children must be able to focus or fix their attention on a task

to succeed in school. Some children are very distractible and

cannot screen out extraneous stimuli. There are other children

who focus on unimportant details and disregard the essentials.

 

It is important for parents to understand their child’s

learning style not only to monitor the school’s program but also

to supplement it at home. There are many good books on this

subject which are available through your librarian. I encourage

you to us them.

.

 

Posted in Behavior, Educational Reform, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Labeling, Parenting, Teachers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Good Use of Conferences

One of the best way parents can help their children in

school is to make good use of the opportunity provided to them in

parent-teacher conferences. It works even better if they are

made into parent-teacher-student conferences.

 

I believe that students should be involved in all such

meetings. It is the students learning that is under discussion,

and it is up to the students to decide whether they are going to

learn or not. Teachers can teach, and parents can support, but

if the students decide not to learn, for whatever reason, there

is not much anybody can do about it. Learning is not a passive

activity. Students must atttack the material and make it their

own.

 

When the student is present in the conference, not only does

he or she get all of the information first hand, but it gives the

adults an opportunity to experience how each one responds to the

student. It also eliminates the middle man. When the student is

not involved in the conference, the teacher reports to the

parents how the student feels, which may or may not be accurate

and the parents report to the student what the teacher said,

which also may or may not be correct. I have been involved in

very successful conferences where first grade students were

present. It is never too early for students to take charge of

their own learning.

 

In all conferences, there should be an agreed upon purpose

and time for the conference. If the parents want another person

such as the remedial reading teacher at the conference, the

request should be made prior to the conference. If the teacher

is going to have another person at the conference, the parents

should be aware of this ahead of time. All benefit if everybody

is prepared in advance, and unexpected agenda items work against

this.

 

If the stated purpose of the conference is to discuss the

student’s academic program and progress, the teacher should be

prepared with samples of the student’s work and a summary of the

student’s progress. The summary should include not only areas of

concern but also areas of strength. Above all, it should be

encouraging, not discouraging.

 

All adults at the conference should protect the student’s

self-esteem and nobody should be permitted to verbally attack the

student whether he or she is present or not.

 

The purpose of conferences if for all groups to communicate

effectively with each other for the good of the student. It

sometimes helps if the parents come to the conference with some

questions jotted down to keep the conference directed to its

intended task. Conferences should be free of educational jargon.

If parents do not understand what is being said, they should feel

free to interrupt and ask for clarification.

 

At the end of the conference, each person should summarize

what he or she understands was said and what conclusions were

reached. If the parties involved consistently have difficulty

understanding each other, it sometimes helps to have an extra

person at the conference to facilitate communication. This is

especially important if there is a language barrier.

 

All participants have an obligation to be constructive and

positive in their approach. At the end of the conference,

everyone should feel encouraged. If there were problem areas,

positive solutions should have been recommended and a plan of

action agreed upon. Follow up conferences may be scheduled

especially if a topic came up which was different from the one

agreed upon originally.

 

As a courtesy, remember that most teachers work on a tight

schedule, and conferences which go overtime use up the time of

other waiting parents. Take the opportunity to model cooperative

behavior by concluding conferences on schedule.

.

 

Posted in Behavior, Educational Reform, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Parenting, Teachers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being Lonely and Being Alone Are Two Different Things

Being alone and being lonely are two different things.

One can feel lonely in a room full of people. Loneliness is a

negative response to events in one’s life. It is an emotional

state, and it usually implies being unhappy, passive and

impotent. Being alone, on the other hand, does not have these

negative implications because it is a statement of fact. There

are many single parent families today. How they respond to being

alone in raising their children not only affects them but also

affects their children.

 

If you are a single parent you need to be cautious about not

making your children feel responsible and guilty for your feeling

of loneliness. You also need to prepare yourself for your

children’s eventual need and desire to leave home for college or

to start their own lives. One way to do this is to start by

taking charge of your own life and to begin to develop interests

and hobbies of your own while your children are still at home.

 

The most negative aspect of the sense of loneliness is

the feeling of loss of control over one’s life. People may

choose to be alone, but most try very hard not to feel lonely.

Everybody has experienced loneliness. It does not have to be

described. Most people, however, have learned how to live their

lives so that these feelings of loneliness are fleeting and not a

permanent part of their existence. Otherwise life would be too

sad. Everyone has a right to some joy in life.

It is important to know that one has a choice whether or not

to feel lonely. Nobody can make you be lonely if you choose not

to be. By the same token, it is wrong to make it someone else’s

problem if you choose to feel lonely. You do have it within your

power to change yourself.

 

One of the best way to start making the change is to

start taking charge of your life. This makes you less passive

and less the victim. It energizes you. Start by deciding that

nobody in the business world is going to take advantage of you.

Before you take your car into the auto mechanic, read a book like

“Mr. Bad-Wrench” which tells you how to deal with the mechanic.

Learn how to ask the right questions and demand to be taken

seriously. The next time you go to the doctor, learn to ask the

questions that make you a part of the decision process. Try

reading a book like “Second Opinion” so that you know what

questions to ask. It even gets to be fun after awhile learning

how to repair something around the house yourself after someone

tells you you need to buy a new one.

