How to prepare your child for The Forest School


A child's readiness for a self-directed learning environment is not a given.

It takes a village. 

At The Forest School we've identified a small number of look fors to help parents have goals to shoot for before beginning the admissions process.

But there are activities that parents and/or guardians can do with their children at home that will make all the difference.

One of our co-founders, Tyler, studied under Harvard economist Dr. Ronald Ferguson.

Dr. Ferguson has an excellent list of research-based tips for high-achievement parenting:

  1. Promote daily leisure reading at home.
  2. Try to ensure that your child gets enough sleep not to be sleepy at school. Consult local experts about how much sleep a child needs at your child's age.
  3. Make sure your child eats a nutritious breakfast.
  4. Express warmth regularly. This means (for example):
    1. Spend time together
    2. Listen carefully to what your child has to say
    3. Respond thoughtfully and sensitively to what they say
    4. Hug your child
    5. Tell them you are proud that they are good people
    6. Tell them you are proud when they try to do their best
    7. Tell them that you love them
    8. Allow the child to help set rules, when appropriate.
  5. Balance warmth with structure and demandingness. This means have clear and firm rules about (for example):
    1. Doing homework (and seeking help when needed)
    2. Television watching (not too much)
    3. Friends (children who respect your values)
    4. Time to be home  
    5. Chores and responsibilities
    6. Treatment of siblings
    7. Respect for adults
    8. Bedtime on school nights (early enough to avoid being sleepy in school)
  6. Discuss reading materials with children in ways that encourage them to enjoy learning.
  7. During bedtime reading, ask both easy and more difficult (but not stressful) questions about the story (the more difficult questions help with comprehension). Try to make it fun.
  8. Have a variety of reading materials for children, especially materials that are related to your child's special interests. (For younger children, the variety is important because it is difficult to have thoughtful bedtime discussions over and over about the same story. There need to be new stories that raise new questions.)  
  9. Try constantly to reinforce the idea that learning can be enjoyable/fun/stimulating.
  10. Don't overemphasize getting things correct; emphasize effort and comprehension instead.
  11. Seek opportunities at home to discuss and apply what your child is learning at school. For example, having them help with cooking and recipes is a good way to reinforce elementary school math lessons (adding, multiplying, fractions, dividing). Discussion of current events in the newspaper may connect to what your child is doing in social studies. Ask teachers for ideas that you can use in connecting home life to school life.  
  12. Actively seek out-of-school time opportunities for:
    1. Tutoring and reinforcing school lessons
    2. Extra-curricular opportunities with freedom to explore and be creative
    3. Extra-curricular opportunities to develop special talents
  13. Know your child's close friends and try to know their parents.
  14. When it seems necessary, be a role model and caring adult for your child's friends.
  15. Encourage your child to think about his or her future and to set goals. Help your children develop the habit of planning for both near-term and longer-term goals.
  16. Try to limit television watching by substituting other constructive and interesting activities.
  17. Build up your child's sense of being a valued person. Avoid using negative nicknames such a "dummy" or "knucklehead" or "lazybones" or "good-for-nothing." Instead, use names like "sweetheart" or "honey" or "my bright boy" or "love of my life."
  18. Try to end every reprimand with a positive statement that lets your child know you have separated your disappointment about their behavior from your pride about what a good person they really are.

How are you doing with the above 18 activities?

Busy parents who lack time for all 18 might consider changing their schedules to make the above 18 activities a high priority. If schedules can't be changed, a parent might look into who else in their child's life—friends, neighbors, family members, coaches, pastors/imams/rabbis, etc—has time and can help. It's too important not to ask for help.

If you're not a parent but a community member with margin, what if you reach out and volunteer your time to help a busy family? 

When parents become agile with and consistent at the above 18 activities, the next generation stands to benefit.

In his book Towards Excellence With Equity: An Emerging Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap (Harvard Education Press, 2007), Dr Ferguson writes:

In the end, developing and sustaining the collective will, skill and discipline of adults to effectively prioritize learning by children, including other people’s children, is the central challenge we face in a long-term, nationwide movement for building excellence with equity.

Do you have thoughts or opinions to add?

Share your perspective with us on twitter and tag @forestschoolPF


banner image via Picsea

Tyler Thigpen