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Supplementing School

What We All Can Do

With school funds dwindling during this budget crisis, more parents than ever are looking for ways to enrich their children’s education. Whether it’s making up for the field trips that have been cut or compensating for manipulatives that are no longer a priority, it’s easy for parents to take matters into their own hands.With a library card and cheap resources at your disposal, you can create an excellent academic experience for your kids.

Jim Trelease, author of The Read- Aloud Handbook, claims, “Contrary to the doctrine that blames teachers for reading scores, research shows the seeds of reading and school success are sown in the home, long before the child ever arrives at school.”

Citing Leslie Mandel Murrow’s article in the Journal of Educational Research, Trelease argues one only has to look to the number of books a child has in her home, whether she has a library card, if she is taken to the library regularly, and whether someone is reading to her daily to determine the child’s literacy success.

So stop stressing about the less than 1,000 hours your child spends at school each year and capitalize on the 7,000 plus hours your child’s home with you.

Start by taking your child to the library.Maybe, it’s too late for the summer reading program, but there’s still time to participate in Virginia’s Readers’ Choice.The program, run by the Virginia State Reading Association, chooses books for all grades (primary to high school) that students can read and vote on for the Reader’s Choice Award.

Stop stressing about school, and make the most of time spent with you.

Does your child like to flex her intellectual muscle? Then, why not join (or start) a Battle of the Books team? This national program is a reading incentive program open to grades three through twelve. And there’s always Accelerated Reader, a reading initiative for primary and secondary schools that assesses comprehension, monitors reading progress, and compels kids to earn points for books read. Most students can access the software program in their school library, if not their classroom, so encourage your child to participate. Should your child’s school not have the software program yet, it’s a fabulous initiative for a PTA fundraiser.

What’s important is that you do something about the fact that while nearly half of all fourth graders will tell you they read for fun, the number dwindles to a meager 13 percent by eighth grade. Try turning off the DVD player in the car on your next road trip and opt for an audio book instead. I use this time as an opportunity to expose my kids to “classic” titles, like The Cricket in Times Square or The Trumpet of the Swan, which my kids.Wouldn’t normally select for themselves but enjoyed when given the chance.If car sickness isn’t an issue, this is also a great time to have kids read aloud to you.

Work in a visit or two to a museum, gallery, or historical point of interest.

Garden Explorations for Families 1Unfortunately, for most school systems the answer to No Child Left Behind and the Virginia SOLs is faster-paced curriculums and more testing. But thanks to Benjamin Bloom, an educational psychologist who developed a classification Of intellectual levels in 1956, we know that there are more important cognitive skills than recalling basic information, and we should be nurturing them every chance we get. If you want to increase your child’s potential, skip the workbooks and flashcards. Instead, shift your focus to helping your child master the other domains that traditional school settings often neglect: understanding, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. If you take a page out of the past and fill your home with toys that require some Thought, like games, puzzles, building supplies, you’ll get better results. Some of our favorites include SET, Blokus, and Outburst. If your kid is a paper to pen junkie, like my oldest, try the Great Book of Whodunit Puzzles by Mindware, the Logic Safari Series by Bonnie Risby, or my childhood favorite, Mad Libs.

Then, make your child’s learning experiences more authentic by visiting local points of interest. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation puts out a wonderful brochure, which you can pick up at the library when you’re there for books, spotlighting all of the state parks and the special programs they offer. Everything from earth science outings to Civil War reenactments can be found within the Old Dominion’s borders.

Introduce a world language into your child’s life and enrich the family.

While art and music are usually the first electives cut from school budgets, this doesn’t mean you should short change the fine arts. Journalist and author Richard Louv writes, “We know for a fact that the arts stimulate learning. A 1995 analysis by the College Board showed that students who studied art for more than four years scored 44 points higher on the math portion and 59 points higher on the verbal section of the SAT.” So fuel your teenager’s interest in photography with a digital camera or invest in music lessons for your middle-schooler. Ditch the pre-fab arts and crafts projects and treat your child to a sketch book they can bring on trips to the newly-renovated Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which is still free to visitors and an inspired resource for families.

Despite the fact that the Internet has transformed our global economy, world Language studies are still absent from most public elementary schools. Luckily, there are ways to compensate for this even if your child has outgrown Dora the Explorer. My kids enjoy the Twin Sisters CD in Spanish and French but they enjoy the I Can Learn Spanish CD I picked up at the Dollar Tree just as much.These songs led to bilingual bingo and we’ve more recently moved on to books.With local libraries offering collections in assorted languages, it’s been easier than I ever imagined to bring the world into our home.

Many people assume that students attending private school perform better academically than their public school peers, however, the Center for Educational Policy determined in 2007 this isn’t actually the case. Equal in reading, mathematics, science, history, and college enrollment stats, the only area the private schools had an edge involved SAT scores. The CEP notes that “this could be because private schools tend to offer more test prep resources than do public schools.” So it would seem if you’re going to splurge on anything when times get tight it should be a test prep course for your high school student.

Thanks to research from the Center for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Texas, educators maintain we learn 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, 70 percent of what we discuss, and 90 percent of what we teach to others. This leads me to conclude that some of the best things I can do for my daughters are still simple: continue to talk about their days over dinner and provide opportunities for them to share what they’ve learned with others. For while these acts won’t cost me a penny, their results will prove priceless.

Victoria Winterhalter is a mother, teacher, reader, and writer on the education and environment beats for RFM. She has been with RFM since its founding in 2009 and has contributed photos and written numerous articles on education, parenting, and family travel.
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