Helping Your Child Learn More Effectively
by Susan Flowers
There are many elements that contribute to a student’s educational success, including finding the right school, building a strong relationship with your child’s teachers and even encouraging a child’s participation in extracurricular activities. But one of the most important components of a thriving educational career is the establishment of good study habits.
Educational achievement hinges on parental involvement that evolves to fit the child’s needs, from the first day of first grade to high school graduation and beyond.
Communication with your child is critical, both when establishing a study routine and afterward, to ensure that things go smoothly. That means not only telling a child to do his or her homework but learning their existing study habits in order to help improve them.
“Knowing how your child learns is the key to providing support,” says Joye Callaway, director of the Academic Resource Center at the Lovett School.
Where and When to Study
Observing where your child does his or her homework is a good place to start. Experts agree that a well-defined homework area is crucial. Consider establishing a “homework office” to enforce the idea that studying is important and requires its own space. Students “should not be lounging on the bed,” says Libby Porter, who teaches skills and strategies for success at Marist School.
And make sure to keep this study area free from such distractions as music and cell or smart phones. “Even if the phone is on vibrate, it lights up, and for kids who are visual learners, that’s a distraction,” she says.
Even more important than where your student studies is when. Sitting down to study at a consistent time every day reinforces it as part of the child’s everyday routine. What time of day that takes place depends on finding your child’s best time of day to focus and concentrate. Many educators recommend immediately after school, before your child becomes too tired to study effectively.
As for how long a child should study, that will vary depending on the child’s grade level and their workload. In general, setting aside an hour each day is a good place to start.
Start with brief periods of study, punctuated by short breaks.
“Students should try to fully focus on their work for 20 minutes,” which is about what our short-term memory can actually process, says Porter. After that, she stresses a break of no longer than five minutes, as longer breaks can reduce concentration.
Organizing your child’s study time is another major step. Have him or her write down objectives for each day’s session and keep a log so that he or she can see their results. Encourage them to break larger tasks into smaller ones to make them seem less intimidating.
Check in afterward to see what they’ve covered and whether they’ve retained it. “Ask them to recap it in two minutes,” says Porter. “That’s when they know ‘I’ve got this,’ or ‘I didn’t really get this,’” she adds.
If your child is involved in extracurricular activities, tests and special projects can get lost in the shuffle of practices, games and lessons. Keep a calendar in a common area, such as the kitchen, so that preparation for a Friday spelling quiz can be a priority throughout the week.
Learning to be creative with free time is also important. Use the ride to baseball practice as a chance to practice spelling words. “It’s the little things that you can do that make such a big impact,” says Danielle Hawkins, assistant director of Atlanta Tutors.
Another key area of communication is making sure your child gets adequate rest. Lack of sleep eventually wears down a child’s cognitive abilities, and can make it difficult to concentrate and retain information.
“Deprivation can exhaust our memory and our processing of material,” says Porter. “Students will notice that they can’t locate the right word in their brain, and they will find that their abilities are compromised.”
Proper nutrition is just as important: “Healthy food fuels the brain to work efficiently and effectively,” says Callaway.
But while parents should always be available, parent and child should work toward the child’s independence.
“Children do not want their parents to do their homework for them,” says Callaway. “Ownership is important and essential for a student’s self-esteem, especially by the middle school years.”
Many schools have research labs or special programs designed to assist students. The Lovett School’s Academic Resource Center offers a learning specialist program that assists with time management, study skills and other learning strategies. Similarly, the Academic Resource Center at Pace Academy helps students develop strong learning habits.
Tutors can also be a valuable resource, bringing a fresh perspective to study challenges. “Our tutors assess situations with a fresh pair of eyes and implement new tactics that are tailored to the families’ individual needs,” says Hawkins of Atlanta Tutors. “The tutor will then build a specific plan for that student and his or her family.”
Last but not least, don’t forget the most important figure in your child’s school life—the person who teaches him or her every day. “If a child is struggling, that’s the time to talk to a teacher,” she says.
At every stage of a child’s education, motivated parents can do a great deal to ensure academic success. Paying attention, creating structure and giving children the space they need can go a long way toward putting your young scholar on the right path.
Tips for Effective Studying
- Before beginning a study session, have your child write down the goals for that day’s study time.
- Have your child study at the same time each day.
- Keep a daily log so that your child can track his or her progress and accomplishments.
- Major projects and papers can be intimidating for children. Help your child get started by breaking large tasks into small, doable pieces. This practice will also help your child to form good habits and avoid procrastination.
- Don’t overload or overschedule your child to the point that studying is secondary to extracurricular activities.