Many parents have been hearing scary things about the Common Core State Standards that most states are now using as a foundation for their General Education Program or Standard Course of Study. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are intended raise expectations for what high school graduates will know and be able to do so that they will be better prepared for the demands of our 21st-Century Global Economy. We know that students will still be taught how to read, write and do math, so many parents are wondering what’s so different about the CCSS, and whether they will still be able to help with their child’s education.
This blog will only address some CCSS highlights. However, detailed information about the specific standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics in kindergarten through 12th grade can be found at http://www.corestandards.org. Also, the Council of the Great City Schools has created Parent Roadmaps to Common Core Standards, which are available in both English and Spanish. The parent-friendly roadmaps give parents information about what their child should be learning in English Language Arts and Mathematics at each grade K-8 and during the high school years. They show how the standards connect from one year to the next and also give parents ideas for how they can support their child’s learning at home. You can find the roadmaps at http://www.cgcs.org/Page/328 .
One of the things that you will find throughout the CCSS is a focus on higher-level thinking skills. Instead of just asking students to memorize facts and repeat definitions, the CCSS requires students to actually use increasingly complex information to understand situations, solve problems, analyze, create and evaluate arguments, explore possibilities, make decisions, communicate with others, and collaborate to reach a common goal. Students will also be taught to become independent learners who can find needed information and use technology on their own.
While this may all sound a little intimidating, there are some basic things that parents can do to help their child develop these skills. Here are a few suggestions:
- Expose your child to as many different kind of experiences and people as possible. Even if resources are limited, you can expose your child to other parts of the world, art, music, theatre, nature, history and science by choosing the right shows to watch on television. Visit zoos, museums, historical landmarks as well as state and national parks. These experiences give your child something to connect to when different topics come up at school.
- Build your child’s vocabulary by occasionally using words that they don’t already know or discussing an unfamiliar expression that they may hear in a story, movie or from someone else. Look for opportunities to take things to the next level. For example, go from “dinosaur” to talking about specific species of dinosaurs and what makes a herbivore different from a carnivore.
- Ask lots of “why” questions. Why do certain plants or animals only live in certain places? Why do some animals hibernate during the winter? Why is it a bad idea to start a fire outside on a windy day? Why are there more seashells on the beach first thing in the morning? Why do cars cost more than bicycles? Why did you pick that jacket to wear today? Why do they put food coloring in beverages? The point isn’t to see if they know the answer already, it’s to make them think and communicate their ideas.
- When reading, hearing or watching a story, ask “what if?” something had happened differently at a particular point in the story. How would that have impacted what happened later? Would that have been better or worse? Why?
- Actually talk about why a person shouldn’t believe everything that they hear and under which circumstances some people should be trusted as reliable sources of information. For example, you should be able to trust your doctors to give medical advice within their field of expertise, but is there any reason to take their word on which car to buy?
- Look for ways to use math skills in natural situations like shopping, cooking, working on a project to build something, or deciding how many cans of paint to buy to do a job.
The point is that if parents challenge their kids to think more at home and help find different ways to express those thoughts, it will go a long toward preparing them for the challenges of the common core. Start early and don’t assume that anything is over your child’s head. Children can usually understand, at least the basics of any topic, if its broken down and explained the right way.