Teachers share tips for elementary school success

10/02/2013 12:00 AM

10/02/2013 9:47 AM

Your family probably has the morning routine and homework time down pat by this point in the school year, but there’s much more to helping your child get the most out of elementary school.

Local educators say it’s important to let young students make their own choices, voice opinions and know they’re being heard.

“First-grade brings about some of the biggest changes in your child socially and academically,” said Pam McClean, who taught first grade for 25 years, most recently at St. Therese Parish School in Kansas City, North.

She said parents should start now to build their children’s self-esteem by giving them age-appropriate household chores and responsibilities.

“Don’t always do for them,” McClean said. That can send a message that their parents don’t think they can handle the task. To help develop problem-solving skills, she said parents should ask for their opinions on appropriate topics. “If I do this, what might happen or how would you handle this situation?”

Students buy in best when they are asked questions and have some choice in coming up with the plan, said Patricia Alexander, principal of Pleasant Lea Elementary in Lee’s Summit.

Parents might ask, for example, if children would prefer to complete their homework immediately after school or play for an hour and then do homework after dinner. One of the best times to interact with children is around the dinner table, educators say, when parents can ask them how their day was, what they learned and what their teacher read to them. Parents should dig deeper if they get one-word answers.

And even after the children have learned to read, Alexander said, parents should continue reading to them. They will benefit from hearing a fluent reader and being exposed to a wider vocabulary.

Offering help and suggestions to children who are struggling at school can set the foundation for how they deal with people and difficult situations.

“If a child is fearful of making mistakes and covets that gold star,” McClean said, “encourage him to do his best, to work it out alone and the parent can be the checker.”

Graded reports can guide conversations, keeping communication positive and encouraging. While some parents reward good grades with cash, McClean believes it’s a slippery slope that can set up expectations for external rewards, rather than allowing children to experience the personal satisfaction of a job well done.

Parents sometimes strive for their children to be the best in everything, said Kelly Rohlfsen, a fifth-grade teacher at Norfleet Elementary in Raytown.

“While it is fantastic to motivate students to always try their best, students will not always be able to be the absolute best in everything,” Rohlfsen said. “They all have strengths and weaknesses, and we (parents and teachers) need to help them understand that it is OK to not always have the right answer, but to keep trying.”

Above all, Rohlfsen said, parents should remember they are role models, not necessarily their children’s best friends.

“Your child will mirror your attitude and thoughts on nearly everything, from how you interact with their teachers, to how you talk about different subjects.” Parents who say math is tough and that they never use it as an adult could create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Always remember that your child is listening and watching everything you say and do,” Rohlfsen said.


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