School 360, Part 2: Parenting Through Elementary School

With Super Teacher and Family Blogger, Julie Brasington

Julie Brasington, otherwise known as the Happy Home Fairy, has been instilling a love for learning and creativity in the minds of young children for years.  Through her blog, Julie inspires families to nurture encouraging and loving homes.  Julie has worked as a teacher and has led her ministry to families for over a decade.  It is such a privilege to have this opportunity to ask the Happy Home Fairy herself, how to best care for the hearts of our elementary students.

You are a huge advocate for quality writing.  What tips would you give parents to help their children sharpen their writing skills?

I believe that teaching a child how to write is one of the most important skills they will gain through their school experience.  Learning how to write well is essentially learning how to communicate well - which is a critical skill needed for... well, all of life! :-)  They will need to know how to organize their thoughts for college essays, job applications, and compelling work presentations.  The skill of writing well can also help a person communicate well in relationships as well as pass on a legacy of stories and information to future generations!  

I love teaching my students to show something rather than tell something when they are writing.  For example, instead of saying "The dog ran across the yard," one could say, "The dogdashed across the yard."  The change of that one verb makes the whole sentence come alive!  Or instead of saying, "I am hungry," saying, "My stomach was rumbling like thunder!"  Or instead of saying, "It snowed," say, "The snow was on the lawn like frosting on a cake."

A major component to learning how to write well is being an avid reader.  The more you read, the more you will learn what good communication sounds and looks like.  As a parent, I love reading aloud to my children as well as providing them with lots of printed material.  Audio books are excellent tools to encourage good communication as well!  Our family has enjoyed some of the Odyssey adventures from Focus on the Family.

How can parents help their children get excited about reading?

One of the best things you can do to encourage excitement for reading is to simply have books everywhere. When my kids were babies I kept books on the changing table and they would look at them when they were old enough to hold a book. I keep books in a basket in the backseat of the car for them to look at while we drive. We keeps books in a basket by the kitchen table and sometimes I will read to them during lunch or dinner. Both boys have bookshelves in their rooms and every night they can pick a book for us to read together before bed. I fill these baskets with books that I have loved myself, found recommended by other parents, or pertaining to topics that interest my boys. Having lots of books around coupled with the parent's own excitement about books/reading will help kids get excited about it as well.  And when we are in stores, I say no to buying a toy most of the time, but I never say no to buying a book. Books are usually not that expensive (if it's an expensive book we will save it for a birthday list) and it is another fun way to celebrate reading in your home.

Elementary is a time when children realize their favorite subjects.  How can parents help their children thrive in areas they might not enjoy as much?

All kids have been given different strengths and subjects that they are passionate about.  The tricky thing is keeping them from getting easily discouraged when they face a challenge at school.

As the parent, remain positive.  I try not to let my own prejudices (I hated science and math when I was in school) be voiced in a way that might feed their struggle.  And I also try not to let my frustration with their frustration create a negative imprint on the whole situation.  The goal is to teach your child to be a problem solver (life goal!) as well as to have a healthier outlook on his responsibilities.

Step back and look at the bigger picture.  Ask the teacher for his/her perspective and advice.  Be your child's coach and cheerleader.  If they need a break from something difficult - let them have one.  Then get back to it.   Give them challenging tasks in small doses.  I used to suggest to my parents to let their child punch a hole at the top of his homework page whenever he completed something that was hard.  It is very self-gratifying! :-)

And above all, I find that our weaknesses are the very things that teach us the most about depending on Jesus.  Pray about it with your kids and point them to Him as their source of strength and help.

Julie, how can parents encourage their children to love others well?

I love teaching my kids about the Golden Rule from Luke 6:31, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Whenever my kids are struggling with a friend, I try to encourage them to think about how they would want to be treated in that situation. Really what I am after is training them to think about others before themselves. This can be a battle because the flesh wants to be number one! But if we can help our kids learn to be humble when interacting with others and take on the heart of a servant, then a lot of problems can be solved.  Are my kids amazing at this?  Just this morning in the car they were trying to wrestle one another while they had seat belts on.  It ended in tears.  But every situation like that is an opportunity to point them toward the better way of thinking.  

What can parents do to connect with other parents?

Go to birthday parties when invited! Host play dates or attend them! Initiate contact - I read somewhere once that there are 2 different times of people - the "There you are" people and the "Here I am" people. Here I am people usually wait until someone approaches them, but There You Are people reach out to others and make an effort to build relationships - even when it's hard and uncomfortable. I don't always act as the There You Are person, but I try to keep that in mind when I am in a room with new people. Building relationships with the parents of the kids your child spends time with can be an important way to stay connected to what might be happening in your child's world.

As children are starting to expand their extracurricular horizons, how can families balance work and play?

This is a tough one, because often we are getting home from school in time to eat dinner and go to bed! There isn't always a lot of time for play! So one way our family tries to balance work and play is to limit after school activities.  My boys work on their homework in the car on the way home after school and then when they are home they get to run around and play until dinnertime. Then we practice the piano, eat, and start the bedtime routine.  Kids need some unstructured (free play) downtime after school to unwind from so many hours of 'being on.' Our family also has a Friday night Pizza and Movie night tradition as well as a Pancake Saturday morning that the kids get excited about and look forward to throughout the week.  I try to also spend a good chunk of time with each boy at bedtime reading silly books and hearing their hearts about their day. It's a good time to laugh and connect in the middle of busy life! These are all good ideas, but sometimes life is just crazy, so we try to infuse some lightheartedness into stressful and busy situations.  When things start feeling tense, I try to find a way to make everyone laugh. Impromptu dance party, tickle fight, joke-telling, sock ball fight -- whatever might help - even if it's just for a few minute.

Are there any particular resources you would recommend to our readers?

I have lots of resources on my blog (www.happyhomefairy.com) to help moms build a happy home - educational activities, FREE Printables, crafts, family fun and encouragement!

If there is one big takeaway for our readers today, what would it be?

Sometimes you might want to base your love on your kids' performance at school (and basically everywhere else). Make constant efforts to check your heart on this - love without condition. Encourage them to do their best and remind them that you love them no matter what. Pray with them when they struggle. Ask God to give you creative ways to point them upward and then cheer them along the journey. After a long day, sometimes they just need a hug! And possibly a chocolate chip cookie. :-)

If our readers want to get connected with you, what's the best way to do that?

Check out my website - www.happyhomefairy.com. I am also on: Facebook (@happyhomefairyblog), Instagram (Happy Home Fairy), Twitter (@happyhomefairy) and Pinterest (happyhomefairy).