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What Parents Need to Know About Grades

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When students receive a failing grade, does it motivate them to do better--or do they just shut down?

When parents become upset over their kids’ grades, there’s one rarely mentioned fact they need to recall: The only grades included in college applications are those from 10th and 11th grade.

That’s right. Those two high school years are the only ones that count when it comes to college admissions.

That sobering fact should help put things in perspective when 7-year-old Joey bombs his spelling tests or 10-year-old Kate fails her math test.  Knowing this, we may also consider the long-term effects of making too much out of a bad grade.

For example, if we focus too much on grades when kids are young, will they burn out by the time they actually count?  Instead of becoming motivated to work harder, will they decide (early on) that they’re just not smart—and “check out” when it comes to school?

There are other considerations when looking at grades.  Teachers get to choose how they present their lessons. So a child who is a kinesthetic learner may have difficulty learning new information from a teacher who relies on a lecture format and worksheets. But that doesn’t mean the child isn’t smart or motivated to learn.

It’s also possible that the child learned the information but wasn’t able to demonstrate that on the test. That scenario is more likely when kids feel test “pressure”—since such angst often causes them to temporarily forget what they know.

So, I have an idea on how to improve grades for all kids, but I don’t think it would go over well in schools.

What if teachers and kids “shared” the grade?  In other words, if a teacher puts an “F” on a child’s paper, she, too, gets that “F.”  After all, isn’t the grade equally reflective of how she presented the information and whether the content and format of the test actually evaluated what was learned?

And it that ever became the norm, do you think we’d see kids getting much better grades?

Free Life-Changing Experiences for Kids

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Some life experiences are priceless.

As parents, we spend a lot of money hoping that what we do now will pay off when our kids are adults. We invest in competitive sports. We hire tutors. We give them music lessons. Yet we can actually give our kids something that can be life-changing—and it costs nothing.

We can create opportunities for our kids to befriend a child with a disability. No, I’m not talking about having our son or daughter occasionally show up to become that child’s “helper.” I’m talking about becoming their friend, their buddy.

As a young girl, that chance absolutely changed my life.

When I was ten, Billy Mulligan moved onto our street. He was also ten, but he was different from the rest of the neighborhood kids. Billy had a pretty severe case of cerebral palsy. He could not walk or talk. In fact, he drooled quite a bit and also had minimal control of his arms and hands.

Yet, his parents never saw his limitations—and this was when people still referred to those with disabilities as “crippled.” But that’s not how Billy’s parents saw him. Nope, they just nonchalantly showed us how we could include Billy in whatever the neighborhood kids were playing.

It’s odd because decades later I know that I never had an actual conversation with Billy, but I still remember that his favorite television show was Divorce Court (he used to think it was so funny). I know that he knew the name of every model car and thought it was amusing when I couldn’t name the one he was pointing to.

I can also picture our neighborhood baseball games, where Billy sat strapped in his huge specially-made tricycle, taking his time to finally maneuver his hands around the plastic bat. And I remember his huge smile whenever he’d make contact with the large plastic ball and his brother ran to first base for him.

He was only on our block for a year, but I know that being Billy’s friend has stayed with me forever.

That’s because for my entire adult life, I have worked with all kinds of kids—including those with brain injuries, autism, and yes, cerebral palsy. But I can’t ever remember viewing any of those youngsters as anything but another great kid I was going to get the privilege to know. That kind of certainty had to have started with Billy Mulligan.

So, yes, we can provide life-changing experiences for our kids . . . and we can do so without ever spending a dime.

How Money Messes with Parents’ Thinking

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How often do we allow money
to dictate our parenting decisions?

What if our current finances cloud our ability to make decisions about programs for our kids?

There’s a simple way to prevent that from happening. We can either take money entirely out of the equation, or we can actually make it the entire focus.

Here’s what I mean. When we take money out of the equation, we pretend we’re Bill or Melinda Gates. That frees us to review a program solely on its merit.  Since this is merely a mental exercise, we really don’t have to think about money at that moment.

We only bring money back into the equation if we conclude the program is something we’d like our child to participate in.  And yes, at this point, we have to consider our current finances.

But since we’ve already decided our child would benefit from the program, we’re now more likely to explore creative solutions to make it happen.  On the other hand, there’s no chance our child participates if we go straight to: We can’t afford it.

The opposite mental exercise (putting money into the equation) can also be helpful if our child is participating in or offered a free program.  Here, we ask ourselves: Would I actually pay for this service if my child couldn’t get it for free?  If the answer is no, then we may want to reconsider whether or not our child should participate.

You might be thinking . . . But why would anyone opt out of something that doesn’t cost anything?

If a program isn’t a good fit for our child (i.e. we wouldn’t pay for it ourselves), there can be a definite downside.  Our child probably doesn’t have more spare time to participate in another program that better meets his needs. Or, if we try to cram that better program in as well, we risk putting our child on overload.

And what if our child doesn’t benefit after participating in various free programs?  We may then shut down when we hear about yet another program.  We become like folks who resist riding in taxis because they’ve already spent so much time on free buses that took them nowhere.

So that’s why we need to “play” with money in our mind.  After all, it doesn’t cost us anything to do so, and it just may shine a new light on our decisions.

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