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Advice to Parents:
Parenting to Assist Your Child to Be Successful

Dr. Geraldine Schwartz PhD, Principal of the Vancouver Learning Centre, is pleased to offer the following comments and advice to parents on strategies to develop the platform of thinking skills for high academic and life achievement, beginning with pre-school children.

Some General Principles to Keep in Mind

Developing Language Skills

Children’s vocabulary and language skills are the tools with which intelligence is built across all cognitive areas. This is because specific, precise and detailed language allows us to think and learn. Children are very much at a disadvantage without these tools, not only in learning to read and spell and write, but also also in understanding the content of their curriculum in Social Studies, Science, Children’s Literature and even in Mathematics.

Parents are children’s first language teachers and the precision and specificity of how we teach language to our children is often dependent on family culture. When a person does not know the specific meaning of words, the situation needs to be directly addressed.

We also teach children what degree of detailed attention to pay to the things in their environment by the way we interact with them. In many cases parents feel that it is their job to be parents, to look after their children’s physical and emotional well being, to play with them as a family and to create opportunities for travel and cultural experiences. It is not as well understood that parents, rather than school teachers, are children’s primary language teachers, and the preparation they provide will determine the degree to which their children achieve their life potential through school and in their later careers.

We have essential and important skills to teach our children. Of all the tasks we have to do as parents, teaching specific and precise words for their very complex environment is among the most important.

Paying Attention to Oral Presentation

After knowing word meaning, the key academic skill is being able to benefit from simple and complex oral instruction. Talking and reading to children are the prime strategies in developing these skills.

However, unless we ensure that the child has listened and is learning the specific details of the story or instruction, we do not introduce the rigor and discipline children need to master their school curriculum.

Strategic Use of Play

In the same way, generalized play is a wonderful way to learn about the world; however, if we never build anything according to a pattern or draw anything that copies something, we do not learn the attention to visual detail that produces excellence in all visually based skills.

Giving Reasons

Finally, children need to know the reasons for your general instructions and the more detail the better. For example, it is not only important for children to know that vegetables are good for them, but why they are good.

‘Wash your hands’ is another good example. It is important to explain how bacteria, infection and sickness that are everywhere in children’s environment are washed away with soap and water. This provides important protection for the whole family since illnesses are often catching, etc.

Every day in hundreds of ways we have opportunity to educate young minds to look after themselves, to look after their environment, to create good friendships by their behaviour, etc. Just about everything in their lives has reasons and children grow and mature well by knowing these reasons.

Providing Information

Children also need to know where things come from. It is not unusual for many children not to understand how the food they eat comes from the ground and is nurtured on farms by farmers, some close at hand and some very far away. Nor do they understand how clothes are made, or where energy comes from, and especially they don’t understand the value of money and its relationship to them.

We tend to think that children don’t need to know these things, but I believe that we are all advantaged by knowing how our world works. By telling children reasons, we stimulate their curiosity and this gets them to wonder and ask their own questions. Such things as why we keep food cold and what makes the refrigerator cold are not trivial matters. While each question and response may be incidental, your ongoing responses have a cumulative effect in developing children’s ability to know their world as they grow and to ask good questions throughout life.

Foster Curiosity

The why and how questions are the chief stimulants to creativity and empowerment in later life as children are encouraged to solve their problems of every kind by new and positive solutions.

To conclude, it is not just loving interaction but strategic dialogue and discussion that make for exciting and interesting families, and it is not just play, but also strategic learning and practice while playing that produces excellence in athletics, in academic achievement and in culture and the arts. This is the ‘personal best’ outcome for children all parents want.

Suggestions for Parents in Creating the Platforms for Academic and Life Success

1. Create a place at home that is the special centre for learning

It should have shelves for books, a child size work place and storage for work materials, pencils, paper, craft materials etc.

A bulletin board or some sort of display space for new words, activities, excellent work, etc., is very useful.

2. Materials for Young Children

Each child should have Word Resources including a Visual Dictionary, a Children’s Illustrated Dictionary, a Children’s Thesaurus (at the age appropriate level), Letters and Numbers out of plastic or metal (as magnets). These are the tools for the Language Arts.

Teach children the basic building blocks of learning at home. I also suggest workbooks at the kindergarten and grade one level to start in phonics, reading, spelling and basic numeracy ahead of being taught these concepts in school.

