Your first thought when someone asks you how you help your child with school is probably picturing them reciting their times tables. Coupled with an endless number of goals and targets for core subjects, you’ll be easily bogged down by focussing on reaching those far-off specs. Should they know fractions? What’s their reading age? Why aren’t they testing well th-STOP!
Most of these questions aren’t helpful and ignore that your child is an individual. Even if they’re not doing so well, regimenting their lives and creating so few outlets for independent expression will only make things worse. Academic targets for the sake of academia aren’t as purposeful or as strong as targets that enable long-term development throughout their lives.
Here are 9 ways that you can help your child make long-lasting changes to their experience of school.
1. Teaching children that failure is not the end of the world
There were times when you didn’t get your dream job or when you didn’t get into the school or university you wanted. Yet here you are, still standing. Trips through your past should not only be appropriate to the audience but should give a solid understanding of how you built your problem-solving skills and resilience. These tangible examples offer children a road map, something they’ll remember long into adulthood.
2. Try not to overuse praise
Endlessly calling anything that your child brings home or does ‘amazing’ or ‘brilliant’ puts them on the type of pedestal where falling off causes major emotional injuries. Instead of bandaging a limb, they’ll develop unhealthy expectations of their skills that may make moving through school such a disappointment they may give up altogether.
Constructive criticism is your friend here. In some schools, teachers have eased into this technique by using non-traditional pen colours to mark work. Instead of scribbling corrections and mistakes all over a child’s work, they give some feedback at the end that reminds them to check spellings and syntax or to go over chapters. That way, feedback isn’t too demoralising.
3. Give children ownership of chores
That means tidying their room, separating their washing into piles, or even putting hair clips or school bags away in their designated areas. The best way to do this is to have a core title for all these tasks, such as ‘getting ready for bed’ or ‘cleaning their room’. Make it clear what tasks are included. and then give them the opportunity to determine how they do it.
The reason behind this is simple. According to teachers, most children struggled with daily tasks common to school during restrictions. Without the structure, they didn’t read instructions properly, finish their tasks, or understand how to be independent at all. Since independence isn’t really a concept that can be taught, what you can do is give them ownership over tasks that allow them to develop a sense of independence when they’re at home.
4. Allow your child some independence to follow their passion
You’re a parent, not a drill sergeant. Don’t try to regiment a child’s learning to the point where they don’t get to engage in the activities they enjoy. Or pass them over for the sake of extra academic tasks in their weaker subjects. Schools will often swap PE or creative time for extra maths when targets are looming or when they lack the space. Don’t follow suit!
Connecting their passion for writing, drawing, or doing sport can actually benefit all their academic subjects. Take the Reading World Cup, a joint project between the Literacy Trust and the Football Foundation that helps children to understand the relevance of both. And Maths on the Move takes children’s natural penchant for being active and unlocks their skill in academic subjects such as English, Maths & even Geography. It needn’t be either-or!
5. Make learning an enjoyable past time
All the research into the psychology of learning has determined that being in a good mood is integral to a good learning experience. Miserable children simply don’t learn as well as happy ones. Don’t just plough ahead. Encourage your child to ask questions, especially if this is how they get a grasp on their learning experience.
Kids love to play, so use that. Gamification, a process of making games out of learning, can involve physical games and the sedentary. Take Hangman and Scrabble. Both games are competitive and give children the capacity to practise their spelling and creativity. With Hangman, it’s how well they can recognise patterns from single letters, prefixes, and suffixes.
There’s also benefit to structured and unstructured play. Structured play allows children to learn rules and understand how sports are different from one another. Unstructured play allows them to build empathy. Unstructured play prompts them to use their imagination, sort out problems between one another and make decisions for themselves.
6. Make academic subjects feel relevant to your child
Children often find it difficult to understand why a subject is at all important. In today’s modern world, there’s far less significance placed outwardly on Algebra, something they often start to wonder as they search for the elusive value of ‘x’. Whilst textbooks try to keep problems relevant when children are young, as they get older this tactic is seldom used.
Like gamification, making subjects relevant to children is about engaging them in conversations over day-to-day situations. At shops, for example, you can encourage them to count the coins (whether you use them or not) that would make a bus fare or get them to work out what your change would be. As they get older and learn languages, you can point out landmarks or objects and get them to translate them.
7. Motivate by consequence rather than punishment
This one would be a difficult one for any parent. Threatening a child by taking away something they love, especially as a form of motivation, is so common it’s a second language. If you take away their access, especially to electronic devices used as education aids, you’re harming them more than you realise.
It also doesn’t mimic real adult life. It’s the consequences of an action that are most significant. Try making the warning something they can tangibly feel, such as going to bed earlier, meaning that getting out of bed won’t be as difficult, or putting their homework in their bag now so they won’t end up in tears in the morning. These cause-and-effect scenarios are ones they experience and will encourage them to become more organised as they get older.
8. Improve your child’s revision skills
Researchers at Sheffield University concluded that when you’re studying, trying to remember things has no effect on whether you actually remember them. It’s more the process of creating memorable patterns of information that can help you. This approach is called depth of processing.
Depth of processing has procedural (how it’s done) and subjective (what is done) parts. You can start with; leaving longer gaps between practice attempts, embracing occasional failures as learning curbs, practising skills within the parameters you need such as essays or timed conditions, and getting some rest before tries. The subjective is how you understand the information. Figure out how each piece of information connects to another for your child, and then create procedures that reflect it. Examples include pictograms and stories.
9. Embrace relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques are not just for adults. In fact, everyone should have some way of unwinding or settling in. Sometimes we forget that in the hustle and bustle of a school run, children need a way to settle into starting the school day too.
Yoga and meditation can help them centre themselves, help improve their concentration and ultimately their brainpower. Meditation trains the mind to be more disciplined, and over time, children can engage in self-guided techniques that help them in times where they feel unsteady. Since being active is so common to children, yoga is a great way to ease into any activity for the day.