Sunbird is back with a new series of MEGASKILLS. We hope you were able to make good use of PRIME PARENTING.
We wanted to give you a little break before we launch the new series, so here is the new topic which will be self explainable. It also includes older children’s support, as we know many readers have now children that are anywhere from 6 to 12 years old.
MEGA SKILLS–By Dorothy Rich
What can parents do?: For years parents were told, “Hands off, you don’t know what you are doing, leave teaching to the schools.” Over twenty years ago, I decided I had to find a way to help parents know what they could do & what they should do to help children learn. The answer: Figure out what your family can do. Come up with a system that works. Don’t make it too hard or too big. Make it simple, easy & everyone can do it. Make it practical. Make it enjoyable.
Remember, it doesn’t take a lot of time to do a lot of good. Get people doing things together. You don’t need to be perfect to be good, & that goes for your children too. Convey to your children that learning matters, & that they matter. Encourage kids & feel encouraged yourselves.
Start now. Don’t worry about what you did or did not do before. The education in this book is serious, but it’s not grim. It’s play & pleasure & the delight in learning & in time spent together.
MegaSkills are the very basic values, attitudes & behaviours that determine a child’s achievement. MegaSkills are our children’s inner engines of learning. Though reinforced in the classroom, they get their power from the home:
- Confidence: Feeling able to do it
- Motivation: Wanting to do it
- Effort: Being willing to work hard
- Responsibility: Doing what’s right
- Initiative: Moving into action
- Perseverance: Completing what you start
- Caring: Showing concern for others
- Teamwork: Working with others
- Common Sense: Using good judgment
- Problem Solving: Putting what you know & what you can do into action.
MEGASKILLS & OUR CHILDREN
A MegaSkill, like confidence, is a long-lasting, achievement-enhancing skill. It’s what makes possible the use of the other skills that we learn. A MegaSkill is a catalyst. It’s like yeast making bread rise.
These aren’t only MegaSkills, but they play a strong role in determining success in school & beyond. They don’t drop from the sky & land on a lucky few. They can be taught at home by parents, even today. They are the values that undergird our work ethic, our character, & our personal behaviour.
I Care About You: Many children today feel they are not getting the time they need. I’ve heard the excuses, & there aren’t any good ones. “I’m just too busy” & “My kid doesn’t want to do anything with me, anyway,” are not acceptable, not now when our children need parents as much as they do.
What does this time together do? It says to a child, “I care about you. I want to spend special time with you. I want to hear what is on your mind & what you are feeling. You are important. You are needed.”
Children need time to relax & to think & to be on their own, & so do parents. It doesn’t take a lot of time to do a lot of good.
Our Children’s World: A Scary Place: The World is increasingly a frightening place. When I went to school, no one offered me drugs. AIDS was unheard of. The music I listened to had sweet lyrics & melodies compared to today’s torrid words & music. There seemed to be a communally shared sense of right & wrong & a greater sense of safety.
Looking around you now, it seems that children are being told & shown more than they want to know or need to know. It’s as if anything goes, & it is making real growing up harder. Parental guidance is more than suggested. It’s essential.
Today many children are full of stress. Time spent with children is the best possible vaccine that families can use.
Hope: A Vital Ingredient: There’s a well-known story of two children put in a room that contains a big pile of manure. One child looks at the pile & falls into despair. The other starts searching the room, saying, “With all this manure, there must be a pony somewhere.”
We can help children feel more hopeful & optimistic. Children need to be able to expect & to predict. They need a sense of schedule & of routine. Children need to be able to believe in themselves & in the people around them. Children need to feel that they matter.
THE MEGASKILLS PROGRAM & HOW IT WORKS
I said to myself, “There has got to be a better way,” when for the tenth time that day my darling child said: “I forgot,” or “I can’t find them anywhere,” or “I want to watch more TV,” or “I need some money.”
We all want our children to remember, to be responsible, to be concerned. As a teacher I thought, “If I can figure out how to teach the parts of speech, I ought to be able to come up with some ways to help teach these important basics.”
Using what I knew from the classroom, I decided that my method would focus on what is to be taught & then break it into teachable bits–like the directions of a recipe.
That was the beginning of the home learning recipe. It is the heart of the program.
It Starts At Home: This program uses everyday things, like doing laundry or paying bills, & going places, like supermarkets or gas stations, for teaching. It is easy. It is fun. It takes little time. Everyone can do it. It costs no money. The idea is to enable children to apply what they learn.
