Help Your Child Become an Expert

June 2007, By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman

Every summer I have new ideas on how to keep up my children’s academic skills. The first year I purchased “fun” review workbooks from their school. That didn’t go over too well. The second summer we tried journal writing and extra reading. It turned out my children didn’t want to write in their journals and really just wanted to play and relax all summer. This summer will be different. They will learn to be experts. Many tutors have successfully implemented this program and achieved excellent results.

Jordan Abramson’s students became experts on snakes, frogs, bioluminescent fish and fireflies, horses and World War II aviation. One student found out about snakes by visiting the National Zoo and watching documentaries on the Discovery Channel. His father took him to a pet store and encouraged him to ask questions about how to take care of a snake. Then he brought his snake to school for show-and-tell, and also videotaped his snake. Another student was so impressed by the Lord of the Rings trilogy that he wrote a book in the same genre and the same spirit, using creative language and maps.

Christine Bray worked with a 7th grader on writing skills. The girl improved her skills by doing online research on pandas and writing a well-documented report. For the first time, she was very excited about writing.

Jill Paugys worked with a student who became an expert on dolphins. She read many books, took notes, organized her material and produced a paper that described interesting and surprising details about dolphins.

Robert Brinckloe has a student who is an expert on baseball. He knows a great deal about current and former players and uses this information to his advantage when he needs topics for school reports.

Five-year-old Patrick Doyal-McAdams is an expert on caterpillars and moths. Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, sparked his interest. He loves to watch Animal Planet and also finds information on animalplanet.com. In preschool, he created a butterfly/cocoon art project. He enjoys frequent walks in the woods, where he can find butterflies and see them closer through his magnifying glass. He also interviews people he meets and is happy to tell you anything you want to know about butterflies.

My children are excited about becoming experts this summer. Emily, age 9, wants to learn how to design simple websites. Luckily, her father is a computer programmer and can teach her. Bethany, a rising 2nd grader, wants to become an expert on dogs.

Many children already are experts on something, and they can expand their knowledge this summer. Some have an obvious interest to develop; others may want to become experts on a vacation place they plan to visit.

How Can Your Child Become an Expert?

  • What is your child’s interest? What does she want to learn more about?
  • Go to the library and check out books about her topic of interest. Feel free to get books that are easier than your child’s reading level. The goal is to gain information. Pictures are a plus.
  • Your child’s goal is to become an expert in her subject. Besides reading library books, she can interview people who know about the subject and surf the web. Be sure to teach her about sticking with reputable sites.
  • Don’t forget field trips. The Washington area is filled with resources. Museums, zoos or historical sites may have the information your child needs.
  • Once she is an expert, she can write her own book. She can start with an outline, notes or whatever works best for her. Be sure to teach her about first drafts, revising (adding, moving and deleting information) and editing. She needs to make sure her paragraphs are in the correct order so they make sense, and, of course, grammar and spelling need to be correct.
  • There are many ways to “publish” a book. You can use cardboard for the covers, and glue, staple or sew the inside. The cover can be paper, material or a wallpaper sample. The inside can be neatly written or typed.
  • Distribute the book to friends and relatives.
  • Being an expert can lead to many things. Your child can write a skit and involve other children, do an oral presentation and create a diorama, poster or other visual representation. Family and friends make a great audience. Your child might also be able to share her summer project at school this fall.
  • Being an expert improves confidence. Your child can feel proud about knowing something her friends don’t know, and she can impress people during conversations.

Keep in mind that working on being an expert may not be your child’s first choice of activities this summer. It may be difficult to compete with computer and TV. If you want this project to succeed, there must be designated times for research and application, and a parent’s eager involvement. You can get excited about being an expert, too, and even do some of the activities with your child. In the summer, many families schedule educational enrichment, which may include reading for pleasure, writing, practicing math, watching the news and enjoying other educational activities. Some parents schedule summer tutors to review skills and provide enrichment, which can certainly include a project on becoming an expert. Remember, summer vacation is almost three months long — enough time to forget skills, improve skills or learn something new. You, as the parent, can be the guide.

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