Supporting Children’s Education at Home

This post is based on a WhatsApp Q&A session I had recently with a group of friends. The responses are informed sometimes by research evidence, personal experience as a practitioner in education, from reading books, blogs, articles, and at times some of the responses were informed by my own personal beliefs, values and parenting experience. These suggestions are far from being perfect, hence, I will indulge you not to take everything as ‘set in stone’ but as a set of advice that are malleable to improvement and change. If you have a comment or suggestion to make, kindly drop it in the comment section. Thanks.


What are “tiger” parents and helicopter parents? Are these things we should worry about?

Helicopter parents carry very negative meanings. Usually children from such parenting style are deemed to be “over pampered” and as such lack independence in adulthood. You can read more on Helicopter Parenting in this blog post.

“Tiger” parents enjoy lots of positives but some see them as being too pushy and can be counter productive by unduly trying to live their own lives and actualize their dreams and aspirations through their children. It’s a bit complicated but I think an average parent probably would want his/her child/ren to excel and as such can get pushy but it is about getting the balance right that is key and this balance varies according to circumstances, particularly with regards to the child, the environment and the family’s situation. But I think every parent should have some elements of tiger parenting style in them but not to the point of designing what their child should do for every second of every day. It’s important to let children be themselves and have some freedom even if they are under ‘supervision’ – the children should not necessarily be aware of it all the time. You can read about a research conducted on Tiger Mums in this Slate’s article.

 How about the role of parents in the education process? I think parents have more to do – follow up at home, revision etc. Can you shed some light on this angle?

Parents have significant and important role to play BUT it isn’t just about the amount of time but more about the consistency, the study materials and the quality of time committed into it. I.e. if you’re a very busy family and all you can really afford with your kids during the week is 30mins or 1 hour daily, then make it worthwhile with how you engage them educationally. I.e. 1. Identify the areas they struggle most with. 2. Identify areas that their school is very good at. 3. Look for accessible and easy to use study materials that won’t consume much time but will give you opportunities to cover much within that time span. 4. Work consistently using such materials. 5. Constantly support and pray for them.

Any tips for motivating kids? Especially when they don’t want to study or revise?

Tricky this one. Kids vary. Different strategies. Sometimes it’s about trade off – do this task, then you can have this time to play… (negotiation). At times things like take this chocolate…for your effort do work, and the normal “no work, no treat” too works. But motivation is very specific to the context in which the kids find themselves. And praising their efforts and the good work they do helps a lot. And when they get to school and excel in something, kids love sharing it at home and it’s always the best time to remind them the benefits of the efforts they put in at school and at home.

Is any there any unique advantage one can leverage on on home schooling?

Homeschooling is great if one can get it right but it has its own downside. So, one has to be prepared for it. But it is a “cheap” way of affording high quality education if one is willing to do it properly but you have to think about issues like: social skills, childhood friendship, engaging in discussions with others on conflicting views… (i.e. the children). So you have to be ready to make provisions for the kids to engage with the larger society constructively so that it doesn’t affect their social and life skills.

For homeschooling, I’ll encourage you to engage the kids in organized sports; create a community of homeschoolers and get to meet and exchange ideas; make it part of your schooling system that you’ll take the kids to family and friends and let them have “unsupervised” playtime there, so that they can develop some of the important social skills; always seek for help if you think you’re struggling with some aspects i.e. teaching science or history; join a WhatsApp group of homeschoolers and benefit from their exchange of ideas and experience; try to keep a good relationship with your local school – if possible – because you might be able to get the kids to do some tasks there; try to get a curriculum guide and set of relevant materials so that you can lessen the burden of what to do on a day to day basis. And I think Homeschooling is one very good approach low income families with the time and educational ability can use to afford quality education, or at least they can engage their kids in a regular after school home program.

What approach do you take/advise for managing TV time for the kids?

Personally in my house we have a No TV rule during the week and 4 hours on Saturdays and Sundays (3pm to 7pm). And recently we agreed on Friday nights TV but usually under the supervision of an adult. It is during the same time that they can use the PC in the lounge (sitting room) for non school purpose.

As for ? if you can access good documentaries like the animal ones and they can develop keen interest in them, it would be great because they tend to learn a lot leisurely through that means.

