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I have a new suggestion for parents: teach your children how to connect the dots.
You already know one of your many parental roles is TEACHER. As a matter of fact you are your child’s first teacher. And arguably the most important one.
This scares some parents who don’t remember their algebra and wouldn’t ever write anything to anybody if there were no spell check. But you don’t teach algebra or spelling. You teach your child about the world and about life.
Connecting the dots starts very early. You point to things when your infant is still a babe in arms. And you name these things for your baby. When the babies start pointing out things, you name them. These are easy and automatic vocabulary lessons. You are baby’s first language teacher and language teaches us about the world.
There are other ways parents first connect the dots for their children and later help the children connect the dots themselves. Whenever there is something in real life or in a book or on TV if it is new to the child or can teach the child something, connect the dots.
Example: Your child sees a blind person with a guide dog. You can talk to the child about handicaps and how people overcome handicaps. You can talk about how guide dogs are trained and how important they are. As the child gets older you can ask how the child would feel if he or she had a handicap like blindness. You can add that people are alike inside; we all have similar hopes and dreams for ourselves. Some people have to work harder than others to be independent.
With older children you start asking the tough connect-the-dot questions. Can you think of ways we can help people with handicaps? What if a handicapped child went to your school? How would the other kids treat this child? How would you treat this child? Let’s look up the causes of blindness?
Many books you read to your child deal with moral questions even though they are picture books not philosophy texts. Expand on the moral of the story. What would you do? Do you think he should have done that?
Same with TV programs. If Dr. Heins had her way she would not only limit TV but would insist on an impractical caveat: no young child ever watches TV unless a parent is present. The parent connects the dots as discussed above. And talks about the commercials, pointing out what young children don’t yet realize: a commercial is not the same as a program, a commercial is designed to make you want something, something you have to buy.
Finally when the children are reading on their own or doing homework in a subject that merits talking about, start discussions about any moral dilemmas the material presents. I read Little Women at an early age and was terribly upset that the caged bird died because the girls forgot to feed it. I told my mother who told me that responsibility for a helpless creature means NEVER forgetting to take care of it. My mother connected the dots and taught me how to connect the dots.
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