CBP: Tell me first of all, this is a new series called School Savvy Kids. How would you summarize what this is?
Cheri: This is a series of books for parents, and the material is very accessible. Parents are very busy today. The books are designed to help parents be proactive about their children’s education regardless of whether they’re in private school, homeschool, or public schools. Especially this one: School Starts At Home. To help the parent not only see that your home environment is the breeding ground for great learners, but to help them see the things that will contribute to your child being accessible for learning.
For example, there’s a chapter on emotional stability in your home. Because studies have shown – for 20 years they’ve had different studies showing that if a child is in turmoil, just really in turmoil inside, in their hearts and minds, they block about 90% of teaching. So it doesn’t matter what great school you send them to, if that stability factor isn’t there. So for instance, in Raising Motivated Kids, there’s a chapter about your relationship with your child, because that’s a core issue for learning. A child who has a trusting, loving relationship with his or her parents, is far more accessible – their mind is more accessible to learning and retaining information. They tend to be more curious, they tend to be more motivated. And these are things that parents don’t always know. They’re core issues, but they’re kind of behind the child. And when I taught school, literally – I taught high school, I’ve taught every grade up to college – is that when you see that child, you’re seeing their family behind them. So I wanted to – as this says, simple ways to make learning fun.
And also to make a home environment that is going to raise readers, raise writers, and the fact that – I mean, this doesn’t cost very much – you can boost your child’s learning with music. Even with playing classical music in the car instead of listening to talk radio. All the ways we help them develop good math skills, encourage good study habits. And a lot of these – there’s some fun ideas in there. It doesn’t have to be you’re putting your child down to do extra worksheets every night, that you’re a task master.
So I define, for instance, in here about how if you want your child to be motivated, you need to be their homework consultant and their cheerleader, not take over the ownership. We have so many parents today that take over the ownership for projects. I’ve had so many projects turned in – and so have many other teachers – where you can tell the project, the science project has been done by the parents, or the homework. The problem with that is the child gives up ownership, and the parent now is the one who’s the key motivated person. So issues like that.
I love the motivation boosters and busters, because I think they’re doable things --telling stories around the dinner table, in the car. That encourages good listening skills, language skills, their sense of history, their sense of belonging, developing curiosity. Curiosity is innately connected with motivation. If they’re real curious, they tend to be more motivated.
So just things that I discovered as a parent -- our children are now 33, 30, and 27 years old, and they all have children. And things I learned not only from being a mom, and working with our kids, but also being a teacher; working with kids over many years. It’s very mom-friendly. It’s not like this is overwhelming with research. But there is a lot of research behind it.
Perfectionism is why a lot of kids kind of don’t do well in school. Attention problems; we have millions of kids on Ritalin, and on other drugs. But there are other things parents need to be doing to deal with that to bypass that weakness. Single parent families, burnout. So it really addresses core issues, when parents realize how powerful their expectations are, how powerful their role model is, their relationship, having a healthy perspective on grades so when your child comes home with a C or D you don’t overreact. You don’t punish, you learn how to work with them.
So I want to encourage parents. It’s a very high priority for me. I think that if we equip parents to be the best parents they can be, then we’re helping children. We’re helping this generation of children because it is a challenging time to parent today. Parents are going in fast forward, there is much uncertainty.
The issue for Today came out. There were more violent incidents in schools this past year in 2003 than ever. If you look in USA Today, on the front page, there’s an article about how this was the most violent year ever. And not all parents can afford for their children to go to private school.
CBP: That was one of my questions for you. Knowing what you see out there in schools, there’s the whole debate about keeping your children in school because they are to be salt and light for those who are lost, and protecting them from that. What do you personally – from what you see – do you recommend to parents?
