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How to Prepare my Child: Four key skills to academic success

posted Sep 6, 2010, 7:33 PM by teacherrojas   [ updated Aug 2, 2012, 12:14 PM ]
Often I am asked by parents how they can best prepare their children for the upcoming grade. As a teacher, I can always list many things, so the question I give back is,  "Do you want an extensive list or a basic one?"  For now I will answer the basic ones. 

If you want your child to have a successful academic career, the most important areas, in my view, you can help in is to make sure your child:

  • is reading regularly - One reason reading is so important is it increases a child's vocabulary (reading is the best way to do so). In turn, increased vocabulary leads to increased reading comprehension. When a child understands what he/she is reading,  it will increase retention and free up the child to ascend to higher levels of thinking in what he or she is learning. Another benefit from regular reading is that the child is constantly exposed to excellent writing. They get to hear great sentences and writing styles which will ultimately create a clear sense of what good writing sounds like. Eventually, this exposure will work itself unto the writing done by that reader.  Background knowledge is another strong benefit of reading regularly. This exposure to new places, experiences, personalities, etc. achieved through reading allows students to enter into new learning with greater ease - what you learn in one book might just help you understand what is happening in another book because they share similarities. Therefore, because of strong reading habits, this child enters into the new learning with a greater advantage than those who do not have such reading habits. Listen to these quotes about reading from, "The Read Aloud Handbook": 
"The more you read, the better you get at it; the better you get at it, the more you like it; the more you like it, the more you do it."
     
"The more you read, the more you know; and the more you know, the smarter you grow."
     
"Students who read the most also read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest. Conversely, those who don't read much cannot get better at it."

  • has basic math facts mastery - By this I mean that a student knows not just his basic math facts (+ - x /) but has full mastery of them, demonstrated by high speed in recall and by total accuracy in its computation. Unfortunately, this is one of the most misunderstood skills of math by parents. Parents will often feel their child knows their basic facts so they don't need to work on them anymore, even despite having a teacher pressing the need for more practice. The truth is there are some kids in school today who do have that high level of mastery, but they are few in number. I can safely say the majority of students in any classroom would greatly benefit from regular practice to strengthen these. Then there are some kids who don't even come close to having a basic skill level on these. Unfortunately for this group of kids, without any heavy intervention, they will see their CST scores continue to plummet every year, especially starting from fifth grade on (if it hasn't yet happened). Why is this? The numbers get bigger and bigger each year (increased complexity) and now you can't just use your fingers to figure out the problem (i.e.: what is 13 x 69).  Please understand that the ultimate goal is not just to know your basic math facts but to know them so well you can answer any such question with such speed and accuracy that it can be classified as automatic. Teachers call this level "automaticity" and most kids are far from it. When a child is at the level of automaticity,  basic facts demand very little mental energy from a child. On the other hand, the lack of automaticity does the opposite - it consumes much mental energy and it slows down a student trying to complete a multi-step problem or word problem. The energy consumed in getting to the answer of a basic fact within a problem can easily cause a kid to loose track of the next step they needed to carry out in order to complete the problem accurately. When careless mistakes are made on a more consistent basis, the child begins to feel he is not able to learn the larger math skill taught (say, area of a triangle), when in reality the real problem is that weakness in basic facts skills. Full mastery of basic facts frees up a student to learn the 5th grade level skills that will be taught. Without these, you start with a major handicap. To remedy this problem and the problem of boredom that can set in when doing the tedious basic facts practice, I have created an excellent online resource just to help your child practice regularly (as in daily for 5-10 minutes - my recommendation) on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Please take advantage of it. Besides the various games and activities your child can do on her/his own, there are also a few "multi-player" basic fact games I loaded on my site that your child will enjoy, while competing with peers (or parents, or family members, or neighbors).  Go to: www.rrojas.com/mathfacts to enjoy this wonderful resource that will give your child the skills he/she needs to move on to higher math. 

  • develops strong study skills and study habits - Here's a fact: strong study skills/habits will be needed from 5th grade on through the rest of your child's educational life. The reality is most students come to 5th grade with poor study skills. From now on, these newer skills increase in demand, especially for the subjects of science and social studies (though every subject matter demands it). Kids who don't develop good study skills begin to see plummeting grades. As part of study skills, students need to learn to discern the main ideas from what they are reading, to package the key information they need to retain in "brain-easy" ways, and how to take that information in for long-term retention. That is where I come in. As your child's teacher, I will teach and model great study skills. Your home support with accountability and review help will go a long way toward developing these key habits in your child. 
  • is a critical thinker