How to Help Your Child Become a Successful Learner – Dr. Bisa Lewis
Spark Plug Radio Show
Spark Plug: Welcome to People You Need to Know on Spark Plug Radio. I’m your host, Spark Plug, publisher of Metro Atlanta’s premier business spotlight magazine. At People You Need to Know, we’re dedicated to helping business people make a big splash in Metro Atlanta.
In this segment, we are going to be talking about giving your child the early learning advantage. My guest today is the president of Ideal Early Learning, LLC, a service company devoted to providing quality consultation and training for early care and education programs. Our guest is a public speaker and published author. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s of Early Childhood Education degrees from Albany State University and has a doctorate from the University of Georgia. We are excited to have on the phone today, a woman whose life goal is to enlighten the minds of parents and teachers in hopes that all children will have sufficient opportunities to learn … Dr. Bisa Batten Lewis … welcome to the show.
Dr. Bisa: Thank you. Good morning, Spark Plug.
Spark Plug: How are you today?
Dr. Bisa: I’m wonderful. How are you?
Spark Plug: I’m fantastic and I’m trying to get better.
Dr. Bisa: Great.
Spark Plug: Are you ready to talk about the Early Learning Advantage?
Dr. Bisa: Oh, always, always I love to talk about children.
Spark Plug: Alright … well, let’s get right into it. What are some of the necessary skills young children need to acquire to be successful in grade school?
Dr. Bisa: You know, Spark Plug, I often hear kindergarten teachers say … just show them how to learn, show them how to use their brain, show them how to talk, and what they mean by that is children need to learn critical thinking skills, problem solving skills and language and literacy. They need to understand, when they have a problem, they have to work it out on their own. Sometimes, as parents and teachers, we’ll solve it for them. For instance, with the toddlers, if a ball goes under the table or crib, we’ll run and get it for them versus allowing them to try first, so that problem solving, that critical thinking, and also that language and literacy are very key elements. Children need to know their actual names. Sometimes as they start kindergarten, they’ll say their name is TJ … no … they need to say their name is, Thomas Williams, Jr.
So things like that could really help children to have their early learning advantage. The work that they have now in the grade school that we discussed is really major and a majority of performance standards are really high. So they don’t just have regular feedback questions and worksheets that we had sometimes when we were children. They have problems where they have to look at it and use the information they’ve learned to figure it out. So it’s not just one plus one anymore, they have that, but they also have problems based on that.
My children come home every day with problem solving worksheets in math and reading … language arts. They don’t just have sentences where you have to find the word that fits in the blank, they have to make sense of these words and use the word in three to four different ways. And if a child does not already have regular language and literacy skills, it’s a problem for them. The parents need to make sure that their children are ready with those critical thinking skills, the problem solving skills and language and literacy, and whatever that teacher puts in front of them, they can learn it.
Spark Plug: Dr. Lewis, since many families depend on a two-parent income to make ends meet today, more young children than ever before are enrolled in day care. So … what should parents look for when seeking a child care program that gives their children the early learning advantage?
Dr. Bisa: Parents need to choose a high-quality child care program and oftentimes, they can see an award when they walk in the door, when they go on that particular school’s website. And in the state of Georgia, we have what we call “centers of distinction or state accreditations.” We have homes of quality and if they go to that center and see that banner stating they are a center of distinction or a center of recognition or if it’s a family day care home where people can keep 6-12 children in their home, family or group day care, they may be a home of quality or home of distinction. That’s one of the first signs.
There are also NAEYC accreditations, which is a national award that is given, meaning this program is one of the top programs in the nation. Parents can go to a couple of websites to actually look. They can put in their zip code and some of these centers will pop up. The website for state accreditation in Georgia is decal.ga.gov. Once they go there, they can go to the parent section and actually find day care programs and specifically look for those that are accredited.
Child Care Aware Checklist
They can also go to the national site if they want a nationally accredited program. Those are even higher standards and that website is naeyc.org and there are nationally accredited programs there. I also have a checklist that Child Care Aware puts out. Child Care Aware has a checklist that parents can take to the day care when they are going to visit and they could just check off items to see — is this a quality program? That checklist is available at ChildCareAware.org and some of the examples of items that are on that checklist are:
- Are the children generally happy?
- Do you see happy children when you come in the door, when you walk in through the classroom or given a tour?
- Is the entire staff interacting with the children? You will know the quality of the program if wherever the children are, the staff is working with the children. You want to also pay attention to their demeanor with the children.
- Is the environment clean? You know when you walk in the door and you walk in a classroom, how does it smell, how does it look? Cleanliness is very important.
