A Home Is Not A Democracy

By Audrey Klein

“I don’t wanna read a book.”

“I hate vegetables and I am not eating them.”

“I don’t wanna go to bed.”

“Well, my child…this may come as a shock to you, but you will read for 30 minutes, eat what is presented to you, and go to bed by 9 pm. Why? I expect this of you because I believe in you. I believe in you because I love you. Another shock for you…this house is not a democracy.” Oh… if all the homes in America had this philosophy, we could move a mountain in education reform! As a veteran teacher of over 20 years, I have noticed the most successful students are not the brightest, but the ones with the most discipline and initiative. Every healthy family can provide their child with the academic tools they’ll need to compete: sleep, healthy diet, and silent reading.

If there is one thing a parent can do to prepare their child for school it is to ensure a good night’s sleep. Most of my grade school students get the 10 hours of sleep they need per night; however, my high school students tell me they get less than 8 hours per night. This is a disturbing trend that I see. I even go to bed at 9 pm. Isn’t everybody tired? A few years ago, I was interviewed on a radio station in Milwaukee and the man interviewing me went to high school during the 1950s. He said, “Audrey, I remember going to bed at 9 pm on every school night. There was nothing else to do. We just went to bed.” The human body does not care if there are 100s of TV programs on 24 hours a day. The human body does not care if it wants to chat online or have sports until 11 pm. A human body needs to GO TO BED, especially a body that is young, growing, exposed to all kinds of germs from other children, or a body that is working out each day at practice.  A body that is under stress to meet deadlines for homework and test preparation needs sleep. Sleep with no light sources. Computers in bedrooms? Mistake. Nightlights? Mistake. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that is needed to help a person sleep. It is released when it is dark. Serotonin is the hormone that helps people wake up and it responds to light. Children need the dark to ensure a good night’s sleep. Better learning will happen at school with a good night’s sleep, consistently. Years ago I had a parent state that their 4th grade child refused to be in bed by 9 pm. This was my suggestion, “Child, it is not up to you. Go to bed.” Who is the boss?

Healthy eating is so important for a child’s learning. Sugar is going to kill all of us. Protein for breakfast has always helped my students stay alert. Eggs, breakfast sausage, bacon, and salmon over pancakes any day will help kids stay on task and keep them going until lunch. Many kids will not have lunch until 12:30 or 1 PM. It is up to us, the parent, as to what is in our refrigerators. Cut out the refined carbohydrates and eat good meats and vegetables.  If the parent eats healthy, the child will follow the example. Let’s work at taking better care of ourselves.

Sustain Silent Reading, known as SSR, and Drop Everything And Read, known as DEAR, are two ways we teachers incorporate silent reading into our curriculum. We will say to our class, “It is SSR time!” Or we might say, “It’s DEAR time!” And all our students know exactly what to do.  Our students have a book at all times that is of their choice and ability level. They know it is their responsibility to have a book to read. We make frequent trips to the library, have a classroom library, and I have even taken my students to our town’s public library. Every child should have a library card. Libraries are one of the best institutions our country offers its citizens.  SSR and DEAR time can be applied at home as well. In my home it is from 5:30 to 6PM each night. No TV. No computer. No talking.  No playing with toys. It is drop everything and read time. We get comfortable on a couch with a blanket and good lighting.

Reading is at the center of the curriculum. A child can test high in math, but not be put in accelerated math classes if he is a poor reader. The goal is for each child that is reading at a 2nd grade level to read at least two chapter books a month. It is crucial that time at home be committed to silent reading. I can hear many children saying, “I don’t want to read. I don’t have a book. I can’t read for that long.” They can do it. A child might refuse and just sit for 30 minutes the first few times you implement this at your home. Stick it out. I am sure they will eventually start to read. There will be nothing else they can do. Start to read a book with them for the first two or three chapters to get them warmed up. This will help. If the child cannot decide on a book, pick one of your favorites from your childhood. Talk about the book while driving in the car. Mention the parts you liked or characters that were most memorable.  Here is one example,  “Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island thought he was on an adventure to find treasure, but soon found out that he was on a trip with people that wanted to kill him.  No wonder he wanted to go back home to England.”  Make connections and the children will follow your lead.

Most parents love and want what is best for their children. Strong leadership at home makes confident children. Children will usually do what is expected of them. Children who come to school ready to learn at their best will learn at their best. When teachers and parents work together we have an unbeatable team.

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