Supporting Children in the Primary and Intermediate Grade School Years
Educational Resources and Support in the Home
Research has consistently shown that children who succeed in school generally have a supportive home environment. A home environment that supports learning includes caregivers that provide both a stimulating and engaging environment that fosters learning and demonstrate through words and actions that learning is important and valued in the family. A nurturing caregiver that values and supports a child’s learning
and education has been shown to be a more important indicator of school success than socio-economic conditions of the family. In many cases, even the effects of trauma can be overcome with the right balance of unconditional nurturing, learning support and a stimulating environment. Depending on the age of the child, there are specific strategies that caregivers can use to provide a stimulating and supportive learning environment in the home. Following are suggestions for how to provide learning rich environments and to support learning and school achievement divided by age ranges.
Child needs support in the Primary and Intermediate Grade School Years
All children in the State of Illinois must legally attend school from 7 through 16 years of
age. This is referred to as compulsory education. Thus, children, at these ages, who are absent from school, for other than medical reasons, are considered truant. School
districts must also, by law, provide a free education for all children who are age 5 as of
September 1st. Unless determined otherwise by the DCFS guardian, all children in care and custody who turn 5 by September 1st must be enrolled in school. If a child who is age 5 or older has a disability that adversely affects his/her education, or medical conditions that require accommodations in school, the child must be referred for a special education evaluation or 504 evaluation respectively.
The primary and intermediate grade school years, ages 5 through 10 or 11, like the early childhood years, are very formative. In the primary grades, Kindergarten through 3rd grade, children are learning to read, compute, write and socially interact appropriately. Children are developing social skills and forming patterns that have the potential to predict school dropout and later social concerns. If they are having trouble with reading and/or their social skills, this will contribute to their being potential school dropouts. It is critical that children learn to read in the primary years, preferably by the end of first grade for as they get older, the material they have to master in school becomes increasingly complex, and most often requires reading no matter what the subject area. Failure in academic and social development in these early years of formal education is cumulative and most often the effects cannot be easily remediated in later years. For example, 2nd grade math is built on 1st grade math, 3rd grade on 2nd grade and so forth.
Every child’s academic success depends largely on the child’s own cognitive abilities, the amount of student effort, and the amount and quality of instruction received in school. Foster children are especially at risk for academic problems because cognitive functioning can be affected by the emotional trauma caused by abuse or neglect. Frequent school transfers, brought on by changing foster home placements, also affect the amount and quality of instruction many foster children receive.
While these factors are important, research has shown that certain supports provided by the family can be equally important in influencing positive learning outcomes for students. A supportive family can often bridge the gap caused by child trauma or disruptions in school instruction.
Once children are placed in the appropriate grade and the services and supports for which they are eligible are in place, their success is often dependent upon the working relationship of their caregivers, caseworkers, teachers and other school personnel. Critical for children’s school success, is the educationally supportive foster home. This includes a literacy laden home.
The Literacy Laden Home
The “literacy laden” home of a primary or intermediate school ages child has many of the following items: children’s picture and chapter books, a dictionary or other reference books, newspapers, magazines, books that are above the child’s reading level such as those aimed at adults, paper and writing tools such as pencils, crayons, markers, games where reading is needed, and possibly a typewriter or computer. Adults serve as role models for youth so it is important for youth to see adults reading and writing for fun as well as to get things done, for example, directions, recipes, grocery lists, etc. When written materials are not available in the home an excellent resource is the local library, which has books for children of all ages. Typically, once a child can write his or her name they can obtain a library card of their own under the guidance of a caregiver.
Caregivers can enhance a child’s literacy by providing time to spend with reading
materials as well as reading aloud to youngsters on a regular basis. Younger children typically like to hear stories read to them as well as reading on their own. Children should also be encouraged to write in a journal whether it be single words that describe their day or paragraphs about what they are thinking. This gives children a chance to relate the value of reading with the value of writing. For children who live in homes where the caregivers have difficulty reading and writing a tutor can be paired with the child to increase exposure to literacy.
; Maintain a “literacy-laden” home with books appropriate for children and adults,
newspapers, magazines, a dictionary, and when possible, a computer.
