We want to have great schools to send our kids to, but the truth is their home environment has a profound impact on their learning. The old saying, "The most important work you do takes place within the walls of your home," applies here. Let me demonstrate this truth with an example of how to raise writers (that is, students who have strong writing skills).
When I taught high school English, I could always determine which students did some writing at home with their parents in the course of their everyday life. They did better in classroom writing and generally had a more positive attitude about writing, assuming that it was what grown-ups did in real life, not just cruel and unusual assignments reserved only for school.
Then some interesting research came out a few years ago, studying factors in families that support kids' developing writing skills, that confirmed what I'd observed in the classroom1.
Here are some of the findings: These children had a lot of conversation and reading at home. There was at least one adult who interacted with them about their writing; took time to let them read their stories, poems, or whatever they'd written aloud; and encouraged them to express themselves on paper. They suggested real reasons to do practical writing like making lists (of friends to invite to a party or foods they'd like to eat in the coming week) and wrote notes to their kids at home on sticky notes, on a whiteboard in a central place for family messages, and in their lunch boxes.
These were not parents who were professional writers, but ones who saw writing as a lifelong skill and encouraged it at home.
And writing, by the way, is a valuable skill, even (and especially) in this high-tech era. There are well over 30 million jobs today in which people use writing to convey and transfer information; because we're in an information-oriented world, success in great part depends on a precise and effective use of spoken and written language. So a young person who can write and speak well (the two skills tend to work together) will be the adult who can rise to the top of his field.
Take this same principle and apply it to other things your children need to learn, such as math (the attitude about math that kids come into the classroom with, and experiences at home with measuring, learning to set up a simple budget, counting toys while putting them away on shelves) and reading (avid young readers tend to come from homes where there's a lot of reading aloud, parents are engaged in their own reading, and interesting books and magazines are available).
Not just moms, but dads also have an important role in developing their kids to be lifelong learners. Mothers are often the ones expected to help with homework and volunteer at school, but over and over studies show that a father's encouragement and support — whether it's reading aloud to his children, sharing a hobby, or showing genuine interest in the content that his kids are learning, not just the grades — can have a powerful impact on raising lifelong learners.
And if you decrease your own and your children's time in front of the television during the school week and spend the time in other, more productive ways like playing board games or talking around the dinner table, you'll be surprised at how this translates into more motivation for learning in the classroom.
Excessive TV watching (including DVDs and videotapes) robs kids of important parent-child time and is strongly related to inattention and childhood obesity. And please don't put a television or computer in your young child's room, isolating him or her from family interaction and parental supervision.
Make the most of your role model, because the top way kids learn is by imitation. The daily example you set in being interested in learning about the world around you, being persevering, patient, and optimistic about your challenges at work or home (including parenting!), will help your sons and daughters develop the determination to keep going on difficult math problems or other tasks despite frustrations.
Adapted from Handbook on Choosing Your Child's Education, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.