There is much more a parent can do to assist a child’s with education besides standing over them, making sure they do homework. True support for learning can begin early in life, before a child begins kindergarten. Helping your child build scaffolding will improve experiences in school and not just reading.
Scaffolding? What the heck am I talking about?
Picture a building going up. It couldn’t reach new heights without scaffolding to assist in construction. We see serious scaffolding sometimes and others we see scant support, maybe worrying about the builders’ safety. Which building are you more comfortable with entering? riding the elevator? enduring an earthquake. Complex and thorough scaffolding allows for worker safety, confidence, and attention to detail.
How does this have anything to do with your child’s educational experience?
You have the ability to aid your child in constructing a great scaffolding which they will use in the future to support school instruction. Each time you read a book with your son or daughter, beginning when they’re infants, there is a new component. A trip to the park adds to the construct of a platform, ledge, trestle, etc. One trip to the neighborhood park, perhaps with lots of kids playing, contributes its own and another trip with a couple of dogs fussing with each other builds another. Trips to the store, visits with extended family, going to the zoo, or attending storytime at the nearby library all provide additional scaffolding.
A vitally important element for all people is learning about language. This is going to support a child, or adult, as they process what they’re reading, writing, and hearing. The more experience a young child gets with verbal and written words, symbols, speaking and writing, the more familiar they will be when they encounter similar language in new experiences or learning.
How does this relate to real life? What purpose does scaffolding serve?
If your child has had several dentist visits before they enter elementary school, they’re going to immediately relate to a story the teacher reads about going to the dentist. In their minds, without even realizing it, they’re relating this to their own visits to have their teeth cleaned and checked. The student has shorthand for relating to the story, the language. They may think or say, “Hey, I’ve been to the dentist!” The special chair, people involved, and ‘opening wide’ will register and allow for attention to be paid to what the characters are specifically saying and doing in this particular children’s book. Now, supposing the child has never been to the dentist. The word dentist has no independent meaning for them. They’re scanning pictures in an effort to connect meaning to what the teacher is reading. Because this child has to start by figuring out what is happening on a very basic level, they’re not as able to absorb the words and sentences being read in order to grasp the meaning.
When I taught in the Mojave desert, nearly two hours drive north of Los Angeles, between a third and a half of my students had never been to the ocean, more having never visited the L.A. Zoo or the L.A. Children’s Museum with interactive exhibits. Each year, the second graders had a field trip to the ocean shore of the Pacific Ocean and tidepools. Before going, there was much instruction given on oceans and sea life before a second-grade field trip to the tidepools at the shore of the Pacific Ocean. In those few weeks leading up, we helped our students build scaffolding for whatever level of familiarity they had, so as to encourage understanding and curiosity in their firsthand encounter. This is better than no scaffolding but the richer, more indepth support would be a previous visit to the ocean. If this wasn’t an option for the family, providing a vast array of experiences through early childhood reading is the next best thing. Maybe a child can’t relate to the movement of the tidewaters over their feet or identify a hermit crab when they’re in second grade but, with the addition of the teacher’s instruction and reading, the child’s scaffolding is stronger than a girl or boy only seeing pictures and hearing language about the ocean for the first time in the few weeks leading up to the field trip.
On the other hand, some of the children in my school’s area had horses at home. They had developed a great scaffold of meaning and experience regarding feeding, riding, brushing, saddling, etc.
Each year I had a handful of students who were very fluent in two languages, Spanish and English. My first year, some of those kids laughed when their teacher, me, didn’t know what ‘tio’ and ‘tia’ (uncle and aunt) meant when one little girl was telling me a story about her family. I had little Spanish scaffolding going in, but I made a concerted effort to improve my personal support each year.
So, what we know, think, feel, and have experience with, these are elements of scaffolding that will greatly assist your child with learning in school. Read books before your child can participate. They’ll love hearing your voice and seeing pictures, and the very beginnings of support are being put in place.
If a family can visit an ice cream shop a couple of times over a few years, instead of just eating ice cream purchased at the store. It’s very exciting to most kids, whether or not they’ll admit it, to get a new pair of shoes for school. You could let them try on shoes at a store, assisting in choosing their own, as opposed to purchasing the shoes in appropriate sizes by yourself, which is exponentially easier; even these everyday events are strengthening your child’s scaffolding.
What can be done here and now to make a difference in your child’s support for learning?
Read a lot of books. Not everyone can afford to buy bookshelves of children’s books, but all can eheck out five from the library every couple of weeks, or better yet take your child to the library to choose books they’d like to borrow. Read the same books over & over & over. Now, the young boy or girl begins to associate meaning to the title and the words telling the story. He or she will love to look at familiar pictures and can even start “telling” the story as you revisit pictures and pages. Parenting bonus point for reading yourself to model that it’s a good thing, fun, interesting. We are always on our phones, so that doesn’t need modeling probably.
Provide a rich array of daily experiences. Visit a pet store (Let the child know these animals live at the pet store if you don’t want to buy one!). All kinds of unfamiliar animals and sounds will entertain on a rainy day. Go to a store that sells fishtanks and goldfish, angelfish, freshwater animals, etc. Very exciting to see the strange and wonderful sights. Buying and caring for a goldfish at home comes with its own vocabulary, meaning, and responsibility.
If you have an apple orchard or pumpkin patch near, a fall visit will give your child some room to run as well as the vision or rows of trees with hanging fruit or orange colored mounds all over the ground.
Bake cookies together. Will it be messy? Probably. It will involve following directions, measuring, baking, safety, and the warm, yummy end result. Now, when someone talks about baking, your child starts from a point further along than the child who has never been a part of or watched cookies being baked.
You can see that it doesn’t take “homeschooling,” money, a designated teacher, or loads of supplies to assist your child in preparing for future learning. Now, I’ll admit that I didn’t take my two sons, 19 months apart, out to eat at restaurants, not even inside fast food joints, for most of their childhood. The only scaffolding they were building in those circumstances, as far as I could tell, was learning how long it takes mom to corral us, what happens if we dump our happier meal on the table, or when will fellow diners become visibly annoyed. Even as they reached 10, 11, 12, they very much enjoyed stirring up things, entertaining each other. I was willing to sacrifice my sons’ scaffolding in regard to dining out in order to save my sanity. You will decide for your children.
Understanding the relationship between experience and learning, it makes sense that having a child sitting in the house in front of screens doesn’t provide much scaffolding. It’s passive. Your child isn’t taking part. The support is built when your child has a meaningful, interactive relationship to these elements.
Have fun! Embrace these words, symbols, books and experiences, seeing them newly through your child’s eyes. Turn something mundane into an adventure every day if possible. Write a recap of outings. Reading this article provides you with insight for understanding how children learn. You’ve got new scaffolding supportive of your future learning about your child, learning, and school performance.
p.s. I have so much more to say but this post is already longer than is typical for me. Must stop keyboarding. You’ll see another PAV (Parenting is Also a Verb) post sooner rather than later, I hope.
Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.