; Assure that children are read to on a daily basis by adults and/or older children in
the home, and also support personal reading by the child, as well as by others in the
; Assure that age-related toys, games, and equipment are available in the home, that
children have an opportunity to use them creatively and appropriately, and that they
learn to be responsible for their care and maintenance.
Finding Age Appropriate Books, Toys and Games
It is important when selecting books, toys and games to choose ones that are appropriate to the age and development of the child. Age appropriate means that the toy, book or game is appropriate for the age, interests, skills and abilities of the child. Many toys, games or books are labeled with the age range they are intended for. Keep in mind that all children develop at their own unique pace and so it is more important to choose materials that are suitable to a child’s abilities and strengths rather than simply choosing based on age range. The following table illustrates materials that are suitable for children from 5 to 11 years and are excellent choices to stimulate learning and literacy.
Suggested Books Suggested Toys, Games, Supplemental
Primary and Intermediate Materials for Literacy
Ira Sleeps Over by Weber Barnard Primary and Intermediate
Freckle Juice by Judy Blume
Arthur’s Reading Race by Marc Brown Music Doodle Pad Paper
Ramona by Beverly Cleary Picture Dictionary Crayons
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner Puppets Washable Markers
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Magnetic Letters Weaving Activities
Lobel Calendar Board Games
The Hundred Penny Box by Sharon Mathis Puzzles Software Ideas:
There’s an Alligator Under My Bed by Journal Reader Rabbit
Mercer Mayer Reading Blasters
Bridge to Terebithia by Katherine Paterson Living Books
Christopher Pike’s Tales of Terror by
Christopher Pike This is a brief list of items that can be
Tails Of the Bronx by Jill Pinkwater found in stores, rummage sales or thrift
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John shops.
Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by
Mildred D. Taylor
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler
Charlottes Web by E.B. White
The Little House In the Big Woods by
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Caregiver needs support to enhance the home learning environment
Research shows that parent education programs that are aimed at teaching mothers to improve the quality of cognitive and verbal stimulation in the home are successful in improving a child’s intellectual development. There are 4 main models for parent
education programs: 1) the home-based model 2) the parent-led group model 3) the professional-led group model and 4) combination models. The most effective parent education programs involve both caregiver(s) and children. Parent-led group models predominate the school age years, but many school districts offer professional—led
groups as well. The first place to look for information on parent education programs is your local school district office. They will likely have programs of their own or be able to refer you to available programs. The National Parent Information Network also is a resource to locate parent education programs in your area.
; National Parent Information Network (NPIN Illinois) helps parents find the
answers to questions about raising and educating their children. Responds to
direct questions about child development, care, and education from Illinois
parents and those who work with parents via a toll-free phone line (800-583-
4135), email (email@example.com), fax (217-333-3767), and mail. They also
help link parents directly to local programs, services, and community agencies to
support them in their roles as primary caregivers of their children and as major
contributors to their children’s growth, development, and learning.
Caregivers who lack basic reading, math, writing or language skills
While caregiver support and a literacy laden home are key factors in improving school performance, this can be difficult for caregivers who themselves are illiterate or lack basic math, writing or language skills. Much of the support caregivers need to provide students (help with homework, reading to the child, monitoring grades, etc.) requires basic reading and math proficiency. One of the primary interventions is to help the caregiver to enroll in an adult literacy or adult basic education program. While some caregivers may be reluctant to participate in adult education classes, or be overwhelmed by the thought of all they need to learn, keep in mind that, especially in the early primary school years, they can learn reading, writing and math skills right along with their child. Research shows that when adults in the home participate in education for self-improvement, it communicates to children in the home that education is a valued, important and necessary life-long pursuit.
When a caregiver participates in adult education the obvious benefit is that the caregiver will learn the reading, writing and math skills so they can support the child’s education. A less obvious benefit is that when caregivers participate in education opportunities it communicates to the child that learning is important and a valued activity for all members of the family. Even when caregivers struggle with their own lessons, and ultimately succeed, it demonstrates that although learning is not always easy, it is possible if you try hard enough. Caregiver expectation has been shown to be a primary
factor in encouraging school success. When caregivers participate in education themselves, it demonstrates that the expectation for life-long learning applies to everyone in the family. Children whose caregiver(s) participate in education generally have a more positive attitude about learning and about school, which can make the difference between school success and school failure.
