This is an excerpt from a document distributed to families participating in The Learning Program. It provides guidelines and implementation tips for parents working with their children, but the points apply equally to teachers. While there are as many different methods and styles of teaching as there are types of learners, there are some basics which we believe will help you maximize your instruction time.
Assume Your Child is Able
We have no way of predicting how each individual child will respond to this or any instructional program. Each child has different strengths and passions. However, research shows that one of the most important factors for learning success is a parent or teacher who believes the child is capable of learning. It sounds so simple. Unfortunately, as our children progress in education, there will be educators who will focus only on presumed defects and limitations. Don’t let them. Your child can learn. Your child will learn. Your job as a parent is to remember this and to keep your focus on your child’s abilities.
Make Learning Fun
One of the most important principles of this program is that learning should and can be fun. Because our children experience developmental delays, learning takes longer. Unless we can make learning an enjoyable experience, we are likely to meet with resistance from our children. If learning is fun, our children will be engaged, enthusiastic and motivated to learn.
Success is Key
“Success is Key” is another closely related principle. In addition to having fun, our children need to feel successful in their attempts to learn. If they feel successful, they will enjoy learning and be inspired to learn more. If they feel only failure, they will eventually feel defeated and avoid learning. Our children feel successful when we use best practices for instruction, choose materials that are appropriate, and account for individual learning strengths and challenges.
Teach . . . Don’t Test
Another important program principle is that parents need to teach, not test. When we teach, we give our children information (“This word is ‘run’; this is ‘dog’”). When we test, we seek to elicit information from our children. (“What is this word? What is this letter?”). To use this program effectively, you will have to resist the urge to make teaching sessions into testing sessions. We will emphasize the differences between teaching and testing during the monthly sessions, and we will help you learn to teach not test as you work with your child.
Model. . . Don’t Correct
As your child learns, he will make mistakes. Remember to use a positive approach to teaching by modeling correct responses rather than correcting your child as each mistake is made (avoid phrases like “no, that’s wrong,” “no, let me show you,”). Using a positive approach, parents provide feedback based on their child’s effort and not on whether the answer or response is “right” or “wrong.” Ongoing modeling and encouragement are the best motivators for your child.
Let Child Set Pace
We need to let our children set the pace of learning to implement this program effectively. At times (perhaps too many times) it may seem that progress is slow, and we as parents may become frustrated by the lack of perceived growth. This is our problem, not our children’s. Do you ever hear your child complain “Darn, it is taking me so long to learn.” Of course not! Our children rarely seem discouraged by the speed of their own progress – they are proud to complete each task. Let us embrace their energy, go at their pace and suspend our own pre-conceptions about how long it should take to master a specific task. With our children guiding us, we can sit back, have some fun and delight in their progress, regardless of the pace.
Balance Learning Time And Play Time
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” This old proverb has particular importance to parents hoping to grow life-long learners. Balancing learning time and play time frees our children for “childish” fun - fun without the weight of educational goals. As parents, we are used to juggling crowded schedules and weaving learning tasks into our daily routines. Quiet times become opportunities to read or practice spelling words. Waiting in line becomes a chance to skip count or recite addition facts. We have high expectations for our children and find time to infuse our schedules with teachable moments. This skill is important for successful instruction. Ample play time, however, is just as critical. Our children work hard in school, in therapy sessions and at home. They need time set aside to relax and be kids. Schedule agenda-free play time if you have to, but make sure it happens. Water fights, hide-and-go seek and trips to the ice cream store are a few of the pleasures that take the weight off the hours of work.
Don't Let Guilt Get in the Way
The introduction of a new program into our busy lives can be overwhelming and, consequently, guilt-producing (“I missed another day of working with my child”). Once guilt sets in, parents often quit entirely. Don’t fall into that trap. Set a reasonable goal (15 to 30 minutes three days a week) and add more time as you are able. Don’t worry about missing a day, week or month now and then. Pick up where you left off and continue working with your child. Have a good attitude, and try not to feel burdened by this opportunity. This program can be enjoyable for both you and your child if you set realistic goals and don’t let guilt get in the way.