The Edwards Agency

Opinion

Guest Column

Ready for School? Ready to Learn!

ready to learn This year, instead of asking children if they're "ready for school," how about asking instead: Are you ready to learn?
   With this question, we send the message that learning is why we go to school. And while new shoes, clothes, notebooks, and pencils are surely exciting and needed, the purpose of all this equipment-getting is to learn.
   What does it mean for a child to be "ready to learn?"
   It means that children are well fed, get the proper rest, have a safe environment, are free from drugs, and have the physical, social, and emotional capacity to engage in learning. Ready to learn applies to kindergartners--and it applies to 12th graders, as well.
   The fact is, children are eager learners. And they're usually ready and willing to learn if they are healthy, have competent social skills for their age, and get in gear for learning from the very first day they enter school--and every day from then on.
   But kids of all ages need support in maintaining that ready-to-learn edge. Some experts say that, next to physical well-being, a loving relationship is most important in the development of children. There is a connection between loving and learning.
   We know that very young children in kindergarten and the elementary grades require adults who care about them in order to progress in learning and development. This is a time when limits are set, when there are expectations for appropriate behavior and increased self-control. And this is also a good time to use praise freely to help motivate the youngsters as tasks are finished.
   Elementary school is the time when children can learn to express their opinions, and learn to listen respectfully to the opinions of others. Encouraging children to express and discuss their opinions helps to improve language and reasoning skills.
   In middle school and on up through high school, peer pressure escalates. Although it doesn't always seem so, kids really do need their parents and families just as much as ever. Sometimes more.
   Students may feel overwhelmed, confused by the changes in themselves. Parents can reinforce the significance of school, encouraging their children to hold to their focus on learning, to take challenging courses, to look at options for careers and future schooling.
   A good deal of research evidence shows that children whose parents get involved in their schooling significantly increase their academic achievement. As parents more frequently participate in their children's schooling, they tend to increase their own understanding of child and adolescent development and the learning process. And involved parents become better teachers at home.
   But not all children have parents who are involved in their education, or live in homes where intellectual, social, emotional and physical health are promoted. More and more schools are looking for solutions to help all children start the day prepared to learn.
   Creating positive conditions in schools and linkage to needed services in communities will help foster the well being of families and children. That will go a long way in producing conditions where children come to school ready and willing to learn.

This column is provided as a public service by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (a non-profit institution), 101 SW Main Street, Suite 500, Portland, Oregon 97204; (503) 275-9500, fax (503) 275-0458, Internet: blahak@nwrel.org.