Cheri: I really believe that if we seek God, He’ll answer. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things that you don’t know.” And I believe that God has called certain families to public schools, and He will be with them, but they need equipping to know how to deal with teachers – one of these has a whole chapter on the parent/teacher connection. So that you’re part of the team, you’re not an adversary, but He calls some parents to homeschool, He’s called some parents to Christian schools. He has an individual purpose for each one of us, and when He calls you, I believe He in His grace will be there. But there isn’t any foolproof place. We looked for the perfect place; it doesn’t exist. Even if it’s your own homeschool; it doesn’t exist. So we need God’s grace and help, and direction, and one of the things that I think you’d find if you – like I have examples of homeschool families, and I have examples of kids in public schools. Because my goal is to equip parents in any type of school choice they decide.
I’m not discriminating, saying, if you’re in public schools this is not for you. Or if your kids are in Christian school – God’s promises are for different seasons of our life. He may have your children – you may have an accessible Christian school and you can afford to send them there. You may end up moving someplace that doesn’t. Like when we moved to Maine, there was one private school, but it wasn’t really one that you’d want your kids to go to. So they went to the local public schools in Maine, in Yarmouth, Maine. They were excellent schools. In fact, they were some of the best schools our children ever went to the year and a half we were there. We can’t control everything.
But there are things that you as a parent can do which will help your child learn and become motivated, and like this isn’t just motivated for school, but for life; for chores; for growing spiritually.
CBP: Well, I probably have one of each. I’ve got a talker, a watcher, and a doer.
Cheri: Do you? Well, you probably like the title then. We do too. We have a talker, a watcher, and a doer.
CBP: What do people who have doers in school do?
Cheri: Well, the chapter in here – I think the doer chapter in here – it’s all the more important for all of our kids to know study learning-style strategies for the way they learn.
There’s a chapter in here about the classroom, I think, if it didn’t get cut out by my editor. In the classroom, you give them bypass strategies; strategies to bypass their weaknesses, so their weaknesses don’t bog them down. Seventy-five percent of learning disabled classrooms are filled with doers, and many of them are gifted children. The teachers don’t know what to do with them, or just want to medicate them. But, you just really have to work with that child and help them know how they can study best.
One of the strategies I use is the tape recorder; making your own study tape. Showing your child how to make a study tape, and then giving them blank tapes, doing it with them until they know how to do it, and then for the doer, you would adapt it. Have them have a walkman on to listen to the study tape that they made, that’s their voice or yours that they can throw baskets while they’re doing it, they can jog while they’re doing it; they can be active. Because when they’re able to move, then their brain is more accessible to the learning.
Another example I give for the doers is – for the real doer, kids that are really kinesthetically strong – they can read faster and they can have better comprehension if they can read on a stationary bicycle. There’s been research done on it. I know teachers who have a stationary bicycle in the back of their room, and it has a prop-up place for a book, and they let their movers do some of their reading on there.
So, you know, they’re so bright.
CBP: It’s just finding the key to unlock it.
Cheri: It is. And that’s what this whole book is about.
CBP: I really loved this book because you give such practical ideas in School Starts At Home for just making your home a place that’s accessible to the kids. And it’s encouraging because I thought, “Oh, I do that.” Or, “I could be doing that.” So maybe I’m not so bad after all. I really liked the suggestions that you had, and they’re very simple to do, not expensive, they don’t take preparation.
Cheri: Well, let me tell you how powerful they are. I think it’s in Raising Readers in here. I give the example of this girl named Ann whose mom introduced various books to her, whether she had it in the classroom or not. And it’s a list of classics of all the great books you should read at different ages. And they aren’t necessarily reading them in school today. That is a very simple thing to say that we have a long term reading plan for our family, and we’re going to read these aloud. When they’re teenagers they start reading to themselves. But when you read this and you see the power of that.
This girl ended up graduating magna cum laude from university. When you see that – they may sound simple, but they’re very powerful. I talk about expectations in here in Raising Motivated Kids. Expectations are so powerful. What you expect of your child. Now, your child who is a doer – it sounds like you have great expectations for her. Yes, she’s active. Maybe sometimes fidgety, but you see that she’s creative, and that she’s capable, and that she has gifts. But you put her in a classroom where the teacher has low expectations of her, then the teacher puts those expectations on so you accept those. Her effort will diminish and her achievement will go down. It’s a downward spiral, or it’s an upward spiral.
