How to support your child’s learning, no the answer isn’t supervising homework.

Do you want to spend your time standing over your child to check homework or would you rather help your child develop the values, skills and knowledge to be independent and self reliant. Some children are born with powerful drive and determination but many more learn how to learn through everyday experiences which shape their thinking and behaviour. Children need key skills to settle well into school and to flourish. These skills can be developed through play and everyday life. Once you know what you are aiming to do it becomes a natural part of life. You don’t need expensive equipment, just a few minutes every day will be enough to create real results. Here are some practical ways to guide your child to do their best at school, without turning your home into a classroom.

Encourage creative and imaginary play: 
Make sure your child has some time every day to do their own thing. Encourage your child to choose what to do. The ability to concentrate is strongest when children choose something that interests and excites them, where they lead the game rather than follow passively. Watching T.V or playing on games consoles may be absorbing but it isn’t developing an active mind. Play allows children to become totally absorbed, this is called ‘flow’. When a child is in flow they lose track of time and can carry on with what they are doing without adult help. Children need to develop this ability to manage their own time and be independent. This also helps at school because they will have learnt how to settle to work and focus their concentration. Successful learning is self managed, and although teachers can inspire and inform, they cannot not supervise each learning step. Play is therefore important as the foundation for work. It’s also fun and it does you good.

Work to your child’s strengths and abilities: Every child has a unique combination of abilities and it is rare to be good at everything.  Notice what your child enjoys doing.

  • Do they love numbers?
  • Are they good at putting things together?
  • Maybe conversation and stories excites them
  • Perhaps movement and sport.
  • Do they love music?
  • Or maybe nature fascinates them.
  • Perhaps they are good at sensing other people’s feelings
  • Or at managing to keep themselves calm in a crisis.

It is useful to look at learning ability not as a single intelligence or IQ but as multiple abilities  These may be:

  • linguistic-verbal (spoken and written words)
  • logical-mathematical (reasoning and problem solving)
  • visual/spatial (seeing and imagining)
  • bodily-kinesthetic (body awareness and movement)
  • musical-rhythmic (sound and patterning
  • interpersonal (interaction with others)
  • intrapersonal (feeling, values and attitudes)
  • naturalistic (classifications, categories, and hierarchies)

Children enjoy having the time to use their strengths regularly. Don’t be tempted to spend more time improving skills that are weaker than is spent on using and enjoying achievements. Your child will gain energy and excitement from using their natural capabilities. Motivation and persistence grow from those experiences of doing the things we love.

Be confident that ability grows from learning and practice: Don’t think about learning ability as being fixed.  Children who believe talent is fixed, “you have either got it or haven’t” tend to see challenges and mistakes as threats to their self image.  This sets off a stress reaction making them angry, anxious or likely to freeze in panic.

The secret of success is to see learning as a form of growth.  The more you do the better you get.  Celebrate each step on the road to success.  This is an optimistic view which creates confidence.

Choose realistic goals: Learning is more like a series of small stepping stones to cross a river than a steep hill to climb.  Be realistic about what your child can do, based on their age and interests. Think stretch not strain.

Let your child’s skills and interests set the pace: Notice what they do and what excites them and use that as a launch pad into other interesting experiences. If you take too much control, your child may become stressed or switched off from learning. Use the 3W’s: wait, watch and wonder which will help you become attuned to your child’s natural skills and interests.

See mistakes as challenges not problems: Errors show us how we are doing so far. Seeing mistakes as short term setbacks can be helpful.  Mistakes provide information on where to go next.  They are sign posts for learning not roadblocks.  Children with a growth mindset can learn to welcome them as challenges.  Children with a fixed ability mindset see them as proof that they have reached their limits. One view creates energy, the other is draining.

Praise effort not achievements: The driving force for success is effort and persistence.  Praise your child for their commitment and for the approach they have taken.  Notice how they go about a task.

  •  Have they planned it?
  • Are they well organized?
  • Do they find ways around a problem?

This can be useful everyday, when doing ordinary tasks at home, like tidying the bedroom or packing a school bag. Praise your child for getting involved and trying to do things for themselves.

Turn negatives into positives: Sooner or later all children get discouraged and need help to get re-started. If for example, your child says ‘it’s no good I can’t remember’ you could take time together to find out what will improve their memory.  You can have fun experimenting with different approaches.

  • Do pictures and mind maps create connections to help them remember.
  • Maybe they learn through listening and talking – rhythm can help, try putting something to music or into a rhyme.
  • Are they practical and do they like to experience something first hand to help them learn? Could they make a model or imagine walking through a house with different parts of what they want to remember in each room?

The biggest secret of all is discovering that learning can be fun.  Once your child believes that they can be successful, they will continue to try, whatever the setback. They will enjoy exploring and using interesting ways to learn and practice. They will want to learn and will appreciate encouragement from teachers, friends and family.  They will feel confident about themselves and the future.

Yes you have guessed it; the real secret of successful learning is finding a positive attitude which helps you to keep going and not to give up.






About hooperj

I am a child psychologist and wellbeing coach and author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish which is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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