Traveling with your child through the public schools: A road map


Email Sandra Nichols

"Can you trust the public schools to provide your child with a complete educational background in preparation for life? I'm afraid not. You will want to supplement!"

h yes! I've done some traveling through the public schools. I rode on the big yellow bus. I had some of the best teachers in the world, and some I don't remember. I took my knocks. I did my time in study hall. I knew no other way.

After that, I traveled as a mother. I sent my kids off on that big yellow bus. I watched over them doing some homework assignments that were interesting and innovative and I also watched as they dragged themselves through some public school experiences that I shudder to remember.

I'm traveling as a teacher now and as a school board trustee. Sometime maybe we'll share our stories of our roles in life and how these change our personal perspectives. But for today, I am not writing about my own experiences. I am writing to suggest a road map for your travels through the early years in the public schools. This is not a comprehensive plan! Just a few items that aren't usually mentioned in the handouts, "Hints for Parents."

Let's go down this road: Can you trust the public schools to provide your child with a complete educational background in preparation for life? I'm afraid not. You will want to supplement! You can supplement in various ways. Family field trips (to the opera, the library, the slough, the auto body shop), help with homework, clubs for kids, music lessons, team sports. Those are already charted for parents by the great map makers of the schools. But have you heard about developing your child's Higher-Order-Thinking-Skills? I have some suggestions for you here.

Higher-Order-Thinking-Skills (dubbed HOTS by educators Lindamood and Bell) are fun to develop. Once you start, the kids will take over and develop some of yours! These skills involve thought processes which go beyond listening and remembering, and help children figure things out, contemplate, solve problems and make plans for the future based on sound reasoning.

HOTS include such mental exercises as making comparisons and associations, drawing conclusions, and predicting outcomes. Teachers in the public schools know that these mental targets are important for their students. As a matter of fact, they are included in the new California standards, so no child should be without these. My suggestion is that HOTS are urgently needed skills that parents can develop in their children.

Doing a HOTS workout is not additional homework for you and your child. It is fun! You can do it with games. And the games are free! Mental games. Language games. I will share a few with you, and you can make some up! You can play these on car trips, when things get boring. You can play these during a black-out. Batteries not required! If you think of a good new game, email it to me and I'll pass it around.

Here's my favorite: "I'm going to say 4 words, and I want you to tell me which one doesn't belong with the others. Elephant - Giraffe - Banana - Zebra." (I bet I don't need to give the answer to that one!) The leader is anyone who can make up such a list. The lists can be made more difficult: Saturday - July - Tuesday - Thursday. This game is really most suitable for kids age 5 through 8. Older kids can take turns as the leader and make up new lists for their younger friends. It's fun to play at any age in your second language!

You can vary that game by altering the instructions and the lists. For example: I'm going to say 4 words. Which two are opposites (or go-togethers): Tall - Chicken - Spoon - Short? Making up the list is a little tricky, because it's good to vary the order of the correct answers, and you can try not to let rhythm tip the child off!

Another fun HOTS game is making predictions. While reading a book with your child, stop in the middle and guess what will happen next. Or, when you have just read a book or watched a movie together, think up alternative endings for the story. Talking about a book or event becomes a HOTS activity if you discuss why the characters acted the way they did and what they might have done instead.

One time when I was grocery shopping I overheard a women conversing with her child over the produce. She talked about the colors and shapes of the fruits and how you could recognize a great melon. The kid was only 4 or so, not really ready to choose a melon. But he was ready to learn! It struck me that the women was stimulating his language and helping him make comparisons. She provided him with a HOTS preschool experience that helped prepare him for kindergarten. Anyone can do this.

In this world of computer games, don't forget to play word games and thinking games. You'll be saving electricity and exercising your brain as well as your young friend's.

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, April 21, 2001. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2001