Scott Smith

Scott Smith

I’m sure no one in the world would have expected something so small that you cannot even see it to turn everything in the world upside down, but COVID–19 did. School does not look anything like it has in recent years. Stress ranges all the way from kids up to governing officials. For the most part, we have all come to the conclusion that what school looks like this year may last for quite some time.

Though school today does not look like 100 years ago, or even 200 years ago either, children still learned. If we take time to focus on the “Big Three” — reading, writing, and math — every day our children will survive this year of unknown while expanding their knowledge.

If children practice reading, writing, and math every day, they will make steady growth. They do not have to read a novel or write a book. If they read about 20 minutes at their appropriate reading level each day, in most cases, this will be more than sufficient. If possible, adding 10 minutes of reading orally will give that extra boost too and provide some guided practice with unfamiliar words. Extremely important is for adults to model the importance of reading.

Having younger children sit with you as you read and asking them questions helps them develop understanding and improves their comprehension skill. They will need comprehension later when they begin reading to themselves. Older children also benefit from having material read to them, and then retelling what they heard. The retelling what was read to them aids in their development of comprehension.

Communicating through writing is another key skill that needs to be nurtured. Writing is one of those skills that can easily slip through the cracks, more so than reading or math. Writing is the hardest of the three and requires the most skills to accomplish. Just like us, kids do not always want to work on things that are hard. Having children write lists is one way to help them develop writing skills.

One thing that all of us can do is write notes. We write notes for ourselves and notes to friends and family. Taking time to help children use writing skills for notes may just brighten someone’s day while allowing the child to improve in this area. For younger children or children who struggle, a way to help is to have them tell you what they want to say and then copy it onto the paper.

One of the first steps in writing is being able to know what you want to say, therefore providing this support for getting information on the paper can be a great relief. Copying the writing still provides the fine motor skills needed for writing. It is OK to copy. It is a way to help your child record the ideas they generate.

Math is all around us and does not have to be learned using worksheet after worksheet. Helping students apply the use of math in everyday life will build their skills for when we are able to return to the classroom. Asking questions like, “How many spoons are we going to need for dinner?” seems so simple yet truly is abstract. Each person might need a spoon, but you may also need spoons for serving.

Also, allowing them to read and calculate prices when shopping to see which would cost less gives them a chance to apply their math skills. Another activity is to have them use a tape measure and measure things around the house. Children love to measure and use things adults use, but what you are also doing is allowing them to use their applied math skills and practice in a fun way.

We are all busy and it does take time, but if you can stop and say to yourself, “My child read some today. They practiced their writing when I had them make the shopping list. And they had to use their math calculating our coupons.” Then no matter what level your child is working at they spent some time expanding the three most important skills of learning: reading, writing, and math. Stay strong; you’ve got this!

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Dr. Scott Smith is a 40+ year Umatilla County educator. He taught in Umatilla at McNary Heights Elementary School and then for Eastern Oregon University in their teacher education program at BMCC. He serves on the Decoding Dyslexia-OR board as their parent/teacher liaison.

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