Academic Confidence, Build it Early!
The thing that underlies most supplemental instruction and tutoring is building academic confidence. Academic confidence is built by skill building but goes beyond the skills themselves to the development of the child within which those skills are built. In the end, despite concerns about Abby’s reading or Joshua’s multiplication skills, it is truly what parents are seeking when they are in search of academic support for their children. The earlier parents can help their children develop and sustain their academic confidence, the better, but it is never too late.
When I talk to parents (and think of what I should have done) about investing in their children’s academics, my motto is “get the best you can afford to get from pre-K to 5th grade” for those are the foundational years for student learning and everything else after that is just variation on a theme. Either students have the tools in place to thrive in middle and high school or they’re likely to struggle more than need be during those years.
I have had many conversations with parents about (and my staff and I have helped many students over the years) preparing for elite high school exams, high school admissions essays, and last-minute remediation for middle schoolers attempting to be ready for academically rigorous high schools. It’s part of what we do and we are happy to help, but in the back of my head I’m wishing these folks had invested more heavily in their younger child’s academic foundation so the stress of cramming, test prep, and “portfolio development” could be a bit (or much) less stressful.
It’s hard to think of your cute little 4- or 5-year-old as a 15-year-old who has not quite had everything put in place academically during the elementary and middle school years and is facing a big hurdle to do well in high school (whether elite or the local public school). It feels like there’s time, and schools will certainly tell you that, but your kid will be facing high school in a blink of an eye.
Thank goodness I’m too old to have another baby (whew!), but if I were to do it again I would “overinvest” in both social and academic development of my little one between (birth…) pre-K and 5th grade because that is where ALL the literacy and numeracy foundations are built. Teaching children to read stops after 2nd grade. Basics of number sense (how numbers interact with basic operators) is generally done by 3rd grade. Refinement, sophistication, critical thinking, expression, and creativity all come with those foundations in the subsequent grades, but the foundation stones are laid between pre-K3 and 3rd.
Numbers and words, and facility with them are the foundation of science, social studies, and even the arts. Kids need these foundations to do well. And I don’t emphasize “doing well” relative to some standardized test or performance metric, although that’s part of it. I emphasize doing well to do with the emotional wellbeing of the child, the “I’m smart/not smart” self-assessment, the “I’m bad at math” or “I hate reading/writing” themes that emerge very early. The pain of those is a huge reason I believe early investment is so critical.
Dr. Alissa Gardenhire is the owner of Best in Class Education Center, South Orange.