I’ve been doing a lot of reading about “Common Core” standards. These are standards that define what students should understand and be able to do at each grade level from Kindergarten through 12th grade. It also provides as a good checklist to make sure a child is ready for the next grade level. It’s a very interesting subject, and I’m endlessly fascinated and a little saddened by it.
Why am I saddened by it? Well, I think a lot of the preliminary skills are things that a child should already know, and learn at home. If parents took time to talk with their children, explain the world around them and answer the questions kids have, a lot of these concepts should be second nature and come naturally.
One of the things I’ve always been big on, is making Max learn things without him even realizing he’s learning. Like playing BINGO. It not only teaches a child their numbers from 1-75, but it also teaches kids plotting on a graph, a skill Max has been working on in school. Max played BINGO with his two older cousins and he loved it. Santa brought him own BINGO set for Christmas. The first week or two we played, he would call out the numbers like N three one instead of N thirty one. But after hearing me call the numbers out properly, in a few weeks time, he was doing it correctly all by himself. It doesn’t matter if he’s putting the little plastic dots down on the card or calling the numbers, there is an opportunity to learn.
Another thing I love doing with Max is multi sensory activities. Things that require tactile interaction as well as sight and sound. Research shows that kids learn faster and easier when multiple senses are engaged at once. Something Max has been doing since he’s about 3 or 4 is counting and separating objects. You don’t need some fancy, expensive toy by Melissa and Doug or FAO Schwartz to do this sort of thing either. We used Fruit Loops. Yes, we’re monsters who feed our son sugary cereal. Anyway, grab a handful of Fruit Loops and put them on the table. Separate the red ones into a small pile. Then do the same with the blue and the green and the yellow and so on. This teaches them colors, counting, sorting and recognizing differences. Another concept that is one of the core standards for kindergarten. Once they see you do it a few times, they will want to try and before you know it, they’ll be doing it themselves and probably eating a few of the Fruit Loops along the way. A good way to teach subtraction :-).
I get the same sense of sadness when I see some of the kids on Max’s t-ball team. Week 1, no-one expects the kids to be Derek Jeter. Most of the kids don’t know how to hold the bat or ball the right way, and they may get confused about which base they run to after they hit. That is to be expected. What kills me is when I see a child who still doesn’t hold the bat correctly and who doesn’t know the basics of throwing the ball during the last game of the season. It means their parents didn’t spend any time reinforcing the basics. Sadly I think it’s just an hour a week where they can dump off their kids and make someone else take care of them. How hard is it to spend a few minutes a day tossing the ball around with your child? Or sitting down and watching a baseball game with them on TV to explain why the players are doing what they are doing. It’s really simple and a great way to bond with your son or daughter and have a shared interest.
Here are a few of the common core standards for Kindergarten that I think just about every child should know without much help from the teacher:
1) With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details. This is a really easy concept to practice with your child. Ask them how their day was and have them tell a story about what they did or what they saw.
2) With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story. This one is pretty simple tpp, and maybe my technique isn’t the textbook way of doing it, but I think it would work just fine. Let your child watch a show regularly. Disney and Nickelodeon have great kid friendly shows. Overtime they will learn the names and characteristics of each character. Then at the end of the show, ask them simple questions about what happened during the episode. Why was Teddy sad? What was Bob mad at Gabe? Where did Max and Ruby go on vacation?
3) ) Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book.
Sit down and read your child a book. Then ask them to draw a picture based on what the story was about. The artistic quality of the picture and whether they use pen, pencil, crayon, markers, etc isn’t important. What is important is just making sure that what they draw reflects what actually happened in the story. If there is a horse in the story and they draw the horse and color it blue, it doesn’t matter. As long as they identify the name of the horse and the significance of the character in the book.
4) Recognize and pronounce rhyming words. Three simple words Dr-Seuss Books! It doesn’t get much easier than that. Or just make up a silly rhyming song when you are shampooing their hair at night.
5) Understand and use question words (interrogatives) (e.g., who, what, where, when, why, how). Again this is all about listening to your son or daughter. Kids are naturally curious. Don’t give them snippy answers like “Because!” or “It just is”. When they ask a question, actually answer the question and make the child feel comfortable to ask other questions. Remember the world around them is all very new to them. So things we take for granted can be quite fascinating. And hey you may even get stumped and have to look the answer up yourself. For example, last weekend we saw a blimp flying over our neighborhood. Max was very excited to see it and asked me and Rachel how does a blimp land since it doesn’t have wings or wheels like a plane. I honestly wasn’t sure how it landed, so I look up “How does a blimp land” into Google and sure enough there was video of the Goodyear Blimp landing. We watched it together and both learned something.
The same can be said for math. The chance to teach are all around you.
1) Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object. Go on a walk in the woods or in the park and have kids collect things that are wide, skinny, long, heavy and light. It gives them a sense of all the properties an object has. They may not know what volume, area and perimeter mean, but if they know the concepts about height, weight, depth etc, it will make things like figuring out area that much easier. When you are driving in the car, make up a little game and ask them things like “Which is taller, an elephant or a giraffe”. Which one is heavier? Name an animal that has fur. Name an animal that has a tail. Name an animal that lives on a farm. Hand them different items like a rock, an acorn, a leaf and a stick and ask them to describe each item. Is it heavy? Is it smooth? Is it rough?
2) Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1). Get a couple of dice and have them them. If they roll 4 and 2, have them add the total up and ask them another way to make 6. Give them some coins and see how many different ways you can make a dollar using pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters.
3) Solve addition and subtraction word problems, and add and subtract within 10, e.g., by using objects or drawings to represent the problem. Really easy, if they are eating Oreos give them 3 Oreos and after they eat one, ask them how many are left. That’s a word problem in it’s simplest form. If John has 3 cookies and eats one, how many are left?
I can go on and on, but I’d just be repeating myself. My point it, let kids be kids. Let them play, let them watch cartoons, let them be free to explore. But play doesn’t have to be mindless. Lessons can be learned. Think about what you are doing with your child and ask yourself is there is something that can be learned. There’s a very good chance there is.