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Role-Modeling: Parents & Children in the Classroom

For many parents, the idea of working with their own children sounds great. The opportunity to bond over shared experience, knowledge, and mutual engagement is a beautiful thing. But in practice, working with our children often leads to frustration and exasperation for child and parent alike. But, why? First and foremost, it’s because adults often tend to assume that children are just like them. This simply isn’t true! While adults have had years upon years to develop communication skills, self-awareness, and problem-solving skills, children (and even older teens) are still learning these skills. And guess to whom they refer as a model for their behavior? That’s right: their guardians!

Building a positive learning environment for your child at home is imperative for maximizing educative success. Here are some simple measures that can be taken at home to foster your child’s curiosity and encourage success, while strengthening your relationship in the process.

  1. Admit Mistakes. Why do children look up to adults so much? Children realize that they don’t know much. They also realize that, relative to themselves, adults know a lot more about how the world works. This is why kids (especially younger ones) constantly ask questions. As adults, we know that we don’t have all the answers, but the temptation to act like we do is strong. Role models must learn to admit when they don’t have an answer and to admit when an answer is simply wrong. Such admissions display tolerance for mistakes, demonstrating to children that it’s ok to not have all of the answers. Admitting our mistakes, correcting them, and moving on teaches our children to do the same, ensuring that their confidence isn’t negatively impacted as they are exposed to increasingly complex learning concepts.

  2. Don’t give answers. Imagine you’re helping your child finish her English homework, when you notice that she wrote “I will go to the school for 5 hour” rather than “I will go to the school for 5 hours.” Your first impulse may be to call attention directly to the mistake so that you can correct it for her. This is bad practice. Directly correcting the student’s mistakes deprives them of a learning opportunity! Instead of pointing out mistakes and giving answers to your child, elicit them by encouraging her to find her mistakes independently. In the example above, this may be accomplished by re-reading the sentence, then asking “Hmmmmmm, what’s wrong with this sentence? 1 hour. 2 hours. 3 hours. 4 hours…” For the student, this approach also makes the learning process more memorable, resulting in stronger recall ability. They’re also less likely to repeat mistakes in the future when answers are elicited rather than given directly.

  3. Trust the children (and be patient). It’s undeniable that they make many mistakes, but when given the freedom to think and express themselves, children are full of surprises. Most children need significant amounts of time to consider their answers before saying them aloud. As the student considers their answer, parents sometimes grow uncomfortable with extended periods of silence. They’re tempted to fill the silence with their own words, which children will then parrot as if they were their own. When this happens, it presents several difficulties. First, the teacher is unable to accurately gauge the student’s true level of knowledge, making it harder to interact in a meaningful way. Next, the children feel unnecessary pressure if interrupted while crafting responses, making them more likely to answer incorrectly or unintelligibly. Finally, putting words into the student’s mouth makes them feel like their contribution is unimportant and may lead to apathetic behavior in future learning situations. As tempting as it may be, avoid filling the silence when your child searches for answers. Trust that they’ll find a way to communicate their message, and all of the aforementioned issues are easily avoided. If you accompany your child in a classroom, allow the teacher to encourage creative communication rather than suggesting responses yourself--remember, this is the child's lesson, not yours! When given the flexibility they need to form their answers, you may be surprised at the complex messages children manage to communicate, even with limited vocabulary!

  4. Speak to the children like adults. Developmentally, children and adults are on opposite ends of the spectrum. However, that doesn’t mean that adults should be reductive when communicating with children. Children learn to communicate from adults, so simplifying your vocabulary isn’t always doing them a favor. Likewise, language often reflects acceptable social behavior; by reducing or simplifying speech, adults limit the child’s exposure to “normal” conversation. Language skills are best developed when the student is immersed in a variety of memorable situations, so providing ample opportunity to engage in natural conversation using naturally occurring vocabulary is a great way to encourage positive learning outcomes, particularly about conversational proficiency and vocabulary.

  5. Demonstrate the benefits of learning. One major reason that children fail to retain what they’ve learned in class is that they fail to connect new information to its real-life benefits. By demonstrating these benefits in numerous ways, adults can increase student curiosity and enhance student engagement even when working with information the student would otherwise find uninteresting. Parents can encourage ESL students to retain vocabulary, sentence frames, and cultural context by providing them with as much stimulation as possible in the target language. One important caveat: the student should be interested in whatever content is presented for the experience to be as memorable (and consequently, as beneficial) as possible. Parents of younger students, in particular, may consider playing games in English (board games, video games, card/counting games, etc.), viewing the child’s favorite show in English (without subtitles), or speaking English with the child both inside and outside of the home (whenever possible).

In conclusion, it’s vital to keep in mind that children learn everything from us. Modeling correct behavior both inside and outside of the classroom allows parents to play an active part in shaping both their child’s learning and social outcomes. Remember that your emotions and behavior shape those of your children; when parents react positively to stressful or uncomfortable situations, children learn to do the same. If they react negatively, children often mimic this behavior. For this reason, we simply must apply The Golden Rule with kids, as we would during all other interactions: treat others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

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