I think kids should read and play a lot independently and these we try to encourage a lot at home. Even doing household chores like cleaning is important for life skills. Allowing siblings to talk and play together a lot is also important for their future relationship in adulthood. So making them to do just individual’s school or educational tasks all the time can easily erode that opportunity for them to really grow together as siblings.

How do you manage to implement daily routine with your children’s education? Do you have the whole day planned ahead?

We only have 1 TV in the house and that’s in the sitting room and we have it as a normal household rule that the kids can’t watch TV during the week and none of the kids has a personal computer or laptop or mobile phone at the moment.

As for planning the whole day ahead, I wish I’m that organized but unfortunately I’m not. What we tend to do is just try as much as possible to create a routine which can be seem daunting at times in the midst of other life’s challenges but one just have to keep pushing.

Is it better to train young children with our indigenous language? How will such children learn to speak English, given that English is the language of instruction at school?

Personally, I try as much as possible to speak Yoruba to my kids at home even though they’ll respond in English. They live in an environment that the local language is English, so there is a difference for them from what kids that live in an environment where the local language is i.e. Yoruba but they have to learn in English at school. Personally, I prefer a child to be multi-lingual and if the family of such a child has a different language from English, then I’ll suggest they speak that language to that child and there are many research evidence that show the benefits in children being multi-lingual. Also, children can learn multiple languages effectively, although initially you might experience them mixing up words but as they get older they’ll differentiate better.

Most parents (Muslims) dream of children who are hafiz/Muhadith and at the same time scholars of English and mathematics. They take their children to schools where they can eat their cake and have it…but never for once was the child’s opinion sought not capacity of the child measured. What is the right balance? Will most children become hafiz of the Quran? Is it exceptional for a child to be able to manage both expectations or it is a BASE expectation? Do you think there should be some level of conjunction with the child and his/her school etc.?

This is a very complex question “to eat one’s ? and have it” is a serious business. I think those are parental aspirations that children might not have initially but with lots of prayers and positive reinforcements children may develop interest in them. Because it is hard to determine an individual’s intelligence in advance, one cannot say those children cannot fulfil those aspirations but everything will come at a price. It’s not impossible that you’ll see some kids that’ll be like “all rounder” and some will struggle. So, it is important to constantly appraise the situation of every child and provide the necessary support for them. However, I believe those schools will have their own curriculum and they’ll pay more attention to certain aspects than the others. Also, the time they’ll commit to learning is key. And there’ll be the issue of expertise of the teachers, their strategies, approaches and the methods they use in engaging students in the teaching and learning process. All these factors will go a long way in influencing how those schools are able to achieve some of their stated goals, and also, other relevant factors like the children themselves, homes, motivation…and above all Allah’s will.

As a parent the reality is that one will have to learn to accept that some goals might remain “goals’ while some would be achieved, but I am of the view that parents should avoid trying to realize what they term as their own “shortcomings” in life through their children. They should see children as individuals who have their own personalities, characteristics, aspirations, hopes, fears etc. but that can be encouraged and supported to be their personal best – which is a constant and an on-going process.

As for the children’s consent, it is important to get the kids on ones’ side as parents. I think the commitment parents show and not just say to something have significant impact on how children react to it. If the children just see the experience as going to their normal school, then it wouldn’t be much of a parental pressure (I believe) but if it is a case of the son or daughter of Mr. A or Mrs. A is doing this and you’re just lazy…then the child will see comparison with someone else and not “just” going to school. And maybe one of the parents is not even in support of the idea, then things will become more complicated.

On the actualization of the “eat one’s cake and have it”, I guess we should accept that after eating the cake, one would probably have crumbs left at best. So, it is better to accept that the kids might be able to achieve everything “set out” for them (if Allah wills) but the outcomes for the different goals will vary. I.e. a child can be a hafiz (someone who has memorized the whole of the Qur’an), get 8 As in WAEC… but that child will still not have the same depth of knowledge in all the different areas you mentioned and at times the child might even lack on some important life skills. And Allah knows best.

I believe a good school would engage the parents and the child in the whole process, and that should be the approach from the parent/s too – engage the school and the child and be realistic with one’s aspirations and goals.

Reading and Writing

Is there an appropriate age for which a kid is expected to know how to write and read?

