Parent-Tutors: Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades

This is post #10 in the series “How to Be a Great Parent-Tutor.”

How can parents be involved in tutoring their children in primary grades K to 3 (and in some cases, pre-Kindergarten)? And note: While some of these tips are aimed to parents who are helping their children with “school work,” many of these tips are great for homeschoolers and also for those who simply want to create a great home-learning environment!

  • Follow guidelines given to you by your child’s school and/or teacher. When you register your child for Kindergarten (or pre-Kindergarten), you will be given a list of suggestions for “readiness” activities you can do at home. These will always include reading daily to your child, and will also encourage you to provide a “learning rich environment” (books, educational games, perhaps attending daycares run by qualified ECE educators, involvement in extra-curricular lessons and activities, and so on). For children whose parents feel they may not be able to provide these kinds of activities, there are early start programsbut parents are often more “qualified” than they think they are!
  • The key educational thing parents can do for their young children is to instil a love of learning. When children see their parents learning–reading; watching documentary programs; using facilities like libraries and signing out materials to learn new skills like gardening or carpentry or whatever; taking any kind of courses; learning new skills on the job; being involved in study groups or book clubs or hobby groups; going for walks with the children and exploring and pointing out birds, animals, plants; reading signs to their children; involving their children in family activities where the children can observe and participate–all these kinds of things demonstrate the value of life-long learning. Even if parents feel they have inadequate literacy skills (math, reading, writing), or inadequate English language skills, their positive attitudes and values about learning can make a huge difference in preparing their children for schooling.
  • Pre-school drilling or play and exploration? There are those who think that children should have their alphabet and numbers memorised, and be able to read before they even start school. Some parents spend many hours drilling their young children with flashcards and other learning materials, and pressuring them to “be at the top of the class”–even before they are school age. But many studies–and some of the world’s most successful educational systems (such as those in Finland and Denmark)–show that child-centered play, exploration, curiosity and opportunities in the arts and other creative outlets are far more important in the early years. Children are born with great natural curiosity and creativity, and when those natural talents are encouraged, the child will become a much more motivated and self-directed life-long learner.
  • Children develop at different rates and learn in different ways. While some children are eager to learn to read at 3 or 4 years of age, other children are not developmentally ready until age 9 or 10. Generally, girls are ready for “academic learning” about a year earlier than boys. Also, different children learn in different ways. Some children are very active, physical learners; others soak up information by listening; while still others love to talk and discuss–and still others are happy to work quietly at a desk. Some children have unusually strong talents in music or fine arts and learn especially well with learning approaches that involve those talents. Parents, who spend so much time with their children, have the opportunity to observe each child’s personality and learning styles and provide life experiences that suit each child’s uniqueness.
  • What if my child is “not yet meeting expectations?” Generally, parents should not panic if their child’s learning doesn’t match up exactly with the “requirements” schools ask for when registering young children. If your child is an eager learner, curious and interested and participating actively in a variety of daily life activities, that child has a good chance of succeeding academically when they are ready and interested. In countries like Finland, in educational systems like Montessori, and in many homeschool families, children are encouraged to do lots of play and exploration, and are not formally taught “reading, writing, and arithmetic” until at least 8 years of age, or even older. And over and over again, it has been proven that when children are able to start formal academics when they are developmentally ready and are personally interested, they often learn the same literacy skills in a period of 3 or 4 months that many children in traditional primary programs take 3 or 4 years to develop. Parents should not feel pressured to force their young child to “meet or exceed” academic requirements that the child is not yet ready for; too much pressure takes away a child’s joy of learning and destroys natural curiosity and creativity.
  • Whole life learning: As a parent tutor, in the primary years you will want to focus on activities that support the school learning to some degree, but ideally in a more “whole life” way of learning. When a child is exhausted from the “academic life” at school, home should be a place of comfort and fun and creative learning.
  • Drilling “the basics:” Parents often feel under pressure to drill their young children in their ABCs, numbers, arithmetic facts, spelling, and reading and writing practice. And “basics” are important: they lay the foundation upon which more advanced concepts and skills are built. Unfortunately, for many children, repetitious drills can lead to family wars instead of to positive learning. But there are so many different and fun ways to help your child learn these basics. For example, for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division “math facts” you might try some of the following varied approaches. (You can also do similar activities for the alphabet, spelling and other “basics.”)
    • Use real items (“manipulatives”) such as interlocking blocks, dry beans or macaroni, coins, etc. to demonstrate the facts.
    • Play “store” and have your child figure out which coins to use to pay for the “prices” of objects.
    • Look on the internet for good sites with lots of arithmetic games.
    • Get flash cards from the dollar store, or games like “Multiplication Bingo.”
    • Play dice games like “Snakes and Ladders” or “Dominoes” to practice addition. (You can often get fun table games at second-hand stores very inexpensively, or share games among a group of families).
    • Sing arithmetic facts (eg. sing “9 times 5 is 45” to the tune of “Mary had a Little Lamb.”)
    • Use movement as you practice facts–bounce a ball, clap, jump up steps, jump on a trampoline, etc.
    • Create your own entertaining or family-relevant word problems or stories for your facts.
    • Take your child shopping, banking, out for walks and drives, and watch out for all kinds of chances to use math facts.
    • Use rhyme and rhythm while repeating facts aloud: “5 times 5 is 25, 7 times 5 is 35, 9 times 5 is 45…”
    • “Write” the answer to a fact with your finger in the air (or on a wall, or on a sidewalk–use sidewalk chalk) as you say the equation aloud and give the answer.
    • Use colourful felt pens or crayons to write the facts.
    • Draw a funny picture to go with a fact you’re having trouble remembering.
    • “Write” facts in a tray of sand or salt or shaving cream; “erase” and do them again and again.
    • Type facts on your computer, using large, fun fonts; read aloud as you type.
    • Use different materials to write facts (paint brush, coloured pencils, chalk, markers, etc.).
    • Get a partner to practice the facts with you each day for 10 minutes or so (much better than once or twice a week for longer periods).
    • Have a “math facts bee” (like a “spelling bee”) with friends or family.
    • Play “Hangman” with math facts and see how many you get right before you get “hanged.”
    • Carry an index card with math facts on it in your pocket, and practice them while riding in the bus or car, waiting for appointments, during commercial breaks on TV, etc.
    • Download free, fun “riddle code” math facts worksheets from the internet, do the facts, and figure out the answers to the riddles.
    • If going on a road trip, have the child use a map and add up the distance to the location.
    • Use temperature fluctuations on a thermometer to practice subtraction.
    • Design and build projects, or do science experiments that require arithmetic.
    • Keep score in sports.
    • And much more! Challenge your child to notice how many life activities use arithmetic, and use those activities to memorise those facts!
  • Electronics use: Be very aware how much time your child is spending watching TV, playing video games, and otherwise using electronics. Your young child’s brain is very malleable at this stage, and excessive use of electronics can affect the child’s development of ability to focus and learn. Their young bodies are also rapidly developing, and they need plenty of exercise, ideally much of it outdoors, and healthy eating. These are life aspects that parents have a lot of control over, and are an important part of a child’s education and life-long learning. Of course, parents will also want to be very aware of the “content” of what their children are consuming in their use of technology. Ideally, set a daily time limit (at the primary level, 1/2 hour to 1 hour daily is plenty) for your child to use these devices, and the parent should spend part of the time with the child, discussing what is being watched, or playing games with the child. Also, remember that technology often tends to encourage “entertainment” rather than developing the child’s ability to learn and be actively involved in life.
  • What about “homework” at the primary level? There is an often accepted “rule” that a child should have 10 minutes of daily “homework” assigned for every grade of school. Well, since kindergarten doesn’t have a grade number, that suggests that formal “homework” probably shouldn’t be assigned. However, it’s always a good idea to read aloud to/with your child daily for a few minutes (bedtime reading is a great time to do it); some kindergarten teachers will provide reading materials that are related to the concepts being taught in the classroom, but if at all possible, try not to make kindergarten “homework” seem like more classroom time. Rather than making your kindergarten child “practice writing her letters,” have paper and a variety of writing and other craft tools and materials handy, so your child can voluntarily draw and write as she wishes. Take your child to the library and let him choose books and magazines he is interested in; don’t worry about “suitable reading level” as you will be doing most of the reading at this point anyway. Developing a love of reading, and an interest in a wide variety of materials, both fiction and non-fiction, is the key at this stage. If you feel your child’s kindergarten teacher is pushing too much “homework,” explain that you are doing lots of real-life learning activities at home.
  • At the grade 1, 2, and 3 levels, there will likely be a gradual increase in “homework”–the “10 minute per grade” rule would suggest 10, 20, and 30 minutes in the respective grades (weekends should ideally be homework-free at this level). Homework should be supportive of classroom learning, providing the child with extra practice in applying new concepts, ideally in “real-life” applications. It should NOT simply be “busy-work.” If your child is bringing home a lot of miscellaneous worksheets, you have the right to question whether this kind of homework is really helpful; why not instead suggest “real-life learning” activities that you want to do with your child, that are related to school learning.
  • What about big “projects?” If the child is being required to do complicated, time-consuming “projects” that require expensive materials, and/or assignments that are unduly difficult, you should definitely discuss it with the school–again, be pro-active for your child. Homework “for the sake of homework” should also not be happening; there is no reason a child should have to do homework every single day if he/she is already succeeding in class time. Building good self-discipline and learning habits in preparation for the more difficult years ahead is fine, but it should be reasonable.
