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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Learning how to learn

By Maureen O'Connell
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Amanda McCann, left, with her son, Jack, and Melisa Altura, with son Elijah, take advantage of a learning opportunity on the beach.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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"Raising a School-Ready Child," a family guide

Available from Center on the Family, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

956-4132, cof@ctahr.hawaii.edu

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Melisa Altura asked her son, Elijah: "If the bucket is filled with sand, will it sink or float?" One of the lessons is that learning is fun.

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Hawai'i's public elementary schools chart student progress in six areas on report cards:

• Self-directed learner. Ability to be responsible for one's own learning.

• Community contributor. Understanding that it's essential to work cooperatively.

• Complex thinker. Ability to demonstrate critical thinking and problem-solving strategies.

• Quality producer. Ability to recognize and produce quality performance and quality products.

• Effective communicator. Ability to communicate effectively.

• Effective and ethical user of technology. Ability to use computers and online resources effectively and honestly.


Here are some early-learning activities that can help prepare your preschooler for kindergarten evaluations, from "Raising a School-Ready Child."

• Self-directed learner: Assign responsibilities appropriate for your child's age, and teach how to carry them out. This helps your child learn to follow directions, finish a task and develop confidence.

Sample activity: "I can help"

What to do: Have your child help set the table for a meal.

1. Set one place setting at the table as an example to follow. Explain that each person needs one plate, one napkin, one cup, and one fork or pair of chopsticks.

2. Have the child count the number of cups, plates, forks or chopsticks, and napkins needed for mealtime.

3. Ask the child to place these items in the appropriate places, giving a reminder to use the place setting as an example.

4. Talk with your child about each family member and the tableware. For example, ask: "Is Daddy's cup the same size as yours? Which one is bigger?"

5. Talk about how it's important to help others.

Reinforce learning:

• Give your child age-appropriate responsibilities to do regularly, such as putting away toys after use and brushing teeth before going to bed.

• Create a checklist of responsibilities and have the child check off each that has been completed.

• Provide time limits for certain activities; show your child how to monitor the time himself with clocks, watches or timers.

In the kindergarten classroom, students will be expected to work independently and ask for help when needed, organize materials, make productive use of class time and set goals.

• Complex thinker: Encourage your child's curiosity and help him or her to question, explore, experiment and solve problems. This helps develop critical-thinking skills and creativity.

Sample activity "Does it float or sink?"

What to do: When you and your child are at the beach, find natural objects to examine.

1. Ask him or her to describe each object's appearance and texture. You may prompt with questions such as, "What does it look like?" "What color is it?" and "How does it feel?"

2. Ask which objects will float or sink in the water, then have the child toss each one into the water.

3. After each toss, talk about why objects float or sink. For example, ask: "Did the rock sink because it was heavy or light?"

4. Make a chart to show which objects floated and which sank.

5. Have the child count the objects that floated and those that sank.

Other activities

• Plant some seeds in paper cups; talk about changes as you watch them grow.

• Play guessing games or do simple puzzles.

• Experiment with mixing colors, using paints, food coloring, or crayons.

In kindergarten, children will be expected to use their knowledge and experiences to solve problems in different ways, explain answers and make adjustments.

Sources: state Department of Education, www.doe.k12.hi.us; Center on the Family, University of Hawai'i, www.uhfamily.hawaii.edu

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Getting a child school-ready starts long before picking up a backpack for kindergarten.

That's why the Center on the Family at the University of Hawai'i-Mänoa is encouraging parents and caregivers to seize opportunities as potential learning experiences for preschoolers.

Its recently published family guide, "Raising a School-Ready Child," offers an assortment of simple activities aimed at prepping for success in kindergarten.

"There are things that they can do from very early on to help children learn and develop optimally," said the center's Grace F. Fong, a professor of family resources.

Rote learning, such as alphabet recitation or memorizing multiplication tables, is not on the list. Activities through which children build upon natural curiosity and, essentially, learn how to learn, are emphasized.

Starting in kindergarten, then continuing through all grade levels in Hawai'i public schools, students are assessed for their ability to grasp six key functions: self-directed learning, cooperation, complex thinking, performance, communication and use of technology.

However, parents are often unacquainted with this framework until they sit down for their first parent-teacher conference.

"We wanted to create this awareness earlier," Fong said, "so that when you do certain things in your everyday life, it actually has a direct connection" with developing skills in those measured areas — known among educators as general learner outcomes.

Gordon Miyamoto, an educational specialist in family support services for the state's Department of Education, said the "School-Ready" guide can also help prepare parents for school years.

"If the message is the same from both school and home, then kids are more likely to advance in those areas," Miyamoto said.

Amanda McCann, the mother of a third-grader and a preschooler, and owner of Hawaii Kids Count — an educational enrichment program offered after school hours and when school is not in session — agreed with that sentiment.

"It's great to know ahead of time what you're going to be tested on," McCann said. "If children walk into kindergarten with confidence" in these areas, "it can boost their confidence" in the classroom.

Routine activities, such as setting the table for a meal or sorting through objects collected at the beach, can be more meaningful for preschoolers when adults ask them questions related to tasks and encourage them to use problem-solving skills and work independently, Fong said.

"You take an everyday opportunity and turn it into a more intentional learning experience," she said. "When you do this, it has an effect."