Academic Achievement: How to Ensure Your Child’s Success

Parents & Kids Magazine
May 2011

View original article here.

My husband and I became first time parents last summer. Watching our son grow from a tiny, helpless newborn to an active infant has been an amazing experience. As first time parents, every milestone is a big deal. The first time our son slept through the night, rolled over, sat up, made a noise, we called the entire family to share our delight. According to all the parenting magazines and books I’ve read, he is progressing as a normal infant should. But because he’s our child, we like to end every conversation with, “He’s advanced.”

Every proud parent believes their child is the smartest, the cutest, most well behaved, and the best at everything their child does. However, most children inevitably are going to have areas of weakness where they struggle or have to work harder – particularly in the academic arena. Academic success is important in a child’s life as it plays a major role in shaping their future. As your child progresses through elementary school, middle school, and finally high school, certain academic benchmarks will help determine if your child is making the grade or falling behind.

Is Your Child Kindergarten Ready?

Most school districts require a child be at least five-years old by a certain date before admitting them into kindergarten. If your child has a summer birthday, you may want to evaluate whether he or she is ready for kindergarten or would benefit from waiting another year. A child entering kindergarten should be able to communicate orally, be able to take care of their personal belongings, and use the restroom by themselves. Other key areas to evaluate are whether your child can listen to and follow directions, whether they have a rudimentary familiarity with the alphabet and numbers, and if they possess the motor skills required to hold a pencil and cut with scissors. Since your child is going to be in a classroom all day, they should also be able to get along with others, know how to take turns, and work with a group.

Early Elementary School (Grades K-3)

Early in their academic career, your child’s teacher will focus on learning to recognize, name, and print the alphabet. As they progress, they will begin to shift to phonics – connecting letters to sounds – and comprehension. They will also be introduced to counting, patterns, shapes, and sizes and be able to recognize and understand that numbers signify quantity, order and measurement. By the end of first grade, your child should have an understanding of basic addition, subtraction and place values. Second grade focuses on increasing writing skills with an emphasis on spelling and punctuation as well as an understanding of what they are reading. By the time your child completes third grade, they should have moved from learning to read and write to reading to learn and writing to communicate. They should also have an understanding of early multiplication, fractions, and decimals and be able to work independently. Socially, this is when friendships begin to bud. Children should be able to successfully play with other others and be aware of how their actions affect their playmates.

Upper Elementary (Grades 4-5)

Now that your child has mastered basic reading skills, he or she will be encouraged to read with more speed and efficiency. You may notice an increase in their vocabulary as well as improvements in their reading comprehension. Expect book reports complete with an emphasis on the writing process –outlines, rough drafts, etc. By now they will be expected to add and subtract larger numbers as well as multiplication, long division, and basic geometry.

Middle School (Grades 6-8)

In middle school, teachers view their students as young adults. Responsibilities will increase in addition to the workload. By the time your child completes the eighth grade, they should have a solid foundation in reading and math that they can build on when faced with more challenging high school courses. At a minimum, they should be able to do basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as have the ability to use a protractor, ruler and calculator. They should also be able to read at grade level, write legibly, and construct a simple paragraph that includes a topic sentence, supporting sentences and correct punctuation. If your child excels in situations that challenge him or her academically, they should be able to transition to high school with little problem.

Obviously, your level of involvement with your child’s education will change as they get older and learn to become more independent. As your child enters their high school years, it is important that you continue to stay informed about his or her performance in school. Stay connected with them and keep in contact with teachers and school counselors to ensure they stay on track.

What Should I do If My Child Is Falling Behind?

A child struggling in school will often give off social cues long before you receive a phone call from their teacher. Have you noticed a negative change in behavior? Are they suddenly uninterested in activities they used to enjoy? Other warning signs include hesitancy to talk about school or homework assignments.

If you think your child is falling behind, first gage what you are basing your opinion on. Is your child falling behind based on the school’s curriculum or are they just learning at a slower rate than someone else’s child? Every child learns at a different rate and will have their own individual set of strengths where they excel and weaknesses where they will have to put forth more effort.

“People learn in different ways,” says David Elkin, Ph.D., ABPP; Associate Professor of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at University of Mississippi Medical Center. “The vast majority of school and teachers want to help kids learn, and most schools find it very helpful to have a detailed report on a child’s learning style so they can do all they can for that child. Some kids learn better visually, while others learn better auditorially or verbally.”

Second, determine where the problem is. More times than not, a problem can be pinpointed to a particular class or subject. Arrange a meeting with your child’s teacher and together you may be able to come up with a plan of action to help them get back on track. Your child may also need additional help outside of school hours, such as hiring a tutor. Finally, make sure to keep tabs on homework assignments. Find out if your child’s school has a homework hotline or website to help you monitor assignments and due dates.

“The best thing a parent can do to improve the chances for academic success in their child is to provide an environment where consistency and predictability are standard and reading is encouraged,” Elkin adds. “Turn off the TV. Encourage children to read every day. Don’t forget social, creative, and unstructured play – one of the best things a parent can say to their child is ‘Go outside!’ They may end up staring at the clouds, they may climb a tree, or playing with the neighborhood kids. But parents don’t need to feel that their main job is to provide a guaranteed and structured learning environment for their kids at all times. Kids need a chance to be kids.”

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