 

It helps to get involved in activities where there are

other people. Avoid people who are always talking doom and

gloom. Rather, try to find people or just one person who enjoys

your company and does not use you only for their own consolation.

 

Another idea is to practice being alone. You may be more

fearful than you need to be about this. Try it and you might

find you have more resources at your disposal than you thought.

For example, try planning a trip by yourself. You might begin by   �

going to Washington, Boston or New York or Atlantic City for a

weekend.

 

Seek out and use your resources. If you continue to

feel lonely in spite of your efforts to change, you may have a

physical problem. Be sure to check this out. Remember that

loneliness comes to everyone at some time in their lives. When

it comes, it does not mean that you have something intrinsically

wrong with you. Look upon it as a problem to be solved. Above

all, love and encourage yourself. You have a right to be here

and to experience love and joy. Seek it out and it will be there

for you.

 

Posted in Behavior, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Parenting | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Loneliness

Being alone and being lonely are two different things.

One can feel lonely in a room full of people. Loneliness is a

negative response to events in one’s life. It is an emotional

state, and it usually implies being unhappy, passive and

impotent. Being alone, on the other hand, does not have these

negative implications because it is a statement of fact. There

are many single parent families today. How they respond to being

alone in raising their children not only affects them but also

affects their children.

 

If you are a single parent you need to be cautious about not

making your children feel responsible and guilty for your feeling

of loneliness. You also need to prepare yourself for your

children’s eventual need and desire to leave home for college or

to start their own lives. One way to do this is to start by

taking charge of your own life and to begin to develop interests

and hobbies of your own while your children are still at home.

 

The most negative aspect of the sense of loneliness is

the feeling of loss of control over one’s life. People may

choose to be alone, but most try very hard not to feel lonely.

Everybody has experienced loneliness. It does not have to be

described. Most people, however, have learned how to live their

lives so that these feelings of loneliness are fleeting and not a

permanent part of their existence. Otherwise life would be too

sad. Everyone has a right to some joy in life.

It is important to know that one has a choice whether or not

to feel lonely. Nobody can make you be lonely if you choose not

to be. By the same token, it is wrong to make it someone else’s

problem if you choose to feel lonely. You do have it within your

power to change yourself.

 

One of the best way to start making the change is to

start taking charge of your life. This makes you less passive

and less the victim. It energizes you. Start by deciding that

nobody in the business world is going to take advantage of you.

Before you take your car into the auto mechanic, read a book like

“Mr. Bad-Wrench” which tells you how to deal with the mechanic.

Learn how to ask the right questions and demand to be taken

seriously. The next time you go to the doctor, learn to ask the

questions that make you a part of the decision process. Try

reading a book like “Second Opinion” so that you know what

questions to ask. It even gets to be fun after awhile learning

how to repair something around the house yourself after someone

tells you you need to buy a new one.

 

It helps to get involved in activities where there are

other people. Avoid people who are always talking doom and

gloom. Rather, try to find people or just one person who enjoys

your company and does not use you only for their own consolation.

 

Another idea is to practice being alone. You may be more

fearful than you need to be about this. Try it and you might

find you have more resources at your disposal than you thought.

For example, try planning a trip by yourself. You might begin by   �

going to Washington, Boston or New York or Atlantic City for a

weekend.

 

Seek out and use your resources. If you continue to

feel lonely in spite of your efforts to change, you may have a

physical problem. Be sure to check this out. Remember that

loneliness comes to everyone at some time in their lives. When

it comes, it does not mean that you have something intrinsically

wrong with you. Look upon it as a problem to be solved. Above

all, love and encourage yourself. You have a right to be here

and to experience love and joy. Seek it out and it will be there for you.

 

Posted in Behavior, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Testing Your Encouragement Skills

Which are examples of encouragement?

Can you identify the flaws in the discouraging statements?

1  You are the best math student in the whole class.

2  Don’t worry about making a few mistakes now.  Most people make some mistakes when they try something new for the first time.

3  Why can’t you get straight A’s like your sister?  You would not know you two were from the same family.

4  I know you can do it if you would only try.

5  Let’s try it together.

6  You have improved your spelling a great deal this term.

7  Your spelling is improving but you need to work on punctuation.

8  You would be so pretty if you lost ten pounds.

9  This class does a fine job of lining up for lunch.

10 You did make a mistake on this problem.  What can you learn from it?

11 I am sure that you two can straighten out your argument.  Let me know what you decide to do.

12 Your answer is absolutely correct but I have trouble reading your handwriting.

13 Sure you can do it.  After all, you do have an IQ of 120.

14 You are doing better than I ever thought you could.  I am impressed.

15 I can understand that you are angry with Mary right now.  I am sure you can handle it.

16 If you would sit up straighter, your back might not get so tired.

17 When you grow up you can make your own decisions.  Until that time you will do what you are told.

18 Which do you think we should do?  Have a party or go to the movies together?

19 If your best friend jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you want to do that too?  I do not care what all your friends are doing.  You will do what is best for you.

20 Let us see if we can figure out why it didn’t work.

Posted in Behavior, From Experience, Getting the Most For Your Child, Parenting, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments