|Commonly Asked Questions and Answers About Other Educational Issues
Commonly Asked Questions and Answers About Other Educational Issues
- Q. What does my child need to be successful in school?
A. I've had lots of opportunity to "kid-watch" during my years as a parent,
teacher, and principal and have come up with my own version of "the seven
habits" that characterize kids who do well in school, no matter what their
age. Whether your child is entering kindergarten, high school, college, or
graduate school, these traits or habits are important, so begin early. Here
are my top seven: curiosity; organization; common sense; resiliency; study
skills; persistence; and parental backup.
- Curiosity - Effective students are curious. They ask questions; they look for answers
and explanations; they want to learn. Curious kids can drive parents and
teachers crazy. They rarely accept "just because" as an answer and they
want the world to make sense. Curious kids get interested in a subject and
want to read everything they can about it. Curious kids are learning not
just because someone else wants them to, but because they have an
insatiable need to find out things for themselves. Encourage curiosity with
trips to the library, museums, attendance at special classes, or at-home
building or collecting projects.
- Organization - It's hard to be an effective student in a formal school setting without
some organizational skills. If your child wasn't born with a built-in need
for organization, then get to work on teaching and developing those skills.
Assignment notebooks, backpacks, keeping track of things, and having a
regular place to study are all important aspects of being organized.
Organization is a habit that developed early and practiced well will help
your child be a better student.
- Common Sense - I don't care what your IQ is, to be an effective student you have to have
some common sense and problem solving skills. When you encounter a problem
in daily life, demonstrate for your children how to talk your way through
it and come up with solutions. Common sense doesn't emerge full-blown in
children; it needs to be taught and practiced.
- Resiliency - My children have learned as much from their failures as their successes.
Your children will fail. The effective student has coping skills and is
resilient enough to figure out what went wrong and how to make sure it
doesn't happen again. The resilient student doesn't look for excuses and
other people to blame for his failures but accepts responsibility and
marches forward. Help your child develop a sense of personal accountability
and the ability to bounce back from setbacks.
- Study Skills - There's no getting around it. To be a successful student you do have to
crack the books once in awhile. Knowing how to read, write, study for
tests, and complete assignments is essential to being an effective student.
If your child is having difficulty with these important skills, get help
for him or her immediately.
- Persistence - Effective students don't give up when the work is difficult. They set goals
and keep trying. I'm afraid that many of us as parents are so eager for our
children to experience success that we do all we can to look for short-cuts
for our kids. We care more about the grade or the rank then we do about the
lessons learned in getting to the goal. At some point in your child's life
he/she will hit a wall that you won't be able to help them climb. That's when
he/she will need to be persistent.
- Parental Backup - The final trait of an effective student has to do with his/her parents.
Almost every effective student has a powerful backup team at home, someone
to give advice, encouragement, and to hold expectations for success. Be
there for your kids during this school year.
- Q. How can I encourage my child to like learning?
A. The favorite buzz-words in education today are "life-long learning."
Schools want to graduate students who won't stop learning once they
graduate; teachers want to give students the skills and curiosity that will
keep them reading, studying, and growing intellectually throughout their
entire lives. But schools and teachers can't do this job alone. It's up to
parents to create a learning environment and a quest for knowledge at home.
If you're a couch potato who never opens a book or talks about ideas,
chances are your child may follow in your well-worn rut. Here are
ten things you can do at your house to raise a life-long learner (and
become one yourself).
- Read books, newspapers, and magazines yourself. Talk about what you read
with your children.
- Read aloud to your children every day. Even when your kids get older,
keep reading aloud. Read biographies, historical fiction, and mysteries the
family can solve together.
- Encourage your children to develop an interest or area of special
knowledge. Check out and buy books. Collect things. Develop a unique
- Pursue a degree as an adult. If you don't have your high school diploma,
earn your GED. You'll inspire your kids. If you've always wanted a degree
in engineering, go back to school and get it. It will be hard work, but you
will be modeling life-long learning--not just talking about it.
