Eight Things Parents Can Do -- Immediately, Easily!

02/05/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Child bored, disinterested in school? School too difficult or too easy? Parents, you can immediately and easily improve your child's education, learning behaviors, and attitudes towards learning by incorporating some of the following suggestions into their daily lives. These will be fun and bring you closer.

1. LOVE Your CHILD! In the first few days of school I would have a parents meeting. In this meeting, usually with the principal attending, I would explain all the things I planned to do that year that were not in the regular curriculum, as well as the different ways I would be handling the normal curriculum and my classroom management techniques. I would tell the parents that I respected their right to have the children exposed to the ideas and beliefs they espoused. I felt that they, in turn, should respect my beliefs and the creative ways I taught. I said that I didn't think they should try to impose their values on me and vice versa. Therefore, after listening to me, asking questions, and discussing any differences, those who felt I was not the teacher for their children could quickly and easily get them transferred to another teacher. Each year one to four would take their children out of my class. This avoided many possible conflicts as those that stayed had committed themselves and their children to my program and those who would have argued and harassed me all year were in happier (to them) environment. Win-win situation.

Those who stayed would ask me what they could do to help their children - and me. I responded with, "These are YOUR children. I'm merely borrowing them for a year. The best thing you can do for them and me and yourselves is -LOVE them! The more that you tell them, show them, and prove to them your love (not by spoiling and giving in to every demand and not setting limits, that's weakness, not love) the easier it will be for me to teach them. A child that comes to school feeling loved will be receptive to the difficulties inherent in learning new things. A child who is or believes he is unloved will be unreceptive to any learning and will damage himself, others, and the learning process.

"Love your child and I guarantee I'll be able to give him a good education." It worked!

2. LISTENING. Teachers tell parents to read to their children. It is important, but many parents can't or don't. However, every parent can listen to their child read - or just talk to them.

When parents ask their children, "What did you do today in school?" the usual answer is "Nothin'." Instead of that question use open-ended statements like the following that lead them into talking about their thoughts and feelings.

"When you were at recess _" or "During reading today you read _" or even statements like, "Explain to me how you do fractions." or " Mammals - how are they different from reptiles?" or "Tell me one thing you wish would have happened at school today." These kinds of questions make it easier for a child to begin or structure an answer.

Another reason children don't tell about their day is they think the parent is too busy to care. Once children know you're interested and are willing to listen to them they will communicate more easily with you.

Every day my wife asked, "How was your day?" to our children. She cared, they knew it, and they told her. It helped each to be more competent and clear thinkers and communicators. My experiences as a teacher demonstrated that when a child didn't talk to me it was due to his distrust of me, his fears, his anger, or his depression. Most children need only a little help to talk easily, but disturbed, shy, or neglected children need more help in self-expression.

3. TELEVISION. It has become a convenient and useful baby-sitter. That's not all bad.

Educationally. I used TV with my nonreaders. They understood much of what they saw on TV or I that I read to them, but they were weak in decoding skills. By talking to them about the plot, characters, scene (times and places), theme, and by using who, what, when, where, why, and how questions they became even more intelligent and proficient critics. We watched news, soaps, commercials, cartoons, series, and movies. I began with half hour programs and taught them the same thinking skills used during reading. We were "reading" TV. The learning transferred to reading. And, they tried harder to learn their decoding skills, which they did! I was getting into their world and giving them useful tools and skills to be educationally more competent. When children watch things that interest them it is easier to teach them their thinking and reading skills.

Emotionally. In our home we watched much of what my elementary children watched and vice versa. One daughter said to her friend, "Come and watch TV with my dad. He always knows what's going to happen next." The ability to predict is based on close observation and seeing patterns, which is important in all learning. At home and in my classes I taught the children how to "see" more. In the process of questions, answers, and conversations we all shared many exciting and emotional moments.

Instead of using TV as only time "away" from your children, spend some of it "with" your children so you can teach them and share more of their emotional lives. TV is neither your enemy nor just a cheap baby-sitter, but a unique opportunity for you to easily strengthen the emotional and intellectual bonds you have with your children. If you think certain programs are in bad taste, you will find that if you watch with them, teach them to think and understand the content or philosophy, then they will make more intelligent choices in TV - and in life!

Some will not, but you can learn and better understand and communicate with them once you get into their world. I didn't like some of the things my children enjoyed, but I did understand their appeal to them. My acceptance brought us closer.

