Preparing to head Back-to-School


Preparing our children for the future

By Nicole Guttermuth, Courier Staff

Nicole Guttermuth

Nicole Guttermuth

About this time for the last few years I’ve shared with readers fond memories of my childhood gearing up for the first day of school.

A self-professed nerd, dork and over-achiever, I’ve always loved school and I’ve recently been tinkering with the idea of enrolling myself into a Ph.D. program to earn the doctorate that’s always been part of my grand master plan for life.

Earning an education is stressed in my home to the point that I’m sure my girls roll their eyes behind my back occasionally. The older and wiser I become, the more life I experience, the more firmly I hold tight to the notion that having an education is essential for lifelong success.

My children are fortunate because the adults involved in their lives are also proponents of the value inherent in amassing a knowledge base as the foundation for a life filled with possibilities and opportunities for success.

I also realize that not every child is as fortunate, and it isn’t because their parents don’t care — though it would be naïve to say that this isn’t the case with a certain percentage of the population — it is because when these parents were kids, the value of education might not have been extolled in their homes.

The truth of the matter is, the educational playing field is neither fair nor level, and anyone who thinks that every child has an equal opportunity in the world of education is living in an other-worldly utopia.

There is not a doubt in my mind that there are people who will argue this point with me. Like I always say, each of us is entitled to our own opinion. I am fully capable of politely agreeing to disagree. No harm. No foul.

Clearly I form opinions based on my experiences.

I am not unique in the fact that I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother has been an RN since 1963; at 70, she is still working full-time. She does not have a college degree, but if I had to choose anyone to take care of me when I’m ill, it would be her (I am biased because she is my mom, yet at the same time, 50 years of clinical experience assures me she not only knows what she’s doing, but she does it with compassion and conviction).

While she might not have earned a college degree, a college education was simply the natural order of my course of study. To this end, every day, even after she was on her feet anywhere from eight to 10 hours, my mom’s No. 1 priority was sitting down at the kitchen table with me to ensure that my homework was completed. Study time always came before play time and dinner. Those were the rules, and they never wavered.

Thirty years later, my daughters have the same routine. We come home from school, have a snack and then we focus on homework and reading. I am by no means whatsoever saying I am the perfect mom or that I do things the “right” way. I am not arrogant.

What I am saying is that my daughters doing their best, assuming responsibility and putting effort into their education is important to me. Because it is paramount to me, education is one of the essentials in life I am teaching them to value.

There are people who do not value education in the same way I do, who do not devote the time and energy into making certain their children are successful in school. Many factors contribute to this difference in philosophy and this is where the disconnect exists — in my humble opinion — when people say that every child has an equal opportunity to earn an education.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the educational playing field is level; this, however, does not take into consideration the truth that no child exists in a vacuum.

I’ve heard many people say that our schools are not responsible for fixing social ills, and I agree. The job of our school district, as well as the administrators and educators working within this system, is to educate our children so they have the best foundation for being successful adults.

At the same time, it is irresponsible to ignore the reality that when our kids walk through the doors of any given school in the Pickens County district, they bring with them not only their hopes and dreams, but also their worries and concerns.

The educational course might be level, but the starting blocks from which our kids take their marks are anything but uniform.

This is where we, as a community of neighbors, need to be involved. I’ve been chided and criticized before when I’ve quoted the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” but I maintain that however harsh, this is the reality in which we live.

In the last few weeks various local churches have participated in “Back to School” supply drives collecting paper, pencils, crayons, glue, rulers, scissors, back packs, etc. and they have done so because there is a need — because if they didn’t collect and distribute these items there would be children in our community who started school on the first day without the necessary tools to do their jobs as students.

Following this logic, if they cannot afford school supplies — like a $0.97 package of paper at Wal-mart — wouldn’t it stand to reason that these same children might struggle with issues like hunger? If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a thousand times: when a child comes to school hungry and not knowing when or where his next meal might be, how can he possibly focus on learning multiplication tables or practice reading proficiency?