Common Sense is Still in Fashion: In recent years education became the job for the school. Today there is research showing that families are important educators of their children, teaching even when they don’t know they are teaching. No matter how good they are, teachers cannot do the job alone. This book provides a way to think about & use everyday moments for teaching & learning. Children need physical activity & opportunity to ask questions, to explore, & to experiment without competitive pressures.
What’s in a Home Learning Recipe?–A home learning recipe has to:
- Tie to schoolwork but not be schoolwork: Children need ways to succeed at home that are different from school but at the same time help them succeed in school. Parents need ways to help their children learn other than by nagging, “Did you do your homework?”
- Be serious & be fun at the same time.
- Have a teachable focus: You don’t send a very young child upstairs to “clean a room.” You send a young child to do one thing: To make a bed or to vacuum the rug or to open the shades. It’s even helpful to resist sending an older youngster to “clean up that whole mess at once.” Good teaching is a step-by-step operation.
- Be easy to do, take little time, & cost little or no money: Parents can teach & learn with their children joyously, without worry, without hassle. I needed activities that could be done alongside my household routines, using whatever I had at home. Today’s busy parents need these easy-to-do “recipes” more than ever. Use these ideas to take off on your own, using your & your child’s creativity to come up with additional “recipes”.
A good home learning recipe gives everyone a chance to succeed. There is no one right way to do it. A recipe is a road map, not a set of rigid rules. The activity itself is designed to provide a feeling of accomplishment. It gives parents a chance to step back & children a chance to step forward. The idea is to help both parent & child feel good & get to know each other better in the bargain.
Different “Recipes” for Different Ages: What works for preschoolers won’t work for fifth graders. Parents have to be ready to change gears. Around ages four through six, many of the “recipes” have to do with getting ready for school & using primary school subjects like counting, sorting & early reading at home.
Around ages seven through nine, many of the “recipes” focus on helping children get organised, build study skills, & develop solid work habits.
Around ages 10 through 12, “recipes” work toward helping children understand themselves, their friends, & their family. Activities aim at developing greater self-reliance, building career awareness, & establishing healthy habits & self-esteem that can help prevent destructive habits, such as drug abuse.
These are not hard & fast age & grade distinctions. Use all & any of the activities that appeal to you & your child.
For children who do not yet read, I recommend that parents read all directions aloud, that children dictate their ideas for parents to write, & that symbols be used alongside words as needed. In labelling a dresser drawer, draw a sock next to the word “socks.”
We use a series of eight “recipes” over a period of eight weeks, one a week. This is designed to get parents & youngsters tuned in to the idea of using “recipes”. Read through the entire collection of “recipes” first, starring or checking the ones that appeal to you. Then ask your child to help you select the ones you both like. Work at your own schedule–but guard against overkill. Once a week is really fine. You can build a whole year of activities as you go along.
Staying with the Program: Use them on a regular basis. If you’ve used one part of an activity, go back to it to find the extra idea you haven’t tried. Think of ways you can build on what you have done. Improvise, be creative.
MEGASKILL ONE: CONFIDENCE
We know what we’re hearing when children say: “I just can’t do that.” “The other kids are better than I am.” “I’m scared.” “I won’t try it.” We’re hearing a child’s cry for more confidence. “I remember the potholder I made in third grade, made out of loops that were yellow, red, gold & orange. It was a present I made to give to my mother, & oh, was she proud. And did it make me feel good!”
Those are the words of a man in his late fifties. He has a doctorate & many scientific achievements on his resum. But when asked about his sense of confidence, he talks about the potholder.
I still remember the day I carried Rocky, the rooster, home in a crate bigger than I was. It was the last day of first grade. About fifteen of us lined up to draw slips for our chickens. I was a winner. I struggled with that big box over the six blocks to my home. My brother came by a couple of times to try to help me with it, but I refused. This was my chicken, my achievement, & I would bring him home alone.
I have never forgotten Rocky & the day I carried him home alone. It is a memory of struggle & success that gives me confidence & motivation to this very day. When I have to do something hard & when I get scared, I think back to Rocky & that crate, & even though it has nothing to do with the current situation, I breathe deeper & think to myself, “I can do it.”
Confidence Practice: Confidence ebbs & flows like a river. It does not run at high tide all the time. Coming up with confidence-building experiences for children can be a challenge. These experiences need to be small enough for children to deal with, large enough to encourage growth, & easy enough for parents to work with. You can start at home with household objects, such as a telephone.
Here are a few activities, all using the phone:
Telephone Time–ages 4-6
For this early reading activity, you need a telephone, seven small squares of paper, crayon or pencil. Tell or show your child your home telephone number. Say each separate number aloud as you point to it.