- Is it a positive learning climate? Make sure that teachers are not yelling at the children; they are using a positive voice with them and they are redirecting them and not punishing them. Also, make sure that the children are engaged in learning and discovering. A quality early learning program has children who are moving about freely in different areas of learning and it’s equipped appropriately as well. There are a lot of materials for them to work with to learn.
- Also, finding out from the director, is the entire staff trained? Are they well-trained? Research tells us that if one teacher in a day care program has at least a bachelor’s degree, then the whole program is a higher quality program.
So those are just some of the items that are on that checklist that can help parents, and again, that website is ChildCareAware.org. In the Metro Atlanta and in Macon, quality care for children is with Child Care Resource and Referral Agency. Parents can go there or go onto their website at QualityCareForChildren.org and they can help them find a day care that fits their needs. So they have a parent coordinator on site and they can call or they can go by and visit the website, one of the other, and they can help them to find a program that fits their needs.
Spark Plug: How can parents tell, during the early years, if their child would be a successful learner?
10 Characteristics of a Successful Learner
Dr. Bisa: Well, there are ten characteristics of a successful learner, and children don’t have to possess all of these skills, all these characteristics, but some of them are:
- Being independent. If your child is generally independent, do they like to do things on their own?
- Is your child responsible, meaning, are they dependable or accountable?
- If they are curious, I know it’s aggravating to parents sometimes, but children who ask a lot of questions, they are always thinking and they wonder a lot, that curiosity is actually a characteristic that they are successful learners.
- Showing initiative, would they try on their own first, before asking for help?
- Are they cooperative, meaning, are they helpful, are they supportive?
- Risk-takers … that’s huge. Will they try anything? And I know, again, that’s one of the things we think is aggravating for parents, but when children would try something that looks risky, that looks impossible, that’s actually a characteristic that they may be a successful learners.
- Are they creative? Creativity is huge, especially with children who maybe gifted. Are they full of ideas? That creativity is key.
- Do they persevere? Do they have that “stick with it-ness” versus trying to quit as soon as they can’t get it right, so perseverance is key.
- Confident. If your child is confident in their abilities or self-assured, that’s actually a characteristic that they may be a successful learner.
- Finally, are they resourceful? Would they find what’s needed to complete a task or to bring that task to fruition? If your child is resourceful and always looking for items to put together to make something happen, that’s a characteristic.
So again, all of those characteristics don’t have to be present for children to be successful, but a number of them must be present and that’s what helps parents to figure out, “Would my child be successful?”
Spark Plug: Well, what advice as an early learning specialist and parent of elementary age children can you offer to parents of pre-school age children to help them cultivate successful learners?
Dr. Bisa: Parents have to remember, Spark Plug, that they are the child’s first teacher. Parents are the child’s first teacher and the home is the child’s first classroom. Learning does not start when they get to kindergarten. It starts when they are born. So, parents need to make sure that those first five years really count because they can determine their success in those first five years.
Exposure is education. I always tell parents that exposure is education, so it’s taking children to places. When you go to the grocery store, don’t always go on your own. I know it’s easier to go while they are in school or with a family member, but take them and show them the items that are in the grocery store. Tell them the names for the different areas of the grocery store. Tell them about the people who are there.
When you go to the produce section, let them know that this is a produce section and this where we find fruits and vegetables. Tell them the name as you look through the different fruits and vegetables and this helps children to develop schemes. They understand that when I go to a grocery store, first, we get a cart and then we go down the different aisles. If we find what we want, we put them in the basket, and once we are done, we take the basket to the cash register or the shopping cart to the cash register. We stand in line and a person, and we give the name of that person … the cashier scans our items. We pay. They put them in bags and we have a person who goes out to the car with us and helps us to put those items in the car. That’s a scheme that children develop and that actually helps to build their language.
Children Need to Know at Least 2,000 Words
Children need to know at least 2,000 words. They need to have 2,000 words in their vocabulary by the time they start kindergarten, we say, in order to be successful. That includes mommy, daddy and their name. So exposure is key. Making sure that you are taking children to different places, as I said, and engaging them in conversation is huge and making sure you use correct language. It’s difficult for them to engage in those problem solving activities when they are in schools, and to get those answers correct, if they don’t understand what’s the appropriate language. So, on a daily basis, it’s important to talk with your children using correct language. You can talk with your girlfriends and your family members using slang and whatever you want to use.