As a community of parents, grandparents and neighbors who genuinely care about the well-being of others, this is where we should focus our attention; yet it seems we expend so much effort and energy debating issues like the Common Core or a multi-million dollar building program gone haywire.

For those folks who think “these kids” — the others — are not their problem; they are sorely mistaken, because all the extra effort and energy disbursed on attending to the needs of the children in danger of being left behind, means time not being spent with those Clemson- and Carolina-bound legacies who also require a strong educational foundation for success in school.

If we truly want the children in Pickens County to succeed and earn the best education possible, we need to take our heads out of the sand and focus on the harsh realities of poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect and domestic violence that plague so many of our school bound kids.

Those of us who value education, who make certain our children have all the tools they need to be successful for this upcoming school year and those that will follow, all need to ask ourselves what we can do to reach out to another child in need.

Acts of compassion and kindness, the giving not necessarily of money, but of time well spent, is what will truly make a difference for our children — the children in Pickens County — being successful this coming school year and those that lie ahead.


Good study habits begin in the home

At times, it can seem like your child’s homework is endless and with all those other things to get done, helping your child complete this homework can seem like an impossible task. However, completing homework is an important part of your child’s education; it not only helps children practice what they are learning in the classroom, but it also encourages self-discipline and a sense of responsibility.

Here are some tips for helping your child:

• Take an interest in your child’s homework. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement regarding a child’s increased success in school when parents take an active interest in homework. Your interest sends the message that not only is education important to you, but also that your child’s activities in general are important to you, and you are there to support your child.

• How much is too much? According to the U.S. Department of Education, children in first through third grade should not have more than about 20 minutes of homework each school day. The recommendation for children in fourth through sixth grades is about 20 to 40 minutes a school day, and for children in seventh through ninth grades the recommendation is up to 2 hours per school day. These are just recommendations and the amount of homework your child will have may vary greatly depending on the school and your child’s teacher(s). The best way to know how much homework to expect is to speak with your child’s teacher.

• Get to know your child’s teacher. Attend parent-teacher conferences and ask the teacher about the homework policy and what your role should be in helping with your child’s homework as this may vary from teacher to teacher. Building this relationship with the teacher initially will be helpful if you have any questions or concerns throughout the school year about your child’s homework situation.

• Schedule in homework time. Although it can be difficult with your own and your child’s busy schedules, make sure homework time is part of your child’s daily routine. Try and find a regular study time each day that works the best for your child. By doing this, you are modeling good time management as well as sending the message that education is important.

• Find a homework-friendly area at home. This may differ depending on the age of your child or what type of homework he is doing. Ideally, this should be a relatively quiet place with plenty of light. In addition, help your child gather the necessary tools to complete his homework before he begins.

• Be available. How much you help your child with homework will depend on your child’s age, her teacher, and the assignment. Hovering over your child as she completes her homework may be distracting. However, assuring her that you are there if she needs you will let her know that you are there to support her.

• Encourage learning. Even when your child has free time, he can learn from his activities. Reading for pleasure, participating in an after school activity, visiting a museum, helping you with cooking or errands, or even watching an educational program on television are all things that help your child to learn outside the classroom and develop hobbies and interests.


Listen and talk about school every day

Studies show that talking and listening to your child for at least 15 minutes every day may be just enough to open up the lines of communication, and as a result, your child will look to you for advice and help with difficult choices and decisions, according to a U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources report. Talking each day sends the message to your child that you care about what they are doing and you are there to support them. This will also set the stage for open communication as your child enters the teen years when communication can become more difficult. Every parent knows that when a child walks in the door and the parent asks, “What did you do at school today?” the classic response is “Nothing.” Getting your child to take part in a meaningful conversation, particularly about school, may be one of your biggest challenges, but it also may be one of the most important things you do. There is no right way or perfect question to start a conversation about school, but below are some strategies you might want to try.