On separate pieces of paper, write down each number. Now show your child how to put the pieces in the same order (left to right) as your phone number. Let your child read this telephone number aloud from the assembled pieces of paper. Provide help as needed.
As a game, mix up the pieces of paper & let your child put your telephone number together. At first let your child match the papers to the number listed on the phone. Then try this without looking at the phone. Now ask your child to write down the phone number, left to right, on a larger piece of paper. You might want to post this for all to see & admire.
When you are both out together, let your child dial home. Do this when someone is at home to give your child the satisfaction of making contact.
Calling For Help–ages 7-9
This activity helps your child learn to use the telephone to report emergencies. Ask your child to find in the telephone book the numbers for Fire/Rescue & Police, usually listed at the front of the telephone book.
If you don’t already have one, make a list of important telephone numbers to call in an emergency, similar to the one that follows. With your child, fill this in & put it near the phone.
Friend or Neighbour______
Take turns explaining what to say on the phone when you report emergencies. Examples: Someone at home is hurt; you smell smoke or see fire. When you use the phone in this practice, be sure to keep the contact button pushed down.
From Things to People: In the journey of growing up, children must learn to manage objects & work with people. Confidence comes from both. In the activities that follow, children find out more about their families & themselves, & they get a chance to learn to like each other more. I believe that if children knew more about their parents, especially about their early lives, it would help.
I’m Okay, & So is My Family: Children love knowing more about themselves. Parents like this activity because it not only helps children think seriously about themselves but provides lots of laughs, too. It helps families remember the funny times that sometimes seem funny only in retrospect–the time the big fish got away, along with the fishing rod, or the time friends were invited for a birthday party on the wrong day.
The Importance of Me–ages 4-9
The task is to make a “me” poster. You need markers, poster cardboard or large paper, scissors, paste, old magazines for pictures, & snapshots, if possible.
Together look through magazines. Find pictures of what your child likes–pets, foods, clothes. Cut them out & with paste arrange them on a large sheet of paper. Magazine pictures are fine. If you have extra snapshots, use them.
An activity like this one says to your child, “You are special, & your family knows it.”
Now & Then–ages 10-12
This activity helps to get generations talking together, especially about those early years. Everyone was a child once. Here’s a way to share some of those memories.
In this activity, the child & a parent or grandparent make a Time Line. It’s a way to recapture memories of people at certain times in their lives.
You need a roll of shelf paper or large brown wrapping paper, pencils & crayons, & a ruler.
Decide together with your child when to begin the Time Line. This may be at birth or when school started or some other special time. Decide how much space will be allowed for each year. One inch per year or one foot per year? Draw a line for each one of you.
Talk about the memories. Compare similar experiences. Talk about differences. For example, at no time in my life have I experienced such a momentous decision as my parents did when they decided to immigrate to a new, unknown country.
Another way to harvest memories without using a Time Line is to have children interview grandparents & relatives who lived through different periods of American (or family) history.
Young people may want to start their own family archives by putting all these family memories in a book to share with their own children.
What Do I Do Right?–ages 10-12
Many of us spend a lot of time telling each other what we do wrong. Here’s an activity to help us focus on what we’re doing right. You need paper & pencil.
Together think of & write down at least two things you like about yourselves. Example: “I have a good sense of humour. I like to share with others.” Talk about what others say they like about you.
Figure out together jobs & activities at home that both you & your child will feel proud of accomplishing. Examples: Fixing something around the house, cooking a special dish for the family, teaching the family a new game.
Try to set a time every day, if only for a few minutes, to talk about the events of the day. If you’re available to listen to your children when they are young, chances are they’ll continue to communicate with you as they grow older.
It Takes Courage: “It takes courage to make courage.” We want children to be careful but not fearful. Work towards a gradual building of the abilities it takes to be courageous & careful at the same time.
I have a problem with heights. When my young children went to the top of the big slide in the playground, my immediate reaction was to shout, “Stop! Come down! You’ll hurt yourself!” They were perfectly happy up there high in the sky. I was the one who was petrified. It took some time for me to pull my own courage together, to let them be courageous & free from the seeds of my fear.
Confidence & Expectations: In California a few years ago, a study showed that “ordinary” students could exceed themselves when expectations for them were high.
Researchers went into a school & tested the students for academic potential. Ignoring the score, they told teachers that one group was made up of “late bloomers” whose academic “promise” would be realised that year. At the end of the year the “promise” was realised. This group was comparable with their classmates as far as could be established, but their teachers had expected them to succeed & they had.
Children learn–by trying. When they try, they build confidence. When children see themselves as doers, they develop the ability to do more.