- Take your kids to the public library. Take a field trip to a college or university library and
just wander through the stacks. Give your kids a sense
of how much there is to learn and that learning doesn't just take place within
the four walls of a classroom.
- Fill in the branches of your family tree and write your family history.
History will come alive if you flesh it out with stories about members of
your own family.
- Encourage your child to enter competitions (art, music, writing,
inventing, athletic). Competing against others his/her own age will expand
your child's world and expose him/her to other children who are life-long
- Don't wait until tomorrow to do something you've always wanted to do.
Model risk-taking and excitement about new horizons for your child.
- Take mini-field trips to out-of the way places. Interview people about
- Hang out at a used book store and buy some books about something you
know nothing about. READ THEM.
- Q. I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). Should I tell my friends?
A. I don't think you should make a big announcement to everyone you know,
but if one or two close friends ask you questions about taking medication,
or tease you about being too talkative or not paying attention, you can
explain to them that you have ADHD. You could also tell them that you're
not the only one. There are over 2,000,000 kids in the United States with
Q. I have big ears and get teased a lot. What should I do?
A. Sometimes parts of our body grow faster than the rest of us and we have
to wait for everything to catch up. Everybody gets teased sometimes.
Whether a person is tall, short, thin, fat, smart, or not smart, somebody
somewhere can find a reason to tease him. When someone is teasing you in an
unkind way, the first thing you could try is just ignoring the teasing.
There are lots of ways to do that: don't look at the person; don't talk to
the person; think about other things; walk away; or you can give them an
"emotional shrug." An "emotional shrug" is a way of saying "I don't care"
or "It doesn't matter to me" on the inside. Don't argue or disagree.
Another way to handle being teased is to stand up to the person in a quiet
way. Stand up straight and face the person who is teasing you. Look him in
the eye. Don't cry, turn around, or run away. Just hold your head high and
give an "emotional shrug." You could also agree with what the teaser is
saying, but only if the statement is true. "Yeah, I know I have big ears,
but I need them to handle my brain which is pretty big also." Do you get
Q. Whenever I have to take a test, I get really nervous. Sometimes I feel
like I have to throw up. Will I ever get over this?
A. I'm sure that as you take more tests and are more successful, you won't
get as nervous. The best way to keep from being nervous is to be well
prepared for a test. Start studying early, get plenty of rest the night
before, and think of all of the times you have done well, even when you've
been nervous. That will build your confidence and then you won't have to
worry. I used to get "blotchy" when I took tests. I would break out in huge
red blotches all over my neck and face. Once a teacher sent me to the
nurse's office because she thought I had the measles. Now, I don't get
blotchy any more at all. That's because I'm confident.
Q. When the teacher wants us to write about our summer vacations, I can't
think of anything because we never take a summer vacation. What should I
A. You have several choices. Write about a vacation you took during another
time of the year. Write about the "dream vacation" that you plan to take in
the future. Or, write about something you did during your vacation that was
extra special to you. When our kids were growing up we didn't take many
vacation trips, but we always took mini-vacations (trips to the zoo or
museums and dinners out in restaurants). Maybe you could write about how to
take a vacation without actually leaving town.
Q. I never get picked to play on any teams at recess. What can I do?
A. Stop waiting around for someone else to pick you and start your own
team. Pick the people who never get picked by anyone else and make some new
friends. Sometimes we miss out on opportunities to make good friends
because we're so busy waiting for the "popular" people to find us.
Q. How can I get off to a good start this year in school?
A. Here's some tips:
- Don't be tardy or miss class. The simple act of always being on time
and in your seat when the bell rings will go a long way toward impressing
any teacher with your eagerness to learn.
- Say something nice to your teacher once in awhile. Extending common
courtesies to teachers will probably bowl them over. Not many kids say
hello to a teacher, thank the teacher for anything, or even bring a small
present once in awhile. Telling a teacher that you really liked a lesson
or think she did a good job will probably cause cardiac arrest.
