How Can You Set Your Child Up for Successful Learning?
By Linda Stade
Some kids move through their school years happily slurping up learning and challenges. They are genuinely interested and look at new ideas and skills with a sense of wonder and awe. Meanwhile, other kids are disengaged and it’s a daily battle. Often, there is no difference in ability, so what’s going on?
Kids are like us… complicated! They take their experiences, expectations, and emotions to school. Those three ‘Es’ can be holding them back or propelling them forward. However, parents are not powerless, you can set your children up for more successful learning.
How do we do that?
1. Support positive relationships with teachers
Quality learning is powered by trust, respect, and mutual high regard between a student and teacher. Teachers do a lot of the heavy lifting in establishing these relationships, however, over time a child needs to ‘buy in’.
Empower your child to be an active participant in their relationship with their teacher. They may not like asking questions in class, but they can talk to their teacher after class. They can say hello and look their teacher in the eye.
Model empathy when talking about your child’s teacher and help kids understand that people are different and that’s okay. Kath Perrier is Assistant Principal, Teaching and Learning at Lourdes Hill College. She says, “We need to build positive mindsets towards teachers and school. Teach children to communicate with their teachers from a young age when the stakes feel low. Help them understand that teachers are people just like them, and sometimes they even have bad days just like them.”
Encourage your children to speak up when there’s a problem, rather than letting issues grow or pulling you in straight away. They need to have some sense of control in their relationship.
Practical tip: Teach children to communicate with their teachers from a young age when the stakes feel low.
2. Cultivate a growth mindset
Many of us were brought up with the idea of fixed ability. We believe our brains can learn some things but not others. For example, we might say things like, “I’m good at English but hopeless at Maths.” Well hold onto your hats, things have changed! Research now tells us such hard and fast judgements are not only false but hold our kids back.
These days we talk about the ‘growth mindset’ trait. This is the deeply held belief that given enough time, instruction, and effort we can learn anything. Carol Dweck is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She is the world’s most recognised student of the growth mindset trait. Dweck talks about it in terms of, ‘The power of yet’. When your child says, “I can’t do this”, then you need to add, “Yet. I can’t do this yet”. Brain imaging of students shows new neural pathways are formed simply by reframing their experience in this way. It sounds wild, but it is simple, and it works.
Practical tip: When your child says, “I can’t do this”, add, “Yet”.
3. Make home reflect your values
Our children inherit our value of education. If you think learning is important, talk about it positively rather than as a chore. Show its relevance. The home-school partnership is at its most powerful when parents and teachers are all showing the value of education and linking learning to real life.
Ms Perrier says, “If you want to show learning and study is important, have designated, inviting areas for studying. A bed is not a desk, and a desk is not a bed.”
If developing ideas and opinions is important to you, make sure you model that by having interesting discussions about events and ideas over the dinner table, or while you’re travelling in the car.
Surround your child with books. Extensive research shows growing up with books has a profound impact on attitudes to learning. A library of just 80 books in the home has more impact than a parent’s own education level. For those of us using kindles, this might be a wake-up call to unpack a few of those book boxes in the back shed. Free the books and let them work their magic!
Practical tip: Create a designated study space and ensure you have books. Lots of books!
4. Flip the way your family responds to failure
It is easy to say, “Failure is a wonderful teacher,” or, “We shouldn’t be afraid of failure, we should embrace it.” However, the fact is, failure hurts! We can’t ignore the shame, disappointment, and upset that usually accompanies failure. If we commit to something and invest effort and soul, of course, it will hurt and it is little wonder that our kids retreat and think twice next time.
Rather than trivialising failure and telling kids to ‘get back on the horse”, first address the emotional experience. It needs to be acknowledged and discussed before its power can subside. Only then can you talk about the cost-gain equation of having another go.
Practical tip: Talk about your own failures and how they feel. Then model picking yourself up and starting again.
5. Organise time and environment
Ms Perrier says, “Students who are most successful every year are the ones who are most organised. Not the brightest, but the ones who use their teachers, use homework club and have a great ability to organise time.”
Help your child develop their time management skills by creating a study timetable together and then sticking to it. Routine in study is very powerful. It also helps to chunk time. For example, 50 minutes of solid study followed by 10 minutes of relaxation.
Another interesting approach Ms Perrier advocates is, “Learning as a team sport”. She says we should tap into the social nature of many of our teens. Forming study groups and learning together can be very effective.
Practical tip: Create a workable study timetable and routine with your child.
6. Grow brave kids
A brave student is one who will leave their comfort zone and accept challenges. They take learning risks that lead to lateral, out-of-the-box thinking rather than ensuring they always give the teacher exactly what they want. The world needs that kind of thinker. They are also the students who will extend themselves. Too many of our young people balk at taking on new challenges if there is a chance they won’t be perfect, or they may appear silly.
Teaching positive self-talk is a good start. If you could get into the minds of brave people, you wouldn’t find them thinking, ‘This is too hard’ or ‘There is no way I can do this’. You would hear, ‘Yes! C’mon! I can do this!’. What we tell ourselves can be very powerful when it comes to risk assessment and risk-taking.
Practical tip: Model and encourage positive self-talk
When they leave school, our children will forget the vast majority of what they’ve learnt, just like we did. What they will retain is how they felt about learning. Learning needs to feel satisfying. It needs to feel empowering. And if we can help kids associate learning with wonder and awe, we’ve won. We’ve created a life-long learner.