But when those children are in front of you or you yourself are in front of your children, it’s important that you use the right words, the correct language, and not always just directive language where you are telling them to do something. It’s important that you engage them in conversation, “What are you doing?” Ask them those important questions and ask them open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are questions that don’t just have one answer. Sometimes we say, “Well, what color is that? Or what number is that?” Those are close-ended questions. They are important as well. But by asking them a balance of open- and close-ended questions where we say, “Well, why is that your favorite color? Why do you like this book? Why do you want mommy to read this book tonight or today?” And that encourages them to pull, to speak from their brains, “Hmm, why do I want mommy to read this book today?” And that engages them in that critical thinking that we talked about earlier.
Also building learning is very important. As we are asking them questions, we call that “scaffolding.” We are building learning and that allows children from birth, as they begin to talk and later on they begin to reason, we build those skills for later learning. When they get to school, they won’t be the only precious angel in the class, so it’s important that we teach them discipline. Discipline is not a dirty word. It means to teach. So it’s very important that we discipline our children and tell them what’s right and what’s wrong.
In the Metro Atlanta area, I mean we have so many different family members. We have different people in our community. We are very diverse, so they need to learn how to work with people from all over, so that they are successful. We don’t know who their teachers will be. We don’t know who their classmates will be, so we need to teach them now how to get along with others and to discipline them. And one of the final things, Spark Plug, I wanted to mention with that is making sure that our children have a high self-esteem and high self-concept. We have to instill in them that they can be anything they want to be. This is a great time with our new president to show them that, “Yes, we can. Whatever you want to do, honey, you can do it. There are no limits in this world for you.” So making sure that they know that up front and that builds this self-fulfilling prophecy, “What you see equals what you are.” Let children know that you can be anything and then they will be whatever they want to be.
Spark Plug: Dr. Lewis, what are some readily available resources parents should take advantage of to prepare their young learners?
Dr. Bisa: We have a list of websites that I want to offer because there are so many different items and they can be found on these wonderful websites. So listeners have a pen and paper handy because this is helpful.
In the state of Georgia, we have standards from birth to three-year-olds and then we have standards for four and five- year-olds to pre-K. If they go to the decal.ga.gov, that’s the Department of Early Care Learning, they should pull down the Georgia Early Learning Standards and that would tell them what children from birth to three should know socially, emotionally, intellectually and physically and there is also a parent guide that they can download or they can pick it up from Quality Care For Children, and this guide gives them activity ideas that they can use in the home to help their children to be prepared from the ages of birth to three.
Also, parents, while they are, can visit the Georgia Pre-K content standards. There are also resources … a book list. If the parents are wondering, “What books should I read to my children? What are the best types of books,” they can go to the book list there. Another website that is awesome is the Get Ready to Read website and that’s GetReadyToRead.org. They can go there and they can give their child screening tools and this screening tool will help to find out if their children are ready to read. It helps to figure out if they know language, if they know how to understand and speak language, if they know certain words, if they know about a book … those things are very important. So visit Get Ready to Read and there are a lot of materials there that parents can download.
Also, the other great websites are ReadytoLearn.org/parents. Along with that, PBSKids.org and all of that is sponsored by the Georgia Public Broadcasting. Their website is GPB.org/parents. Those three websites, ReadytoLearn.org/parents, PBSKids.org and GPB.org are great for building literacy skills — that’s listening, speaking, reading, writing and understanding language. There are all kinds of computer activities you can engage them in.
Spark Plug: Before we bring this interview to a close, I want you to tell our listeners about your new book and where they can purchase it.
Dr. Bisa: Okay, my new book is Let’s Potty and it gives the stages of potty training and it’s very illustrative. It has lots of different pictures in there.
Spark Plug: Alright, and finally, how can you be reached for speaking engagements or additional information?
Dr. Bisa: Okay, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org and visit me on the website or email me and I would be happy to come to any engagements. I’m available to come and address you.
Spark Plug: Alright, well, Dr. Bisa Batten Lewis, President of Ideal Early Learning, LLC. … thanks for being with us today.
Dr. Bisa: Thank you, Spark Plug.
Spark Plug: You’ve been listening to People You Need to Know on Spark Plug Radio, the radio station connecting you to Atlanta’s top business professionals like Dr. Bisa Batten Lewis. I want to take a moment and thank my producer, Ms. Jacqueline Benjamin-Thomas, for doing another first-class job. To listen to even More People You Need to Know, just Google Spark Plug Radio or visit our website at SparkPlugPeople.com and be sure to follow us on Twitter.com/PYNTK. Until next time, always remember that you can add a spark to whatever you do and thanks for tuning in.