- Sit in the front row. Some teachers assign seats and often place
students with attention problems near the front of the classroom. If you
choose a front row seat, you'll get more positive attention from the
teacher, will be less distracted by what is going on, and will always be
able to see what is written on the chalkboard.
- Make friends with someone
in the class who gets good grades. Knowing someone in the class who always
understands what is going on will prove very helpful if you get in a
homework bind. This individual will not only know exactly what the
assignment is, but will have done it and can explain it to you if you call
them the night before.
- Do extra-credit work if it is assigned and do some even if it isn't.
Demonstrating a willingness to go above and beyond may give you the benefit
of the doubt if you do poorly on a test or miss a homework assignment.
- Remember that the teacher is there to help you. Ask for help if you don't
understand. Go in before class to get help with a math problem. Stay after
class to double-check that you've understood the homework assignment
correctly. Make an appointment to see the teacher if he can't help you
- Q. I need help with evaluating childcare options. I'm particularly
concerned about discipline since our son is a very challenging child. Do you have any
A. You are very wise to think about this issue ahead of time. I've seen
some preschool settings where the staff was so relaxed and laid back that
there was no discipline. That's not the kind of setting a challenging child
needs. But on the other hand, you don't want to choose a setting where the
caregivers are punitive, power-hungry, and positively inflexible.
I would recommend having a clear understanding (in writing) with your
childcare provider regarding the extent to which he/she can discipline your
child and what forms that discipline will take. Here are some important
questions to have answered ahead of time:
Even though you might not have total agreement
preschool staff about
behavior and discipline, if you aren't on the same page, look for another
- What behaviors typically warrant discipline?
- What rules must be followed at all times?
- What happens when children are fighting between themselves?
- What happens when a child has a repeated and willful behavior problem?
Since licensed home care and daycare centers are not allowed to use
corporal punishment, discuss with the staff what has worked best with your
child apart from spanking. Examples of methods might include verbal
reprimands, timeouts, making restitution (apologizing, cleaning up
damages), or losing privileges.
Spend some time discussing with the staff or director what the philosophy
of discipline is. If the school doesn't have one or can't articulate it,
that's a warning sign for you to move on in your search. Here are some of
the important issues to discuss.
- Good discipline should always be an educational experience. Children
should not have to guess or figure out on their own what constitutes
acceptable behavior. They need to be told in advance what behaviors are
acceptable and desirable and what behaviors are verboten. And, the
consequences for misbehaving should be clear ahead of time. Beware of a
setting where lots of idle threats are made and there is no follow-through.
- Your child should never be embarrassed or humiliated for misbehaving.
Discipline should be direct, personal, and private. Beware of a setting
where staff "yell" at students, display angry or out-of-control behaviors,
or use inappropriate physical restraining. These behaviors are a form of
emotional abuse. Any threats, teasing, or demoralizing comments are
inappropriate. Also inappropriate are behaviors like pushing, pinching, or
- Discipline should be consistent and immediate. Small children have short
memories. Delayed discipline is never effective. It must be immediately
Carefully observe the director and staff members.
You mentioned that your child is a challenging child. One additional thing
you might want to consider in choosing a preschool or daycare facility for
your child is the availability of naps, quiet times, and alone times.
Challenging children definitely need to spend part of a day alonesimply
to rest, relax, reflect, and refocus. Most daycare centers and preschools
do a good job of providing activities, meals, games, learning centers,
playgrounds, and special events. Less attention, however, is paid to a
child's need to be alone, be quiet, read, work puzzles, rest, or just be
involved in his/her own fantasy world. Be sure to look for places in the
facility for children to isolate themselves from everyone and to curl up
for a moment or two of down time. Some centers have special corners,
chairs, or play equipment for children to use alone.
- Do they like children and their jobs?
- Do they like each other?
- Are they still learning?
- Are they willing to listen to your observations and learn from you about
- Are they warm and caring?
- Do they have imagination and creativity?
- Do they have a pleasant personal appearance?
- Do they communicate clearly?
- Do they have a relaxed, calm, and low-key temperament?
