Don and Karen Redd are parents of a family of 14 children who lives in Farmington. The two youngest are still in college and all of the others achieved higher education degrees. Three MD degrees, an RN degree and an engineering degree from West Point military academy are among the number, along with several master's degrees. All six sons served in the U.S. military. The Redds said they laid an educational foundation for their children through reading with them nightly, from infancy onward. The family followed up by taking family vacations to places they read about.
Making sure her children continued learning during the summer was important to Redd and gave her children an advantage at school. Most children lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math skills during summer vacation, according to Johns Hopkins University's School of Education, which also said low-income children lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class peers make slight gains.
"We always had summer school," Redd said. "I had my children do some math, reading and writing nearly every day."
Talk to your kids
Even dinner-table conversations can bolster knowledge about subjects children are studying in school. The family of Joseph Kennedy, father of America's most prolific political family, is a well-known example. Evelyn Lincoln's book about President John F. Kennedy provides a glimpse of the president's early preparation for world leadership, around the family dinner table:
"His father would assign a subject — Algeria, for example — to one child and instruct him to find all he could on the subject. Then he would tell the other children to do the same so they could question the first one when he made his report and see how much he really knew."
Dinner conversation needn't aspire to the Kennedy family's formality, though. Redd's placemats — U.S. and world maps — were a starter.
"We pointed out places where things were happening in the news, and things we've been reading about," she said. "We always asked the children to share with us what they've learned that day. That sparks conversation about current events, and gives us opportunities to share beliefs about philosophy and moral issues."
Bradford ensured that her children had cultural opportunities by banding together with neighbors, again, after arts funding was cut from her children's school.
The group organized Play-in-a-Week during spring break, rehearsed and presented in the school building. The project caught on and is in its fourth year.
"The sixth-graders write the play, and during a one-week break, kids and parents (and some teachers) learn lines, songs, dances, paint scenery, create costumes and perform the play," Bradshaw said.
Some parents, like Bradshaw, are able to bring their own education and resources to bear on improving education for their children. But even parents whose resources and time are limited can help their children succeed in school, Gehris said.
Make sure children get a good night's rest and a healthy breakfast in calm surroundings, she suggested, and use real-life situations as learning opportunities.
"Take your child to the grocery store," Gehris said. "Have them order at a fast-food restaurant, and count the change."
"Everything doesn't have to be a book-learning experience," she said. "Get out and explore together."
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