On appropriate reading age, I think children from babies can start reading. I.e. you’ll see babies that can identify different objects in a book and eventually sound their names out. So those babies are already on the pathway to reading. Now coming to decoding words like the words I’m typing here, it depends on different factors i.e. how language rich a household is; how often a child is being read to; how accessible are age appropriate books to a child at home e.t.c. For some children they’ll start quite early but on the average by age 4/5 most children should be able to start decoding some very basic words but some children might show some delayed ability to decode without any health related problem, but they might communicate better or show better developments in other areas like motor, social and physical. But the key thing is to support them and encourage them, and not create panicky or anxious situations in them. Most kids will get there eventually with the right support.

How can a child achieve fluency in reading?

Fluency comes with consistency, and a child reading age appropriate books should help a lot. By age appropriate books, I mean books that the child can easily comprehend and such books will not have too many words, phrases, sentences or messages that are too complex for the child to decode or comprehend. I.e. I'll encourage lots of picture books for children - toddlers to around age 5. Children connect and actually read and comprehend picture books a lot. They connect with them a lot and such books build their imaginations, reading and comprehension sills. Example of good picture books I can think of right now are The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle  and  The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns. Also, you can read this blog post  “Books are dangerous, powerful and beautiful. They should also be used with caution…” for better insights on choosing books for children.

How do we measure literacy; mastery, competence?

There are different parameters but the common approach is for schools to adopt the government’s assessment criteria and grade children if they are reading at certain age level. So, it is quite tough to measure. For instance, in the UK, there is the SAT test that is done at the end of Years 2 and 6. In Nigeria similar tests would be the states’ and National common entrance examinations. Also, there are software that some schools use to assess literacy and then based on the outcomes of those tests, such schools might grade the children’s reading at a particular age level. But a common one, that any parent or adult can do, is to give kids different age graded books by established publishing companies and then see if a child is struggling with certain books while finding certain books easy. Now, that’s just mainly on decoding of words. But there are other issues around: fluency, comprehension, inflection, summarizing, linking stories together, retention… So, it depends on what one is trying to measure.

What do you advise on teaching kids how to write?

There is a pressure that kids that’ll start formal primary education at age 4 or 5 in Nigeria’s case – this is a common practice in a lot of private schools in Nigeria, which is actually against the National Policy on Education, that expects children to start primary education at the age of six – should be able to write because that’s what they’re expected to do in primary 1, hence, parents feel compelled to push for it, however, the danger that I see in this approach is that – if a child wasn’t really ready for it, it could potentially kill-off the joys of learning in that child and lead to issues like  low self-esteem, and this could potentially have a life-long impact on the child’s educational experience.  Some of the suggestions I can make are:

  • Give children building bricks (i.e. mega blocks and Lego bricks (the big ones)) from very early age, even at few months old.
  • Introduce them to toys that engage their ✋-? coordination (i.e. bricks again, sand trays, jumbo sized (floor sized) puzzles.
  • Big crayons and other colouring equipment, but make sure you set the child up in an environment where floor carpets, curtains… will be stained painted on or stained.
  • Allow them to play with normal pens (i.e. biro) but make sure you don’t have your important books or documents around them (they’ll scribble on it), also avoid normal sized pencils because of the dangers with them.
  • Keep loose papers and writing materials around that the child can voluntarily and independently scribble on.

From my own personal experience, I think for most kids, if they had been doing doodling and scribbling voluntarily from when they were younger they stand better and easier chance of being taught how to hold pencils to write. Particularly, those big pencils. By age 3/4 one can systematically start encouraging the child to write without any pressure. Just occasional holding of hands without the child noticing it.

What about the different writing styles (cursive, Nelson and others) for a kid that has started writing or one should just leave the child to use his/her instincts?

I think teaching handwriting skills like cursive is great for some personal reasons – as someone who has horrendous handwriting. 1. It encourages patience. 2. It is pleasing to the eyes. 3. It improves presentation. 4. Paying attention to one’s handwriting improves how one is able to focus and concentrate on task at hand.

Please, leave your thoughts on this post in the comment section and feel free to share the article with your contacts.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Rahmah Gafar

    There’s so much to learn from here. I especially like your advice on writing and reading. I have always been a supporter of following the child’s interest and not coercing them to write.

    Keep up the good work. I’ll go and search for you now on Twitter. Thanks

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