Choosing the best care for your preschooler can be a stressful and
worrisome experience. Hopefully these guidelines will help.
Q. There's been a lot of press lately about the importance of the first
three years in terms of a child's intellectual development and I'm worried
that we're not doing all the right things to make sure that our daughter
will be "smart." Any ideas?
A. Stop worrying and have fun. You're probably thinking in terms of
"academic" things when you talk about being "smart," when in reality for a
child, play is one of the most important things you (and she) can be doing.
A big share of the time, you will merely provide the materials and
environment in which play will occur, but there are many occasions in which
you can structure simple games and join in the play with your child.
Children love repetition. Just doing a game or activity once is never
enough. Here are some possibilities to consider if you're running out of
- Exercises - Shortly after my second child was born I began a series of
exercises designed to put my body back into shape. I found that Emily who
was two delighted in joining me. We did them to music and although she
frequently got in my way, she thoroughly enjoyed the workout. If you
would like to develop a regular workout for your child, consult How to Keep
Your Child Fit from Birth to Six by Bonnie Prudden (Harper & Row, 1964).
- Games - "Go-Between" needs two people (preferably mom and dad) who sit on
the floor a few feet apart and send their toddler back and forth between
them. Naturally junior will stop for hugs and kisses after each crossing.
"Messenger Service" also keeps your active toddler on the move. Give her
socks to take to the bedroom or towels to put in the kitchen drawer. She
can even deliver dad's slippers to him, if dads wear slippers anymore.
"Chase" is an ever popular game, preferably not played before bedtime which
is when most fathers like to play it. Get down on all fours and try to
escape from your eager toddler.
- Catch - Between the ages of one and two children can begin playing a true
game of catch. At first the adult can bounce or roll the ball and the
child will simply fetch it. Then the toddler can toss the ball to the
adult who is standing up close who will catch it and hand it back to the
child. Rolling the ball back and forth between two seated people is also a
good way to get the idea. Your child will show you when he's ready to both
throw and catch the ball. Dads who are former baseball and football stars
are always a little anxious about waiting, but encourage them to be
- Cornmeal, Oatmeal, or Rice Sandbox - If it's too hot to play outside in the
sandbox, create your own from one of these kitchen staples. My preference
is rice. Gather funnels, muffin tins, sieve, measuring spoons and cups,
empty margarine and yogurt containers, and small cars and trucks (if age
appropriate). Fill a large rectangular box that has been trimmed to about
six inches in height and fill with your "sand." When play is over, save
for another day.
- Sandbox - Although you can purchase or make elaborate sandboxes, an
inexpensive one can be made by filling a plastic wading pool with clean
sand from the garden center. Just remember to cover it at night to keep
out animals or rain.
- Outside Fun with Water - Water play is wonderful. Wash rocks, paint the
sidewalk, wash bikes or big wheels, fill lots of small empty containers
from a wading pool or pail, or just run under the sprinkler.
If you have the room, spread a heavy plastic drop cloth over a grassy area.
Turn on the sprinkler and you'll create a super water slide. Supervise
carefully and make sure you keep the sprinkler running. Don't forget to
move the plastic drop cloth when you're finished. You could end up
planting new grass.
- Inside Fun with Water - Make sure you have plenty of containers and toys
for bathtub fun. Ideas for waterplay toys: tea strainer, plastic measuring
cup and spoons, clear flexible tubing, eye dropper, plastic boats and
blocks, squeeze bottles, plastic container with holes punched in sides, and
sponges of different varieties and sizes.
- Obstacle Course - Of course you've seen the wonderful obstacle courses in
outdoor playgrounds. You can create your own in the play room with a pile
of pillows to climb over, an indoor slide if you have one, a kitchen chair
to crawl under, and a tunnel. You can make the tunnel by cutting out two
sides of a large cardboard box or spreading a blanket over a card table.
- Balloon Play - Batting balloons is wonderful fun. Save this game for when
you acquire a new balloon from the supermarket or the shopping mall. Show
your toddler how to keep the balloon aloft and then let her try. Or, sit
on the floor and bat it back and forth.
