Our Best Educational Advice for Parents

We asked some local educational experts what they wished every parent knew to help their kids reach their full potential. Here are the top tips they had to share.

Teachers, tutors, educational experts – you know that they have a lot of insights into the dos and don’ts of helping kids learn, grow and feel confident in their abilities and their educational paths. But a lot of times, these words fall on deaf ears, as parents are so busy carting kids to and fro. Or, these educational experts just don’t get the chance to share their insights with everyone they encounter. That’s why we asked some of the education gurus – all longtime vendors at our Education Expo – what is the best advice they would pass on to parents. As you’ll see below, these six tips run the gamut in topics and perspectives, but they’re all great insights. Check them out and let us know in comments what you think.

1. Make Time For Play

Create opportunities and space for art and open-ended, unstructured play. It is these moments that bring forth and develop a child’s creativity and imagination. Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education, said, “Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able, of themselves, to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility – these three forces are the very nerve of education.”

Staff of Detroit Waldorf School 

2. Encourage Their Inner Artist

The arts are such an important part of education. Guide your child in discovering a creative outlet, whether it be music, theatre, dance, literary or visual arts. They may not want to be an opera singer or a sculptor when they grow up, but being involved in the arts has enormous benefits: it strengthens creative thinking, improves motor skills, promotes problem-solving and collaboration, and builds confidence. The arts can also help bolster academic performance overall; a report by Americans for the Arts shows that young people who participate regularly in art activities are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. So, sign them up for piano lessons, find an acting workshop, or get them enrolled in a painting class. Your child will benefit in so many ways!

Andrea Scobie, Director of Education, Michigan Opera Theatre 

3. Teach Deeper Understanding

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As a teacher of young students – ages 2½-5 – for a very long time now, I’ve stopped asking my students to say they were sorry. Is this because I don’t think being sorry or taking responsibility for one’s actions is unnecessary? Absolutely not. It is because forcing young children to say they are sorry is meaningless to them. It is a rote phrase that quickly becomes one that is used to defend or forgive a behavior.

Saying “sorry” becomes a habit without any understanding or feeling behind it.
Children – especially gifted ones – quickly see this phrase as their “get out of jail free” card. Without conversations between all involved in a problem, there is no real understanding or any incentive to change the behavior. Having those who were participants in a disagreement need to sit with all involved to talk. Often, with adult guidance, even young children begin to take ownership of their words or actions, learn to listen to others, own their behaviors, work towards resolution and learn how to compromise and problem solve.

“Sorry” is a word. Conversation is an action. Instead of saying “I’m sorry,” saying, “I’ll try not to do it again” is more effective once the talking and listening to others has occurred.

The reward? One day hearing a child offer another a genuine, heartfelt “sorry” without a prompt.

Now it’s not just words – it’s genuine, empathetic and heartfelt.

Colleen Shelton, Stage I/Teacher, The Roeper School 

4. Recognize The Root of Their Emotions

If your child is one of the many who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, it’s likely you’ve seen a myriad of difficult-to-manage behaviors, including anger. Emotional regulation can be challenging for children with ADHD, and bouts of anger are common. Whether your child has ADHD or just struggles with anger, knowing how to help with hard-to-control emotions is a key parenting skill.

1. Be Aware
2. Be Empathetic
3. Be Mindful
4. Be Proactive

Anger is a secondary emotion, which means it has an underlying cause. Examples include frustration, guilt, fear, worry, anxiety, loneliness, disappointment, jealousy, embarrassment and even fatigue or hunger. Sometimes, the trigger is clear, such as embarrassment caused by a sibling. Other times, the reason is not immediately obvious, as in the case of stress caused by an upcoming test at school. Teaching children to be aware of anger triggers enables them to be problem-solvers rather than victims of uncontrollable emotion.

Amy Firek, Executive Director, Brain Balance

5. Be Careful Labelling Kids With Careers

We all want to help our kids find their gift and nurture their interests. It’s so tempting to introduce a child to The Robot Garage as “This is our little Engineer.” We often hear that followed up with “and this is our other child, the artist.” Labels, even well-meaning ones, can put a lot of pressure on kids to define their interests too soon, and to rule out other interests that may make them thrive. Our world is so integrated today, so we recommend trying to expose kids to as many experiences as possible. Instead of creating a fixed career for your child – or interest – consider saying something more casual like “Sally really loves engineering these days.”

Sarah Jacobs, Owner, The Robot Garage 

6. Help Students Use Their Own Voice and Self-Advocate

Parents are often the fiercest advocates for their children. Parents speak up to ensure that their students’ needs are met and access to opportunities are unlimited. Because parents are adept at identifying and communicating their students’ educational, social and emotional needs, it may seem that they are always the best advocate. However, as important as parents’ voices are, it is just as important for students to develop the ability to advocate for themselves. When parents model, teach and offer practice with self-advocacy, students begin to find and use their own voice. Additionally, students develop the confidence and critical skills that will sustain them far beyond the classroom.

Alisa Ruffin, High School Principal, Southfield Christian School 

Photo by Lauren Jeziorski

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