“I don’t want to go to school today,” said my first grader as he collected his backpack. Was this my child? You see, school was kind of my thing. Teacher’s pet? Definitely. Nerd? Perhaps.
Whether or not you loved or hated school, you want what’s best for your child. I couldn’t help but wonder if my son was just not in the mood or if something else was going on.
Military children have a unique educational experience. Between frequent moves, school changes, meeting and leaving friends, and dealing with deployment, numerous factors can affect their school years.
With this in mind, I spoke with an educator who teaches the children of service members. She shared her expertise and advice with me, and for privacy, her name has been changed.
An Enriching Educational Experience
Andrea teaches kindergarteners on a military base. “While I have never been part of a military family, I’ve seen a lot from my experience working on a military base,” shares Andrea. “I am overflowing with respect for the men and women who serve our country. It is a pleasure to serve their children every day at school.”
Andrea holds a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, and is certified to teach grades Pre-K through 3. She ensures that students receive what they need to excel, and cultivates a classroom where children feel comfortable and are excited to learn. “I have wanted to be a teacher since I was young and my passion for education has only grown since then,” she explains.
I asked Andrea how parents of military children can facilitate an enriching and enjoyable educational experience. Here is what she shared:
- Partner with the school. Andrea recognizes the unique challenges faced by military families. “It is sad to see friends come and go throughout the school year, but it certainly teaches our young students to be flexible, social, and open to change. My best advice is to build a strong partnership with the school you are a part of, even if it’s for a short period of time. This will allow your child to feel at home no matter where they go.”
- Get involved. Andrea encourages volunteerism. “It is not only helpful to the teacher, but also provides another adult role model for students in our classroom. It demonstrates to students that parents and teachers work as a team — an integration between home and school.”
- Make homework fun. Andrea recommends Pinterest when parents ask for homework ideas. “There are so many fun, hands-on ways to practice and review. What works for each kid is different. Experiment and see what works best for your own child.” She recommends activities like sight word bingo, watching YouTube videos that reinforce a skill, and using kinesthetic motions to get your child moving while reviewing information.
- Recognize signs of struggle. Andrea encourages parents to pay attention and keep an open line of communication with teachers. “Ask specific questions such as: How is my child doing during reading groups? Is he decoding words? Is she recognizing sight words in books? Is he participating in group discussions? Teachers have 20+ kids in their class, so it’s hard to give every parent a regular detailed update. If you ask, I bet most teachers would be happy to answer these questions for you.” A child being frustrated, distracted or discouraged could signal a struggle. If you suspect your child is struggling, Andrea assures that the teacher is most likely already looking into resources within the school (special educator, reading specialist, guidance counselor, etc.). “If you aren’t sure, just ask!”
- Be familiar with resources. Military families often qualify for a variety of programs without realizing it, and Andrea wants every child to have a level playing field. “I always tell parents to fill out a FARMS (free and reduced meals) application, whether they think they need it or not. A lot of people don’t realize that they qualify. There are often programs in schools where families can volunteer to buy backpacks filled with school supplies. If you are unable to provide money for a field trip or other extracurricular activities, don’t be hesitant to contact the school office.” Outside of financial help, free homework assistance is available to students of military families from http://www.tutor.com/military.
- Read together. Andrea firmly believes that the most important thing you can do is read to your child, with your child, and listen as they read to you. “This teaches so many skills — book handling, book awareness, learning and recognizing sight words, learning to decode unfamiliar words, reading with expression, visualizing, and the list goes on. And bonus — it will teach your child to LOVE reading.”
- Encourage active play. Andrea recognizes that children today spend quite a bit of time indoors sitting in front of screens. “Putting my inner teacher aside, I would also recommend putting down the technology and going outside. Kids need to run and play.”
Learning: A Family Affair
I thank Andrea for taking the time to help with my article, and sharing her passion for education. By being involved with educators, schools, and most importantly, your child, you can play an instrumental role in his or her educational journey. Make it fun, demonstrate its importance, and be positive. If you or your child are having struggles, please reach out for help — it is available. Happy learning!
A self-described “Jackie of All Trades,” Army wife Jackie Toops is a mother of two and enjoys writing, travel, art, languages, slow cooking and peaceful parenting. She studied Interdisciplinary Humanities, Museum Studies and Nonprofit Management, and has overseen public relations for museums, galleries and universities. She is a contributing author for Wall Street International Magazine and has discussed her articles on-air with AFN Wiesbaden. She’s usually seen adventuring with her Canon, a coffee and two small children. Follow her on Twitter.
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