To find literacy and adult education programs in your area, call the Illinois Adult
Learning Hotline, 1-800-321-9511, a statewide referral system that links prospective students or volunteer tutors to local literacy and adult education programs. If you have Internet access, you can also search a list of programs and find literacy information at the Illinois Literacy Web site: http://literacy.kent.edu/~illinois/.
In addition to adult education, there are other helpful strategies that caregivers can use to help children succeed in school. Other basic intervention strategies for caregivers who lack basic reading, writing and math skills are:
; Older children and relatives can assist by reading with and to the children, and
working on the homework with them. This is reinforcing to the older children, as
well as helpful to the younger ones.
; Caregivers can learn to "eyeball" homework, e.g., look to see that the answer
"fits" the space allotted in a workbook, or that a written report is long enough. If
the answers are one word long and there is a lot of empty space, it is probably
wrong. If there is a lot of writing crammed into a short space, it is probably
; Children can read the answers, written work, etc., aloud to the caregiver, so that
they can decide whether it not it makes sense.
; Homework time should be set aside each evening, TV turned off, and adults in
the home remain quiet, available to encourage even if they cannot "help." This
way, the children get the idea that it is important to everyone for them to do this
; Caregivers should be encouraged to make use of local tutoring resources, etc.,
to help with the homework assignments if necessary. Your local school district,
the local library and community colleges are good places to help you find
Helping children with homework
One of the primary ways that caregivers can promote student achievement is to support the student in completing homework. Research shows that homework is effective in helping students to master facts and concepts introduced in the classroom. Homework allows students of lower ability to achieve marks equal to students of higher ability
through increased study at home. Homework has also been shown to promote independent learning and to improve achievement test scores. Homework also provides an important opportunity for constructive family interaction.
For many children, supporting homework is simply a matter of establishing a structured daily homework routine that includes a consistent homework time that is free from distractions and a well-lit, quiet place to study. The following hints may be helpful to establishing a successful family routine that supports the completion of homework:
; Establish a consistent homework time
; Provide a quiet, well-lit place to study
; Establish a daily family reading time
; Eat family meals at the same time each school day
; Establish a consistent bed time on school days
The purpose of homework is to provide the child practice with study skills and to master subject matter with a goal of independent work. When helping children with homework, it is important that the caregiver does not interfere with the child completing the work as independently as possible. However you help your child with homework, don't lose sight of whose assignment it really is. Editing, rewriting, and changing answers may enhance the quality of the work, but not the learning experience. Though your child will be happier with the higher grades, he will become a less confident learner. Keep in mind that while we all want success for our children, the ultimate goal is independence.
; Provide Direction — But Not Directions
Before they've even glanced at the directions, kids often will show parents a
worksheet and say, "I don't get it." In these cases, rather than reading the
directions to yourself and then explaining them, ask your child to read the
directions aloud to you. This strategy enables kids to hear the directions, which is
often all that's needed to make the assignment clear.
; Offer Guidance and Support When Needed
If your child is one who needs individual support and attention both at school and
at home, tackle the assignments one at a time. Go over the directions and
materials with your child, making sure he is clear about what needs to be done.
Talk about what needs to be completed — even if it is only a portion of the
assignment—and then disappear. As always, the goal is to nurture and help your
child believe in her ability to be successful.
; Create a Homework Toolbox
All you need is an inexpensive plastic container with a lid that's a couple of
inches deep and big enough to hold 8-1/2" x 11" sheets of paper. These are easy
to find in the cooking or storage sections of large discount or drug stores.
