4 Ways to Raise Better Learners


A solid foundation in the language arts makes for children who are better learners all around. Phonics, reading, spelling, penmanship, composition, literature, public speaking – these comprise the language arts. Reading and writing, however, are predicated on listening and speaking. But listening and speaking are not taught in schools because these abilities cannot be tested, says Andrew Pudewa, director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, in his presentation at the 2016 Philippine Homeschool Conference.

How then can parents raise children who can listen, read, write, and speak well?

Andrew, who speaks around the world addressing issues related to teaching, writing, thinking, spelling, and music, shares some practical insights based partially on his personal experience homeschooling his seven children.

#1 Raising a better listener

Listening is the foundation skill essential for speaking, reading, and writing. While hearing is an automatic function, listening is a trained ability.

How can we nurture it?

"Listening is the foundation of everything else. That's why it's difficult to learn a foreign language when you aren't surrounded by people who speak it," Andrew says.

Listening requires more focus, says Andrew. The child has to be more intentional.

Unfortunately, there exists many impediments to developing a child's listening ability. There is auditory pollution, for one. These are the sounds in the surrounding environment, from the hum of the refrigerator to the music on the radio. A child also has to contend with visual hyper-stimulation brought on by digital culture. He says, “Kids are used to being visually hyper-stimulated and not used to listening and processing.”

Finally, there is the change in family dynamics. Families used to eat most of their meals together. Today, majority of them have to meals separately; some while they're in the car, shuttling from one destination to the other.

In Andrew's experience, the best solution to these impediments is reading out loud to your child in huge quantity. “It's the fundamental way literacy and communication skills are created.”

#2 Raising a better reader

It's a myth that it's more important for a child to read on his own than to be read to, says Andrew. Once a child starts reading on his own, he needs access to reading materials with language and concepts above his own reading level to increase comprehension. Otherwise, he'll end up reading only what he can easily grasp, limiting his growth in comprehension.

Again, parental guidance and supervision is a must. Give him books to stimulate his mind. Read out loud to him and read to him above his. The problem begins when he's just doing lateral progression, which is to say he's replacing his Babysitter's Club titles with Danielle Steele novels. The themes maybe more adult in the latter, but these are basically the same as far as language is concerned, he adds.

The second best option is providing him with audio books. This makes use of empty time, like when your family's stuck in traffic. Plus, it helps develop your child's listening habit. This is especially important for dyslexic students.

Andrew's son couldn't read anything until he was 11 years old. He was completely red/green color blind, so Andrew and his wife read to him a lot and made him listen to audio books in huge quantity. Today, his son is 19 and reads anything and everything. He is also a successful university student.

"In short, parents must not despair. Late reading is not a curse. Keep teaching with appropriate materials and continue to read out loud a lot," he says.

#3 Raising a better speaker

When Andrew was 22 years old, he went to Japan to study violin. At the same time, he wanted to learn the Japanese language. After one and a half years of studying, he knew the rules of grammar and had a sufficient enough vocabulary. Unfortunately, he felt like he had hit a wall in speaking Japanese.

He decided to memorize a children's tale, Jack and the Beanstalk, in Japanese. As he started memorizing the tale, he noticed how he could suddenly start speaking in Japanese, in the template of Jack and the Beanstalk. Memorizing the language templates gave him a richer range of things of how to say things.

He says, “Repetition connects brain cells. The more brain cells are connected, the more powerful your brain becomes.”

Memorization and recitation also help build language patterns, increase vocabulary, and improve syntax.

A doable, practical tip for raising a better speaker: Have your child memorize poems or speeches. The exercise of memorizing will stimulate his brain, and give him confidence in speaking.

#4 Raising a better writer

The biggest issue with writing is that children, even the most creative of them, are sometimes at a lost as what to write.

Andrew's very practical solution: Ask your child to copy poems and manuscript. He says, “You learn to write by writing. It's like riding a bike.”

Andrew believes that copying words is a bridge to composition. He himself copied the Book of John as an exercise.

He adds that the value of copy work cannot be underestimated as it not only builds stamina, it also develops attention to detail and promotes fluency to language. By exercising his writing ability, your child would soon be confident enough to start retelling existing ideas or composing entirely new thoughts on his own!