• Stay informed about your child’s life at school. If possible, go to the orientation or open house, read the school newsletter if they have one, or attend parent-teacher conferences. The more you know about your child’s school life, the easier it will be to start a conversation about it.

• Allow your child some down time. Give your child some time when he gets home from school instead of asking him a lot of questions about his day as soon as he comes home. He may need a break from school talk right after being there all day. Instead, let him have a snack and relax a little bit and he may be more likely to open up.

• Try not to force the conversation. Let it happen naturally; your child may feel more comfortable talking about school in a casual setting, for example when you are cooking or riding in the car or on the bus. Your child may say something about school when you least expect it. If you are listening for this, you can use the opportunity to open the conversation and ask questions about school activities that are meaningful to her because she brought them up.

• Talk about your day. Talk about something interesting or funny that happened to you that day. Your child may feel like he is being interrogated if all you do is ask questions about school and homework when he come home. If you start the conversation by sharing something about your own day, this may encourage your child to share something about his day without you even having to ask!

• Don’t talk about only homework and grades. Chances are, this may be the last thing your child wants to talk about, and if you start the conversation about school with this right away, she may clam right up and avoid conversations about school all together. Your child does many things at school everyday and if all you ask about is what homework she has and how she did on her last test or quiz, she may feel like you are nagging her rather than being supportive and showing an interest in her school life.

• Ask for details. If you ask a question that can be responded to with “yes” or “no,” that is all you will get. Instead, try something that is more probing and that elicits an opinion, thought, or idea on the part of your child. If you ask meaningful question, you will be more likely to get meaningful answers. For example, ask what the best part of the day was, ask about specific events, or ask your child to explain a part of the homework.

5 essential components of reading


Reading with children and helping them practice specific reading components can dramatically improve their ability to read. Scientific research shows that there are five essential components of reading that children must be taught in order to learn to read. Adults can help children learn to be good readers by systematically practicing these five components:

1. Recognizing and using individual sounds to create words, or phonemic awareness. Children need to be taught to hear sounds in words and that words are made up of the smallest parts of sound, or phonemes.

2. Understanding the relationships between written letters and spoken sounds, or phonics. Children need to be taught the sounds individual printed letters and groups of letters make. Knowing the relationships between letters and sounds helps children to recognize familiar words accurately and automatically, and “decode” new words.

3. Developing the ability to read a text accurately and quickly, or reading fluency. Children must learn to read words rapidly and accurately in order to understand what is read. When fluent readers read silently, they recognize words automatically. When fluent readers read aloud, they read effortlessly and with expression. Readers who are weak in fluency read slowly, word by word, focusing on decoding words instead of comprehending meaning.

4. Learning the meaning and pronunciation of words, or vocabulary development. Children need to actively build and expand their knowledge of written and spoken words, what they mean and how they are used.

5. Acquiring strategies to understand, remember and communicate what is read, or reading comprehension strategies. Children need to be taught comprehension strategies, or the steps good readers use to make sure they understand text. Students who are in control of their own reading comprehension become purposeful, active readers.

Simple Strategies for Creating Strong Readers

Without doubt, reading with children spells success for early literacy. Putting a few simple strategies into action will make a significant difference in helping children develop into good readers and writers.

Through reading aloud, providing print materials, and promoting positive attitudes about reading and writing, you can have a powerful impact on children’s literacy and learning.

Invite a child to read with you every day.

When reading a book where the print is large, point word by word as you read. This will help the child learn that reading goes from left to right and understand that the word he or she says is the word he or she sees.

Read a child’s favorite book over and over again.

Read many stories with rhyming words and lines that repeat. Invite the child to join in on these parts. Point, word by word, as he or she reads along with you.

Discuss new words. For example, “This big house is called a palace. Who do you think lives in a palace?”

Stop and ask about the pictures and about what is happening in the story.

Read from a variety of children’s books, including fairy tales, song books, poems, and information books.

Reading well is at the heart of all learning. Children who can’t read well can’t learn. Help make a difference for a child.