It is often the current school philosophy not to teach a phonics program directly and intensely from Kindergarten to Grade Three. I find, however, that the ‘whole language’ system leaves many children unable to read effectively. Their struggle makes them avoid reading for pleasure, which is the greatest personal source of learning over a lifetime. Either as a supplement or a support to the child’s grade one year, you can easily teach reading by following a phonics program, either using the workbooks or on-line. This acts to support what they are learning in school. These programs also teach them to spell.

Libraries have many wonderful books which should be a regular part of your interaction with each child, so that reading becomes as essential to a child’s every day routine as an afternoon nap or snack.

3. Strategies

Vocabulary Development

Every child needs to learn specific word meaning. You can do this in three ways:

  1. Using a Visual Dictionary teach the labelling of objects with specific words as a game. Work with one page at a time until mastery of all the words has been achieved. Celebrate and move to the next image. Make knowing words valuable by your approval and by little rewards and applause.

    Use specific word labels at home on all the objects in the environment. Post new words in a prominent place for review and practice.

  2. Read to children, asking for word meaning. Supply the word meaning yourself if they don’t know it. Record the word in a special word book and return it to its place in the story, checking that the meaning has been learned.

    Show them how to look up words in their Word Resources. Once a child has learned the alphabet system – mid Grade One – teach them to help look up the words themselves.

  3. Encourage and reward each child for asking questions about words and their meaning. Teach them to ask for word meaning themselves if they are not sure. Establish value and pride in having a good, precise vocabulary.

Complex Listening

Just because you read and the child seems to be listening does not mean they are learning to listen for details.

  • Begin any reading by ensuring they know the meaning of any new words in the book. Make a game or special point of ensuring they know the meaning. Check it as you reach it in the book.
  • Read a small amount and ask about what you read. Make it a game to remember details. Ask questions about what they think will happen next.
  • Talk about the book. Does it tell a beautiful story? Does it have a lesson to teach? Do not close the book at the last page without some attention to meaning, content, illustration etc.
  • Read aloud for information. Let children help with recipes or instructions on putting things together so that they learn about the value of listening to learn how to do or make things. It is interesting to note that it is only recently in human history that we have not learned everything through oral instruction. Our brains are primed for this way of learning and practice is key to developing this skill.

4. Learning to look, to understand patterns and to pay attention to detail


Puzzles, mazes, building blocks, pattern games, crafts and drawing material.

Visual play that requires that children pay attention to detail is very important to visual learners. Practice is fun and the competencies they develop are life-lasting. These activities should be supervised by an adult and you need to talk about what you are doing to direct their attention to the pattern and the detail. It is also useful to show children how things work and explain why, using clear simple language or even diagrams. This produces a life-long interest in how things work and is the source of creativity and invention.

5. Mathematics


Workbooks on early math from kindergarten to grade three develop competencies in numeracy that are critical to going beyond finger counting. It makes enjoyable the learning of number facts which are essential to good school performance.

6. General Knowledge

Materials for Learning

A globe, an analogue clock, a calendar, coins, books on the weather, the planets, space, etc.

Teach each child about the calendar, the months, the seasons, the days of the week, weeks in a year, etc. If you are so inclined, teach about the earth’s rotation around the sun, the planets, etc. Teach the globe, the continents, the oceans, where things are.

Teach the value of coins. Play ‘store’ and pretend to buy and sell things by adding up the money needed to purchase what they want. Let them pay for small things in a store to learn about the exchange of money for what is wanted.

Final Words

Do not get overwhelmed by all this. This is years of material. Create at least one and possibly two 20-30 minute sessions each day, as many days of the week as possible.

Let it be an essential part of your routine, like lunch or nap time. Organize the curriculum in your own mind. Begin with vocabulary and phonics. Include some time with puzzles and patterns several times each week. Assemble the materials and set up the space. Make a library visit a regular part of your week. Whatever you do you will be making a difference for all your children.

If by six months into grade one a child is not learning to read easily and fluently, get some professional one-to-one help to teach phonics and beginning spelling skills one to one. What I have proposed in these suggestions is not trivial or easy. Indeed, it may be a profound change in the way you think about raising your children. It is not meant to replace what you are now doing. It’s a ‘value added’ piece that will enhance your parenting and all your lives.


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