Knowing what excites kids is the key to helping them master new skills and be successful in school. Here's how to tap into your child's passions in a fun, meaningful way:
5th Graders Love: Technology
How It Helps Learning: Kids this age are drawn to anything electronic, says Tony Vincent, an independent education technology consultant and a former 5th grade teacher at Willowdale Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska. High-tech tools like computers, cell phones, and mp3 players capture kids' attention, keep them engaged and focused, and provide them with instant feedback.
Play trivia games. Type and print out trivia quizzes on topics that interest your child. (You can also email him the questions or text message them if he has a cell phone.) For example, challenge your football fan to name players' positions and numbers. Test your movie maven's knowledge by asking questions about a recently seen flick. He can use the Web to research the answers. Encourage your child to quiz you too. "Children feel competent when they can test you on what they've been learning in school," says Vincent. And you'll get a hands-on look at the material teachers are covering.
Download educational programs. You'll find an amazing array of learning games, software, and age-appropriate podcasts available on your computer. Some are free, some cost a small fee, but all can be easily downloaded to your PC, handheld, or mp3 player with the quick click of a mouse. Best bets include spelling or math games that you can play with your child, and educational programs produced by history, science, and art channels. "Key into your child's interests and curriculum when choosing, and watch the programs together," says Vincent.
Let kids research your next vacation. Preteens will be happier travelers if they have a say in the planning. Since they are already beginning to learn some research skills in school, this is a good chance to practice them, says Liz Hecox, an educational consultant and former 5th grade teacher. Show your child how to use the Web to scout out family-friendly destinations and activities. Bookmark visitors' bureau websites, where she can print out information and send for more if she wants. Encourage her to make a list of things she'd like to do while on the trip. She can make out checklists for everyone to vote on, and even use the computer to create an illustrated travel brochure. Also put her in charge of gathering audio books that you can all listen to during car rides.
- Send love notes. Spark correspondence skills by leaving your child voice, email or text messages to let him know he's in your thoughts. Vincent suggests asking something like, "How is your day going? Tell me three adjectives that describe it." Another fun idea is putting your child in charge of the family's holiday letter, says Hecox. Your child can report the family's news — complete with photos and captions. "Kids love corresponding with technology, because it's so hands-on and interactive," says Vincent.