Together with your child, fill the box with standard supplies — paper, pencils, an
eraser, a sharpener, a ruler, markers, a highlighter, a glue stick, crayons, a
protractor, and any other homework tool that your child needs to complete
assignments. Then declare this "anti-walking" toolbox a permanent part of the
Helping children with disabilities with homework
Even though homework has many potential benefits, for many caregivers and children homework time is a stressful time. Children who are struggling in school may also struggle with homework and may need extra caregiver assistance until they master new concepts. Children who have difficulty taking direction from adults due to behavioral challenges or children who struggle to stay on task because of ADD/ADHD may require a higher level of caregiver support for homework. Following are some ideas that other caregivers have found helpful and posted on the “Homework Central” Web site. If you have Internet access, the following link to Homework Central is full of help for students to do homework:
Sample interventions that other caregivers have used to successfully support children with disabilities are:
; Develop a homework contract:
Determine what prevents homework from getting done (e.g., delay tactics such
as arguing with caregivers or being easily distracted by phone, TV, video games,
or siblings). Brainstorm strategies with your child that will help stop the delay
tactics and distractions. Draw up a contract with your child that implements the
agreed-upon strategy(ies). Award points each time the strategy is used. Don’t
forget to give a reward for so many points earned. Teach your child how to use
this contract as a self-evaluation tool. Some examples include:
A. Assignment notebook will be checked before beginning homework.
B. All homework and school materials are to be placed in a backpack at the
end of the homework session in readiness for the next day of school.
C. Homework will not be done in front of the TV or with loud music playing.
D. No phone calls or breaks will be taken during allotted homework time.
E. Homework time will be used for studying even if the student has no
There are many possible strategies that could make up a homework contract.
The important thing is that the strategies and rewards are individualized to the
child, and that the child agrees to execute the contract.
; Develop a homework completion chart:
Use a chart to record whether or not homework is completed. List all subjects on
one side of the paper and all the days of the week on the other. Write an "X" in
the box for all completed assignments. Leave the box blank if the homework is
not done or if it’s incomplete. Write "NA" in the box if no homework was assigned.
You can reward your child to help motivate her to complete her homework.
Rewards--and what it takes to earn them--should be predetermined.
; Solicit your child's teacher for solutions:
Interview the child’s teacher to determine how she learns best in school and any
learning challenges. Ask what interventions the teacher finds to be successful in
the classroom. Get agreement with the teacher on a plan to help your student
resolve the homework problems.
; The Homework Waiver:
The homework waiver is a certificate, agreed upon by the child’s teacher and
caregiver, which excuses a child from doing homework. The waiver can be for
one assignment in one subject or for all homework given on a particular day. The
student is given one or two homework waivers per semester. When homework is
overwhelming, then he can opt to use one.
; The pinch hitter:
Another adult, older sibling or paid tutor steps in when you come to odds over
homework with your child. This is especially useful for supporting children with
emotional disorders, who may have difficulty taking direction or remaining on task.
Foster Parent/Caregiver needs help supporting the child in school
Foster parents have the responsibility to advocate for the education of children in their care, including:
; Monitoring academic progress
; Attending parent/teacher conferences
; Assisting with homework
; Encouraging/supporting participation in extracurricular activities
; Foster parents carry all the rights and responsibilities of parents regarding
special education services
Though foster parents/caregivers need to support children in school, some caregivers will need support from the caseworker and others. Some foster parents, for example, might not have had good educational experiences themselves, and might be uncomfortable approaching school personnel. Caregivers may be intimidated by school personnel because they view them as better educated than themselves or as having the only valid expertise related to educating the child. Some strategies to support caregivers in their role include:
; The caseworker and caregiver should work together as a team to support the
education of the child. Caseworkers should support foster parents/caregivers at
school meetings until they feel comfortable going alone.
; Caregivers should be helped to understand that they have valuable information
about the child to contribute based on their parental role. Many caregivers will
need support to share information about their child(ren) with school personnel. In these cases, it may help to assist the caregiver to put recommendations or input in writing to share at meetings.
; DCFS Volunteer Educational Advocates can be assigned to assist with meetings
at school for children in special education.
; Caregivers should be supported to learn the terminology of schools and the procedures necessary to work with them. All foster parents have the opportunity to participate in the DCFS Educational Advocacy Training, and must complete
this training prior to re-licensure. Foster parents should be encouraged to complete this training as soon as possible in order to fulfill their role as educational advocate for children placed in their care.