Expectations are very powerful. You’re a role model. If she sees you writing – you’re a writer so your kids have a role model of someone who’s a writer. I always was a writer, and I wrote poems, Valentine poems to my kids, and for every anniversary. And my children, all three of them, they write poetry. They don’t think it’s cruel and unusual punishment that you only do in school, but writing is a part of their life. And this is lifestyle stuff, this is not something elaborate.
I taught writing for years. Kids who write at home, their writing is always much better. They’re so much better at it. And I can tell in the classroom which kids write at home. And it’s simple things having a bulletin board, everybody gets to post things on there, making lists, integrating writing into their pretend play. I got that idea – I’d done it some myself but – the top private school in the state of Oklahoma is Cassidy School that our children attended in high school. And I quote the lady that was their director and kind of pioneered this. She always put little pads and things near their pretend play to encourage them to do writing with pretend play. And the thing about kids making books when they’re preschoolers, and dictating their stories to you. That’s the most powerful way for your children to get the reading, writing connection. You can’t buy that anywhere.
I do this with my little granddaughter, we take little pieces of paper and we fold them and staple them and she makes books when she comes over. It’s a powerful language activity. So I just love to share those kinds of ideas with parents because every child has potential. Every child has gifts and has talents; they just need someone to unlock those. That’s what these books are about, and it’s not overwhelming. And I would hope that they would get all three of these because we didn’t overlap these things, so each one has its distinct areas. But they’re great resources from the time they’re very young until they go to college.
CBP: I notice that you don’t have any scripture or any mention of the Lord in here, is that to make it something that can go across from the Christian books store to the Barnes and Noble?
Cheri: Yes. They are in the Pinon Line of NavPress. And the Pinon Line are books that are biblically-based foundation, but they’re even for the unchurched parent. And so they are really books for any parent, but I think that parenting is a very spiritual activity. So I think they’re very spiritual books. And someone said to me years ago when I wrote a book for parents in a Christian book store, they complained to their publisher because this publisher had always done books on prayer and faith. And they said, “These aren’t spiritual books.” I said, “You must not be a parent.” Parenting is a very spiritual endeavor. Of course, I have books that deal with prayer. And hopefully people will go to my website and they’ll find us. We’re introducing them to something that meets a felt need in their life.
CBP: Definitely. Now, what do you say to parents of maybe adolescent or teenage that are really having trouble, and they can’t go back and make little books with their kids, can they make changes?
Cheri: I think it’s never too late if a parent is willing to get involved in a positive way, not a negative way. Not "I’m grounding you for the rest of your life because you made a C or D." But this also has ideas on the study habit chapter of a junior high girl or boy who’s doing badly in school. They need a study buddy who is not their parent. They need the parent to hire a young student from the high school, or high school youth group who’s very smart and very organized, but your child thinks they’re cool. That’s one of the ideas in here.
CBP: That’s really great. It’s not just for parents of young children.
Cheri: Oh, it’s for parents with children at all ages. The study strategies in here, I used these with my kids when they were teenagers. This part on developing their gifts and talents, we should be doing that by middle school time. Because one of their biggest questions is “who am I?” “Do I have any purpose at all?” and "What’s beyond school?" Helping them see what’s beyond school. I think there are lots of ideas for parents of teenagers.
CBP: So it’s not hopeless if your kid is flunking out as a sophomore; you can turn it around.
Cheri: Of course. One of the ways that I share in the series is finding your child’s center of learning excitement. Even adults who are illiterate and they’re in prison – do you know what literacy experts do who are going to try and teach them to read? This is somebody who never learned to read. They’re going to find out what is their biggest fascination. It might be for one boy motor skills, it might be for a parent, I want to read a children’s book to my child; for another it might be the Bible. And what you do is you find their center of learning excitement, what they want to learn, what they want to know, what area really pushes their button, get excited about, and those are the materials you bring in. And that is essential for high school. And many people just haven’t spent the time to see what their child is most interested in. And they haven’t connected that with reading and learning. But it is a very powerful strategy.