- Touching Games - Give your toddler lots of opportunities to touch
interesting things. So much of the time we are saying "Don't touch!" Do
this informally but make sure you do it! If you're ambitious, make a
"Touching Book" with samples of fabric (cotton, burlap, corduroy, velvet,
dotted swiss, denim, wool, terrycloth), sandpaper of various textures,
wallpaper samples, and old greeting cards with glitter or embossed
- Fill and Dump Games - There are many variations on this activity that
toddlers never tire of. Clip colored clothespins around the edge of a
coffee can and take turns dropping them inside. They make a wonderful
sound as they fall. Or, make an opening in the plastic top of an empty
coffee can and show your child how to drop jar lids into the opening.
(Remember whenever you use a coffee can for a toy, make sure the sharp
edges have been hammered smooth or covered with heavy duty tape.)
- Rolling Games - Show your child how to roll miniature cars down a ramp.
Prop up a sturdy piece of cardboard or lumber and watch the toys roll down.
A large mailing tube also makes a great place to roll miniature toys.
- Paper Play - This inexpensive form of play you used with your crawling baby
is also perfect for toddlers. You can use pages from old magazines,
discarded telephone books, waxed paper (this was my favorite for keeping my
toddler amused while I was making dinner), tissue from clothing boxes, mail
advertisements. Squeeze it, crumple it, throw it. Just don't eat it.
- Q. I'm investigating preschools and am getting a headache trying to
which one is best. Can you help?
A. Although there are many different preschools from which to choose, there
are really only three basic philosophies that prevail: the traditional
preschool, the academic preschool, and the Montessori preschool. You can
find either the "pure" versions of these philosophies or sometimes a
combination of two or more of the philosophies.
When you visit various preschools (and you should
decide to enroll your child), you will no doubt find many similarities
between them. Often, what is actually happening in classrooms is very
different from what the director or the brochure may say. It may be that
you will have a difficult time deciding just which philosophy is espoused.
Talk with the teachers, observe for an extended period, and talk to parents
of student already enrolled. They will probably be your best source of
information about what is actually happening on a daily basis.
- The traditional preschool or American nursery school as it once
was called, is characterized by free play and discovery learning.
Teachers in the traditional preschool believe that children can make
decisions about their learning and leave them free to explore and
discover in an out-of-home setting.
- The academic preschool focuses on the development of prereading
and math skills and does so through direct instruction. Content
is taught by teachers rather than being informally discovered and
learned by students.
- The Montessori schools, although there are many variations on
Maria Montessori's original theme, are based on the concept of
order. There are many specially developed materials for learning,
and children are permitted to choose and make decisions about what
they will learn and do within the framework of materials available.
The National Academy of Early Childhood Programs has developed a checklist
for parents to use in evaluating preschool and day-care programs. Here are
some of the items they feel are important:
If you have time to evaluate only one thing, make
sure it's the
She (or, less frequently, he) is the most important part of your child's
- Are you welcome to visit the preschool at any time?
- Is there open communication with parents about potential difficulties
and concerns as staff and parents work together as a team?
- Are the teachers friendly and accepting, helping each child feel valued?
- Do the teachers help children resolve conflicts independently?
- Is discipline fair, kind, and reasonable? Are limits and expectations of
appropriate behavior clearly expressed?
- Are the children happy and involved, interacting positively and
frequently with each other and the teachers?
- Are the children provided with opportunities for decision making and
- Are children encouraged to have hands-on participation with freedom of
- Are abundant materials within easy reach for children to enjoy on both a
one-to-one and a small-group basis?
- Are books plentiful, easily accessible, of fine quality, and
- Do activities provide opportunities with a balance of active/quite,
indoor/outdoor, individual/group, large muscle/small muscle experiences?
- Is the emphasis on the process of the children's involvement rather
than on a finished product to impress parents?
- Do caregivers demonstrate respect for cultural differences?
- Are spaces provided for block building, dramatic play, art, music, and
a quiet book corner?