  • If your child seems to constantly be bringing home half-completed classroom work, you definitely should discuss it with the teacher, and find out what is happening: Is the child finding the work too difficult? Is the classroom atmosphere too rowdy or distracting for your child? Is your child spending most of class time running around, chatting with other students, drawing pictures, or day-dreaming (and if so, does this suggest the child might need learning methods more suited to his/her personality and learning styles, or do you need to spend some time helping your child learn to settle down and focus)? Is your child not developmentally ready for this level of work? Is the child missing some “basics” you could help with at home instead of struggling with the incomplete assignments that are caused by learning gaps? Does the child perhaps have health or physical or emotional or learning differences that need to be addressed?
  • What about “special needs”? Since parents often spend lots of time with their young children, they may sense when that child might have “special needs” that need to be taken care of–physical needs such as hearing or sight difficulties; emotional difficulties; or special needs or developmental issues such as autism or apraxia of speech. If a parent suspects a young child has these kinds of issues, certainly it is wise to have them diagnosed.
  • But when it comes to “learning differences,” it is often wise to take a “wait and see” attitude in the primary years. For example, a child who is very active, and has difficulty “sitting still and learning” and therefore might be seen as “disturbing the class” might be diagnosed as ADHD, and be prescribed medications that “calm him down” but at the same time dull his curiosity and creativity … and ability to learn. A “wait and see” attitude could instead provide lots of opportunity for active, physical learning and exploration, and often the child will reach a stage where more traditional learning methods will succeed.
  • What about when a child seems to be “failing” or “isn’t ready”? In fact, there is nothing wrong with having a child repeat a year of kindergarten–or even wait a year before starting school (legally, a child must enroll–or register as a homeschooler–in BC by the year in which the child turns 5—but parents are also allowed to keep their child home for an extra year), even though schools may try to insist parents keep the child with his age peers. If your 5- to 7-year-old child seems to be struggling with reading and writing, focus instead on reading aloud, outdoor exploration and activities, watching videos and playing learning games together, and encouraging your child’s interests. Your child will be gaining a strong foundation of knowledge and understanding about the world, and when he or she is ready to read and write, it will most likely be a quick and easy process.
  • Fine motor skills: Also, many young children do not yet have the “fine motor skills” required for printing and drawing; providing activities that will develop those motor skills will make the printing and drawing much easier and more enjoyable when the child is physically ready, rather than applying pressure before the child is ready, and turning him or her against learning.
  • What about “diagnoses”? If your child’s primary school–or other people, like friends or family–are pressuring you to have your child “diagnosed,” but you feel that your child just isn’t ready for traditional academic learning styles, you as the parent have the right to stand up for your child, and insist on a “wait and see” approach until at least grade 3 or so.
  • Parents should be as pro-active as possible in their child’s education. If you have any questions about what is going on, make sure you ask the teacher–and your child, on a regular basis. If your child is unhappy about school, you need to find out why. As you do all kinds of life activities, and specific learning activities, with your child at home, observe the child’s interests, learning styles, and any difficulties, and discuss them with your child’s teacher. The new BC curriculum specifies individualised learning experiences based on children’s unique learning styles and personalities, and with the recent Supreme Court ruling on class size and composition, there will hopefully soon be more speciality teachers and learning assistants to help the classroom teachers do more personalization. But it is still a huge job for a classroom teacher to individualise learning, and if you really want special considerations for your child, you need to be prepared to be part of the solution. The teacher may be much more willing–and able–to meet some of your requests if you will do your share at home.
  • Be part of your child’s learning team: Find out how you can work together as a learning team. If you choose to homeschool, whether as a registered homeschool family (in which you design your child’s learning) or as an enrolled homeschool family (in which you work under the guidance of a Distributed Learning school program, using the BC curriculum), you’ll want to use a team approach as well–researching different learning methods and resources, and getting involved with homeschool support groups. Make your child’s education an integral part of life-long learning with the family and the community!

Questions and comments: I hope this post has been helpful for you. If you have any questions, or if you have suggestions to share, please post your thoughts in the comments! Thank you!

  1. Why children need parent-tutors
  2. Important activities parent-tutors can do well
  3. Building a Good Parent-Tutor and Child Relationship
  4. Learning Styles, Intelligences, and Behaviours
  5. Developing Individualised Tutoring–Tips for Parents
  6. Monitoring Your Child’s Progress
  7. Some Basic Learning Goals
  8. Home Tutoring Resources
  9. Suggestions for a Tutoring Session at Home
  10. Specific Suggestions for Primary Grades
  11. Specific Considerations for Intermediate Grades
  12. When to Consider Hiring a Tutor
  13. Costs of Tutors and Alternatives
  14. All Kinds of Learning Activities
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This entry was posted in family learning, home learning, homeschooling, homework tips, learning styles, learning tips, life-long learning, math, math facts, parent-tutoring. Bookmark the permalink.

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