Learning does not occur just in the cortical, the major part of the brain, but interacts with the emotional regions. Some intellectuals tend to think they can detach themselves from their emotions and think purely and more clearly. Dangerous. By suppressing their emotions they lose touch with all that gives richness, texture, and meaning to their lives. It is better to teach the children to recognize, admit, and cope with the intensity of their emotions. This occurs when you discuss their day and interact with them during TV viewing. A loving, interacting family won't need to censor what others watch or fear what their children are exposed to, because they will have given them the critical tools and skills to deal with ignorance and evil.

Don't overdo it. If you interrupt everything they watch you will lose your rapport and their interest in sharing. Pick the programs and times with your children. Ask only a few questions to get them thinking. Encourage, stimulate.

4. MUSIC. Every human has a musical instrument -- voice. It is inexpensive, easy to use, and all children love to use it -- alone or in groups. With cassettes, CD's, and videos, anyone can sing along with the music he enjoys. Lip-synching may be cute, but it doesn't give the child the joy he gets from belting out a song. Church hymns, rap songs, folk music, or popular melodies are all useful and fun. Each culture has its own music and children enjoy them all.

Music is one of the healthiest ways to get various types of emotional release. When a class is tired, disinterested, or rowdy a period of music can immediately change their mood. Children singing at home are seldom unhappy. When you sing with them you share their happiness -- another great way for emotional and family bonding. Singing in the car helped us pass the time in joy rather than, "Sit down, shut up!"

Music does soothe the savage (your little) beasties.

5. ART. With our limited family budget art was crayons, newspapers, scissors, paste, and whatever discarded stuff we scrounged. When they were very young I took cardboard boxes and changed them into dolls, cars, houses, etc. All seven children tapped into their natural artistic natures and each become quite proficient in expressing themselves -- without spending much money. Libraries (schools libraries too) and bookstores are filled with books to show you easy things to make and how-to-draw step-by-step.

Don't replace TV by throwing some art materials on a table and demanding they draw. Whatever they do, you do with them. (Don't be obtrusive. If they want to do some of these things alone or with friends, back off. You want to share, not to dominate or suffocate them.) This is another way to make emotional contact. In my classes I did art with them as they talked to me about their family and themselves. It was useful in helping them deal with their lives. They felt comfortable because I was struggling with the project too while I answered the multitude of questions children want to know about their teacher.

Art is very subjective so be careful about comparing creations between family members. You don't have to gush over everything, but be encouraging. Avoid "That's good, but ..., " which means nothing is good enough. (I contributed to making one of my children obsessive-compulsive by letting her know her work was good, BUT could be better. I thought I was helping her improve, which it did, but she never believed anything was good enough.)

6. IMAGINATION TRAINING. I am expert in leading children and adults into guided imagery, but anyone can tell their children to, "Close your eyes, imagine that you are in your -- (choose any) room, at school, on the playground, at Disneyland, McDonald's, etc." Give them a few minutes to get into the place and time to see the pictures unfold. Then, "Now, tell about your experience."

This is merely another way to make emotional contact while stimulating your child's total brain and giving him another vehicle to practice clear, logical speech. To explain his often jumbled images and make them into an interesting story takes thought and organizational ability -- which he will develop.

7. PLAYS. You can start with simple mime plays and have the rest guess what the actors are doing. Or, they can take fairy tales or characters from TV or movies and act out what they saw. Or, change the script with new problems. Or, take any family conflict and create short plays.

Besides the plays I wrote for my classes, I let them do spontaneous plays. Two girls pretended to be the girl and her mother. As they interacted the other children stepped in to be another relative or family friend (they all lived in close proximity) and it was like what you now see on reality TV. This was 1967! In 2002 my class created makeup using watercolors and with a child as narrator they did The Three Bears and the Lion King. There were no rehearsals, just plain fun, as they knew the stories well and spontaneously acted them out.

8. SPORTS. Many parents already spend time getting their children into sports, dance, or music programs. Some avidly follow their child's progress and are very supportive and this can be good, but they do not engage in these with them. I don't think this is as valuable as playing with them.

I can remember fondly the few times my father played catch or tossed a football. All our children recall all the sports activities we did together (of course, there were a lot of us, but most children look forward to any kind of one-on-one or family experiences with parents).

There is a mountain of evidence that engaging in any of these activities with your children will stimulate the development of their entire brain, increase their creativity, increase their academic abilities, and most importantly insure a healthy loving relationship that will continue throughout your lives. These are worth the time you will take away from other things you now believe are more important.

Marie and I struggled financially, but we have reaped the reward of seven loving children and many grandchildren who make our lives worth living.

Free plays, TV and Self-Awareness workbooks are available to download at