- Does the playground have areas for large motor activities (swings,
climbing apparatus) as well as creative construction (blocks, boards,
boxes, paint, water) with both hard and soft surfaces for play?
- Are the bathrooms sized right and clean, with functional faucets, paper
towels, and soap?
- Is the environment cheerful and inviting?
- Is the equipment well maintained and age appropriate?
- Is the center licensed by the appropriate agencies?
- Is the staff qualified having had child-care training and experience.
Q. I'm tearing my hair out. My almost four year old daughter has started
having temper tantrums whenever she doesn't get her own way. Lately, she
throws a tantrum because I won't let her wear clothes that don't match to
school. Do you have any advice?
A. Ask yourself a few simple questions to rule out some possible causes of
- Are the tantrums related to lack of food or sleep? When my
daughter, Emily, was that age, she had frequent tantrums. It took some
detective work on my part to figure out that she always had them right
before mealtimes. She was the kind of child who needed small amounts of
food frequently and when she didn't have the food she needed, she turned
into a "raving maniac." Is your child more likely to be angry when she's
hungry, tired, or has been confined to one space or activity for a period
of time? Make sure that you adhere to set mealtimes and bedtimes. Carry
healthy snacks with you whenever you're "on the road," and provide lots of
opportunities for physical exercise. Keep track of when and where temper
tantrums occur. You may be able to gain insight into what triggers a
tantrum and treat the problem. Many tantrums one sees in malls and grocery
stores are the result of tired and hungry children. Parents are expecting
children to follow adult schedules.
- Do you or other members of your family have outbursts of temper?
Children learn what they live with and if you can't control your temper,
don't expect your child to act any differently. To change your child's
behavior, you may need to encourage other family members to set a better
- Is your child trying to run the show? Although the two reasons I
mentioned above do account for some tantrums, most kids have temper
tantrums for only one reasonto get what they want. And once they discover
what a powerful weapon kicking and screaming can be in their arsenal of
techniques to get their own way, they'll use it often and well. Children
continue to behave in certain ways because the behavior gets them what they
wantattention, candy in the supermarket, or a toy at the mall. We
parents are often so irritated, embarrassed, cowardly or angry that we'll do
anything to quiet our child. Caving in to our children only reinforces the
usefulness and effectiveness of tantrums. So, if you give in, you can
count on seeing more tantrums in your future. And the stakes will only
escalate as your child gets older.
Try ignoring your child when she is having a royal fit. Ignoring
is an effective way to diminish unwanted behaviors like tantrums. If physical
harm or property damage are likely, this won't be practical, but in the
case of your daughter, that doesn't sound likely. Stay calm. Above all,
don't get angry and upset. Plan ahead how you will act and what you will
say. Calmly tell her that you'll talk to her later when she calms down,
but right now you have a phone call to make (or dishes to wash, or a book
to read). Then ignore her. Close the door on her; physically remove her
to her bedroom; walk to another room; or lock yourself in the bathroom
(this one worked wonders on my children). Once your daughter determines
that her histrionics are having little or no effect on you, she'll soon
stop having tantrums. But this will require some discipline on your part.
It won't happen the first time. But after three or four sessions, she'll
soon get the message. Praise her and offer positive reinforcement when she
avoids a tantrum.
- What specific situations trigger tantrums. Evaluate what kinds of
situations are resulting in tantrums and do some advance planning to head
them off. For example, if the tantrums always center in the choice of
clothing, give your daughter some limited choices. Lay several outfits on
the bed and tell her she can choose from those. Children do need to feel
they have some control over their lives. That's part of maturing. So
don't be afraid to let her make some decisionseven if they aren't ones
you would make. If the tantrums occur in the grocery store, have a little
"heart-to-heart" before you go in. Clearly spell out what will happen if
she has a tantrum (e.g. you will take her home immediately and come back to
the store in the evening without her). Above all, stand your ground and be firm.
Resources for Solving Schooling and Parenting Problems:
How to Maximize Your Child's Educational Experience