Helping Your Child Learn 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 to learn their existing study habits in order to help improve them.
“Encourage them to think about what their own learning styles are,” said Dennis Freeman, co-founder of In-Home Tutors. “Some children do really well visually. Other children are more like auditory learners. If you’re an auditory learner, have your mom quiz you verbally for a test. If you’re a visual learner, take some scrap paper and take some notes.”
Mary K. Olszewski, The Lovett School’s director of executive functioning, said, “The best advice that I can give parents is to be consistent with their children when implementing and developing new strategies and skills. Consistency is key; it is necessary to recognize that habits do not form overnight.”
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.
“Find a place where your child can do his/her work as a student and nothing else,” said Marist Academic Center Associate Director Libby Ayoob, who teaches the school’s Skills and Strategies for Success classes. “Students need a routine workspace. In the workspace there should be all the materials a student needs. …The area needs to be away from distractions.”
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 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.
“The ideal amount of time to focus is 20 minutes,” Ayoob said. “Taking a fiveminute break then resets their focus and attention, allowing their brain to be far more effective.”
After that, she stresses a break of no longer than five minutes, as longer break periods lead to reduced 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. “Encourage your child to schedule times for studying, and then set a timer,” Ayoob said. “By planning study times, students can focus on one task at a time, eliminating all distractions.”
With students taking online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she recommends students set goals for participation.
“The best way for your child to monitor his/her attention in a remote class is active student responding. The student can set their goals to participate two times per class and/or write notes while the teacher lectures (try to write a bullet point per PowerPoint slide, or two bullets points per three-minute time period, etc.),” said Ayoob, adding having your child get a “study buddy” for each of their classes to compare notes is “an effective form of studying.”
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. Another key area of communication is making sure your child gets adequate rest. Lack of sleep eventually wears down a child’s cognitive abilities, making effective studying difficult.
Proper nutrition is just as important. “I have read and believe multiple articles on children’s nutrition,” Freeman said. “If you can send your child off to school with a protein-packed breakfast instead of a Pop-Tart you threw into the toaster at the last minute, that is good for their brain and lends itself to a more productive morning at school. When they come home from school, have a snack for them that’s not too sugary before they dive into homework.” But keep in mind that while parents should always be available, parent and child should work toward the child’s independence.
“Additionally, I suggest creating and integrating a daily after-school routine, so students can manage their time more efficiently,” Olszewski said. “Routines should include organizing class materials, packing the bookbag the night before and completing homework and studying. Allow students to help in designing this routine, so they take ownership and are more willing to execute the plan.”
Many schools have research labs or special programs designed to assist students. Lovett’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. 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. “I don’t think there’s ever anything wrong with the parent having a relationship with teachers,” Freeman said.
“So, whether that means shooting an email or taking them aside at the school open house, just to let them know what’s going on, that will make the teacher more likely to communicate with the parent.” 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.