We just need a little helping hand to make life enjoyable

Extended education – myth or overload?

By Priya Raman on 16 November 2010 | Topics - Parenting

As parents one of our predominant concern is always our kids’ education. It starts right as soon we first get to know we will be parents, if not earlier. According to statistics apparently almost 60-70% of key decisions like house, job and city we live in revolve around our kids’ education. We do extensive research and get our kids into the best (private) schools possible even if it meant stretching ourselves a tad bit financially.

Once that is taken care of, the next thing on our agenda is to find additional education (public or private) by sending the kids to Math and Science classes like Kumon, JEI, Score and Beyond Academics or on-line courses from Kaplan and EPGY. All these to supplement the learning done in school. Most parents, that I have spoken to, feel that the supplemental education has made improvements to their child’s academic performance in school.

As my daughter started third grade I started to wonder about the same for her. I kept coming back to one issue that kept bothering me. If we put her in all these classes, how much time would she be left with to really enjoy her childhood. It seemed like pushing them a bit too much. As my mother-in-law aptly put it – “If we take them to all these classes and make them do all this work, when do they get to just be a kid ?”.

So I decided to explore alternatives that provided the necessary access to the information to broaden her knowledge while not making it onerous on her oh-so-young age.

Here are some simple steps I came up with to avoid turning my child into  “all work and no play” dull.

  • Staying involved: When considering schooling, all I had heard was public and private schools were different.  Different they were – the teaching methods are different and so are the teachers. But after 3 years in a Montessori school and now after completing her first year at a Public School, I have concluded a few things.  The teachers in public schools are as much qualified as any in private schools. They just have fewer resources to work with. They rely heavily on parent participation. It needs no proof that, a child’s development, is directly correlated to a parents’ involvement in her activities. The more positive attention a parent pays to the child, the better the child performs academically, no matter which school she goes to.
  • Being a partner: If we find that keeping the attention span of a child at home, for a hour, is difficult, imagine the challenge the teacher has  with 20+ children at the same time. If there is anything a teacher needs, it is more stakeholders. Becoming a partner with the teacher in your child’s education can make things go much better. Most teachers have great insights into how they can help your child. But the time they can spend with each child is at a premium. This is where the partnership can really bear fruit. Helping the teacher with assessing assignments, prep work for activities like science are some of the things we can do as parents.
  • Educating yourself: It can be quite a refresher for us to get to know things that our children are learning. Being the guide at home to our kids, helping them with home assignments, project work can be quite fulfilling as I have begun to realize.  Talking to friends who have kids in other schools, researching on-line and off-line about the curriculum are some of the ways to keep yourself abreast of things. I would like to share a fantastic resource – Core Knowledge series, that I came across, to understand the curriculum.
  • Getting to the bottom of it: Before you decide to send your child for the extra coaching – identify the exact area, you think, your child needs help. It may just be a simple case of feeling dis-interested/discouraged or not being challenged enough. Finding the right angle to make them interested helps them get back into that topic. For my daughter, using a map to play simple games like identifying countries and cities across the world – piqued her interest in Geography. She amazes me everytime she answers a question about a city that I have a hard time remembering.
  • Playing Games: Some children may just need more practice to reinforce the fundamentals taught in class. I have found that for math – in the elementary school level – games are a great way to educate children. Monopoly is a great way to teach children about money. Scrabble (the junior edition is great) helps with spelling and word building. Playing Chutes & Ladders with my daughter has improved her addition skills.
  • Practicing regularly: If computers are way of life for us now, they are going to be quintessential to our kids, as they grow up. One way, I have found, to give them exposure to computers is to get them to do educational stuff. Lot of good free websites have work sheets that children can work on  on-line or off-line. Here are some that I use regularly. You will find they are grouped by grades and topics.
  • Having fun. Another way to teach your child about money and math is to enlist them while shopping. Make a list and ask them to compare prices, calculate the cost of all the purchases etc. This can make shopping a little bit longer but it will be lot of fun and less of a hassle. We have separate lists drawn up for our children and they ensure I don’t miss anything before we checkout (including the chocolate treat that I may have promised them). As they grew older, they wanted to make the lists themselves – even my little Kinder Gartener. That gave them some writing practice.
  • Watching TV: TV gets a bad rap most of the time, when it comes to the amount of time children get exposed to it. We don’t have Cable/Dish at home. Instead we watch PBS and have found it to be a great resource. When parents need time to cook or just relax instead of turning the TV to some cartoon show – check out the offering on infotainment programs. Age appropriate animal shows, science programs or documentaries are great ways of reinforcing the knowledge of your kids. My daughter and I have learned a lot from watching shows like NOVA, Globe Trekker, Travel to the Edge to name a few.

Of course, in special cases we will have no choice but to enroll the kids to some after school courses but in general I have decided to attack the problem from another angle. Would love to hear thoughts from others.

About the Author Priya is a working mom of two. Besides her steady load of work at home taking care of her kids, she finds time to work for her husband's company, help her childrens' school and conduct summer camps. She created the site Little Respite to share some of her ideas/thoughts with other fellow parents, friends.