Here is a list of a few things I’ve asked black student families to get. When used with intention, parents can help close the performance gap just as much as teachers.
- An abundance of texts.
All your kid’s favorites to read. Favorite authors. Favorite genres. Favorite topic. etc. Do your research for texts written by black authors, or with black protagonists, or about black people. See my list of good picks for black kids (categorized by genre, age, and reading level) here. And just so you know what the research says, reading success outranks ALL other subject areas when looking for early indicators of overall LIFE success. If your kid struggles to read, treat it like his or her LIFE depends on getting better. HIRE a SPECIALIST if needed for reading instruction based on SCIENTIFIC-EVIDENCE. (NOT to be confused with the teaching practices branded as “research-based”. Research-based practices in education basically are as flippant as Oprah’s favorite things, and usually are an up-cycling of the same ol’ same.) Inquire about treating your child for dyslexia as opposed to faulting laziness. Truly, there is soooo much that a proper reading specialist can do to activate your kids inner voracious reader.
- Unifix cubes/Snap cubes.
I’ve attended quite a few math workshops and educational conferences, and parents should be aware that most of our kids suffer from a poor grasp of one-to-one correspondence. This means our kids are rushed through the learning process, never really making the connection between numbers and the abstract value of the number itself. Using unifix cubes to “build” numbers and to “construct” equations, especially in those early years, helps kids make meaning out of numbers. (The number 4 is built by putting four cubes together, for example) In school, we jump too fast into the big numbers, so kids lose one-to-one correspondence, and like so, struggle to understand what’s really happening when solving equations. (If I build the number four and “subtract” the number two, I can see that I’ve taken away 2, and only have 2 left. You see?) Ever get upset at how your kid attempts to solve a simple math equation, and starts to guess terribly wrong answers, when you know they should know the answer? That’s a gap in one-to-one correspondence at work. Some experts in the field of mathematics support that these simple same size same shape cubes are really the only tool a kid should need until middle school. See the work of expert in mathematics education Erma Anderson. Her webpage is pretty basic, but get your school to bring her in and attend her workshop. My white expatriate, Asian, and rich parents are hip to this stuff. You should be too.
- Chart paper/Post-it Pad (with the adhesive top).
“But why?” you ask. Believe it or not, hand-made posters and charts go a long way with your kids; much further than those store bought ones. Kids pay attention to writing on the walls, especially if they can associate the writing with an event they’ve witnessed and that has relevance to their own lives. Use chart paper to help your kid plan for school projects or papers, to mind-map stories, or put up study notes for assessments. Do as good teachers are supposed to do and encourage your kid’s learning to be visible by giving them big pieces of paper to show you their thinking. For the little ones, you could also put up instructions for common household routines. (Find chart paper at Staples, Walmart or your local teacher supply store.)
- Incentive charts. (for the little people)
Little people love prizes. And anything can be a prize. I blew bubbles in a four year old’s hands and that was a prize for cleaning-up the fastest. Now, black folks, we have issues with teaching kids to respect their elders because for many of us, it was ingrained that we are to do as we are told–no talk-back. But, in case this isn’t your discipline style, create incentive charts to help your kiddo understand structure and the reward of self-control. Incentive charts make it very clear to little people that their actions yield a consequence, be it good or bad. Add a sticker to the chart to merit progress or an appropriate deed; take one away to show a back slide. (And be quick to return the sticker to the chart when your kiddo self corrects if you want to apply positive reinforcement well.)
- Work display area. (Put this in any high traffic place in your home.)
Show-case your kids WORK! Not just the report card on the fridge. Make a space where you can show off final writing drafts, stories, poems, art projects, printed emails, or love notes to mom or dad, etc. Let’s change the emphasis on grades and trophies, and glorify the product so your kid knows you value the actual WORK done in school. Stop and read it in front of them. When aunty comes over for brunch on Sunday, let her read Jordan’s short story and publicly dote on him for being soooo creative with his adventure telling abilities. Our kids have great talents, and if we showcase the academic substance as much as we flaunt high scores on report cards, Jordan will still try hard to improve on himself even if he hits an academic rough patch. Get my drift?