If you’ve ever had to figure out a way to get your kids to school, various afterschool activities and then home, and still manage to finish your work, pick up some groceries and get dinner on the table, you’ve used strategizing skills. Strategizing means coming up with a plan to get things done.
When kids use strategizing skills for schoolwork, they usually aren’t consciously thinking about planning. They just know how to approach a problem or task in a logical, orderly way. If your child has trouble with strategizing skills, however, learning can be more chaotic. Here are five ways kids use strategizing skills to learn.
1. Strategizing and Learning to Read
Beginning readers use strategizing skills to make sense of new words. To sound words out, they have to plan what rules they’re going to use. With the word shape, for instance, kids use strategizing skills to know that s and h work together to make the sh sound. They might also look at the e at the end of shape and decide if it’s silent and how that will affect what sound the a makes.
They also strategize by using things like context clues (other words and pictures in the text) to learn the meaning of an unfamiliar word. If your child has trouble with strategizing skills, these reading processes may not be as automatic, and he might benefit from additional or different kinds of instruction.
As kids move from learning to read to reading to learn, strategizing helps them figure out how to interact with what they’re reading. Kids read fiction and nonfiction in different ways. If your child struggles with strategizing, he may have difficulty figuring out what’s important information and what’s not.
For example, if your child is reading a nonfiction book about sharks, his strategizing skills help him know to be on the lookout for unfamiliar facts and shark-specific vocabulary. If he’s reading Jaws, on the other hand, it’s still a book about a shark, but a fictional one. Fiction requires different reading strategies from those needed for nonfiction. With fiction he needs to pay attention to the plot, setting and characters.
3. Strategizing and Math
Math requires strategizing skills from the start. Kids need these skills for looking at groups of numbers (one group of four or two groups of two?) and for counting things (by ones or by fives?). Word problems require a strategy for matching up clue words to operations, such as fewer than to the minus sign.
Strategy is also needed for organizing information into charts, tables and graphs and for knowing which part of a problem to solve first. If your child has weak strategizing skills, he’ll likely need help learning to plan an approach to take with a problem. One option is to create “cheat sheets” with examples of problems and common ways to solve them. You can even talk to the teacher about allowing him to refer to the sheets in class.
4. Strategizing and Writing
Strategy goes into writing long before kids begin writing out coherent ideas. Beginners need to plan how to form letters, put them together into words, decide where those letters go on the page and where to put spaces between words and sentences.
As kids start writing to express ideas, they must strategize to decide the best way to present that information. For a story, they need to plan out the characters and plot. For an essay, they need a strategy to get the points across and add supporting details.
If your child has trouble with strategizing, breaking writing down all these steps can be pretty daunting. Using graphic organizers like story maps or flowcharts can help your child organize his thoughts and writing. Creating an outline is another way to get ideas together and figure out what order to present them in before writing.
5. Strategizing and Studying
Kids use planning to study and take tests, too. Taking notes in class requires figuring out what’s important enough to write down and how to keep listening while writing. When studying, kids need strategizing skills to organize and review notes in time for a test.
Those same skills help kids decide how to approach taking a test. For example, eliminating the wrong answers on a multiple-choice test can make it easier—and also faster—to choose the right answer. This strategy saves time by reducing the number of options to choose from. If your child struggles with planning, it may take him longer to study and take tests because he has trouble coming up with the most efficient ways to get things done.
The Good News: There Are Ways to Help
If your child isn’t skilled at planning and strategizing, it doesn’t mean he won’t be able to improve. But he’ll need more support. Your child’s teacher may be able to provide classroom accommodations, such as giving more detailed instructions and allowing the use of calculators, graphic organizers and fact sheets. You may want to ask whether your child’s school uses Strategic Instruction Model to teach children who need extra assistance with planning and organization strategies.
There are also tools and techniques you can try at home to improve his planning skills and help make learning easier.