Back To School: 5 FREE Things To Do for Success

by | Jan 25, 2017

Homework is something to be expected at the beginning of every new school year.

Usually, the first things that come to mind when you hear “new year” and “back to school”, are notebooks, pencils and pens. However, what doesn’t usually make the list (but what I believe to be far more important for your child than any multi-subject notebook, scientific calculator or smart pen) is made up of things that you already have and that cost nothing.

I would like to share some information with you, that is grounded in scientific research, for improving your child’s learning in 2017.

1. Encourage inquisitiveness and educational or creative playtime

There is overwhelming evidence that the simplest of activities, like children’s free play with peers, boosts important social and cognitive skills. Here’s a few ways to achieve this:

  • Setting up play dates with other kids is a great way to get some free time for yourself and you can alternate days with other parents, so that you will both benefit. If you only have one child, socialisation is key to them learning about sharing, as well as gathering knowledge from the kids around them.
  • Playing board games is an excellent activity that encourages socialisation, and something you can do at home or even when going out.
  • Let your child read fun books, cartoon books and joke books. Get them to read to you.

2. Instill a growth mindset

The key to instilling a growth mindset is by teaching children that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened through hard work and persistence. It is well known that telling a child that they are smart is wading into dangerous territory.

Reams of research show that children who are praised for being smart fixate on performance, shying away from taking risks and meeting potential failure.

Children who are praised for their efforts try harder and persist with tasks longer. These “effort” children have a “growth mindset” marked by resilience and a thirst for mastery.

This information is taken from ongoing research conducted for over 40 years, by Carol Dweck, a Stanford professor. Dweck is now doing a collaboration with a longitudinal study at the University of Chicago, looking at how mothers process the praise they give their babies at one, two, and three-years old.

They checked back with these children from the original study after five years. Dweck is quoted saying: “We found that process praise predicted the child’s mindset and desire for challenge five years later.”

Now, more than ever, kids are being offered empty praise for just trying. Effort itself has become praise-worthy, without the goal it was meant to unleash, which is learning.

Process praise is very different to effort praise. Here are a few ways that you can you support a growth mindset:

  • Rather than saying: “Not everybody is a good at math. Just do your best,” a teacher or parent should say: “When you learn how to do a new math problem, it grows your brain.”
  • Instead of saying “Maybe math is not one of your strengths,” a better approach is adding “yet” to the end of the sentence: “Maybe math is not one of your strengths yet.”

3. Less TV, more talking

Listen, really LISTEN, to your child.

It’s always a little sad for me when I hear a parent saying “that’s nice”, when a child rushes to tell them something they have learnt or experienced from the day.

Then, when they are older, we wonder why questions about their day get flat replies like “fine thanks” proceeded by silence, as they stare into space or at their cellphone.

4. Cook a family dinner together

Don’t do a drive through meal or a take away. In a large study, the University of Michigan’s Sandra Hofferth found that the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioural problems among three to twelve-year old’s, was the constancy of having family meal time together. How simple!

5. Pay attention to homework

For most families, homework means stress. Pay attention to what your child has for homework. It could be that the work was not finished in class, which gives you an opportunity to find out why.

Homework should enrich and reinforce the classwork learning. It should not be a fight to figure out how to use the mathematics formula, or endless nights of trying to paste a project together. You need to plan and show interest in your child’s school life.

In summary, make learning meaningful, not reward or incentive focused.

In what ways do you make your child’s learning meaningful? Post your comments and suggestions below.

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About the Author

Kayleen heads up the Customer Service team at WorksheetCloud. She has a degree in psychology and education from UCT, and taught in a classroom for several years with a special focus on children with learning challenges.

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