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  What’s Going on in My Child’s School? A Parent’s Guide to Good Schools
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How Children Learn


When we were in school, teachers drilled us on multiplication tables. They asked us to spell words over and over again, usually out loud and in front of the class. They quizzed us on historical facts. We filled in the names of state capitals on blank maps in geography class. Along the way, we memorized a lot of facts and figures.

Pop quiz: is what was good for us in school more than 20 years ago just as good now for our children?

  1. Absolutely. What was good for me is good for my child.

  2. Maybe. It’s important to know the basics, but times are changing.

  3. Not necessarily. I want my children to think more critically about the world around them and develop a love of learning that lasts a lifetime.

  4. Don’t know. Try again later.

Which answer did you choose?

Learning new words and memorizing multiplication tables and historical facts is important, but it’s not enough. We want our students not only to be good spellers, we also want them to understand what they read. We want students not only to know how to add, subtract and multiply numbers, we want them to understand more complex math concepts that will help them later in life. We want students to not only know critical historical dates, we also want them to know why these dates and events are significant and how they shaped our country and who we are today.

Research tells us that one of the best ways for children to learn is by relating what is taught in the classroom to what is happening in the real world. What children learn in the classroom must have real meaning in their everyday lives. They must understand why studying history or conducting a science experiment or reading a book is important to their lives outside the classroom. If not, the subject seems unimportant to them and not worth the effort.

Using what students already know or what they have experienced in their own lives is also a good way to help them make connections to new material. Learning only improves as students share new ideas with friends and classmates. These conversations require children to clarify their thinking. They also learn more from the person they are talking with because that person shares what she knows and thinks about the topic. Relating new classroom material to the real world, a child’s own experiences and sharing this learning with other people helps the student understand new ideas, concepts or subjects.

Parent Maria Robles has two children who attend Canutillo Elementary School in El Paso, Texas. She supports this approach to learning. “It tells me that kids are thinking, working and discussing ideas. The students are working together and not just sitting at a desk with a textbook by themselves. My son has come home and said: ‘Mom, I want to check this out on the computer. I want to know more.’ ”

At Helen Ball Elementary School in El Paso, Texas, teachers balance a back-to-basics approach with hands-on learning and an emphasis on more challenging projects. This approach has earned high marks from parents.

“We hear parents say, “I wish it was like this when I went to school.”
— Principal Joyce Sarowski

  What’s Going on in My Child’s School? A Parent’s Guide to Good Schools
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