Kevon, one of my students, did a happy dance that was so wild and carefree that I couldn’t help but laugh. He was proud of his mark, and I was delighted for him. Educators and parents alike are thrilled when the lightbulb turns on, when our children get excited about a project they are working on, and when they show improvement on their report card. We also empathize with their frustration when they make mistakes or don’t “get it” when the rest of the class does. We are disappointed along with them when they’ve practiced, but haven’t mastered the concept well enough for the test. Often they just need a little more time.
Time is relative. It may take one student a few weeks to master division, and another can be struggling with it for years. One pupil will find expanding ideas through writing a snap, while her peer will take forever to write two sentences. When your child faces learning challenges, the best way to help them improve is through practice.
A helpful strategy is to practice, and that takes time. How many hours of shooting hoops does it take to become an excellent basketball player? How many times does the pianist repeat a song before the piece sounds perfect? Just like accomplished athletes or musicians, successful students need to practice.
It takes time and discipline to develop skills, but often at school, the next unit arrives before little Johnny has grasped the idea. Teachers have to move all the students along – ready or not. There are a lot of objectives to address and sometimes individuals who still have questions or difficulty need more attention. Extra time needs to be dedicated to improving weak skills, and this usually means working at home.
Not all teachers believe in homework, and even those who do may not send it home on a regular basis. There are great debates on the value of teacher-assigned homework. Ask your child’s teacher what their view is and if they are not a proponent, be sure to ask regularly what aspects of the curriculum your child needs to work on outside the classroom.
As a parent you can create a routine for your child that instills in them a commitment to their studies and the pursuit of knowledge. This requires time. We live in a hectic world, everyone is busy, but the average child spends 28 hours each week watching TV! Steal a little of their “screen time” for homework. This scheduled study time may be just what your child needs if they lag behind in a certain subject area, or if you wish to motivate them to go above and beyond and get into that coveted nineties club. Yes, even students who generally do well can benefit from the discipline of this practice. (Pun intended)
Routine is important, so decide from the start if study time is to be every weekday with weekends off, every other day, or maybe just Tuesdays and Thursdays. Set a time (right after school or right after supper?) and find a place – a desk is good, the kitchen table works well, but if sprawled on the floor of the basement is effective, choose that! Teens tend to like to spread out – let them – as long as they are focused on studying; it’s all good.
When I was a student I came home from school and before I got in the door I would be asked if the teacher had sent anything for me to complete. If so, that would be the first priority, along with eating a nutritious snack. Ants on a log, anyone? If not, then I had a choice of several things: for math I practiced multiplication with flashcards until I was an expert – and the one who always excelled in “Around the World” games; I could read (my preferred choice), but when the book was done I had to discuss it at length or write a report; for geography I remember studying the atlas and matching capitals or flags with the corresponding country; and there was vocabulary development. We had a huge green Webster’s dictionary that weighed a ton (I still have it), and I was challenged to find meanings of new words and create stories in which I could use my expanded vocabulary.
These are all still good options, but now you can also utilize the internet which provides hundreds of interactive websites which engage and motivate kids to learn. Also, use your local library as a resource; they offer many great programs and the staff are always helpful. Play Scrabble ™ or Monopoly™. (Warning: Use the older version with pretend money so calculations are performed mentally!) Visit the park and write a poem inspired by the natural setting. Journaling is another useful exercise that you can incorporate into your regular sessions, and weekly spelling and vocabulary tests are good too. I use www.aaaspell.com for grade appropriate lists. Whatever you decide to do, just make it a priority and stick with it.
Parents value the assistance I give their children as a private tutor, but I rarely teach a new topic, usually I just facilitate review and practice. This is something most parents can do – for free. Honestly, it is the student’s time and dedication that makes all the difference. An extra block of time has been set aside for studying and the child is not allowed to skip it; distractions are blocked out and focus is maintained. A reward for a job well done isn’t always necessary, but occasionally it is nice. I usually reward my students with a 5-10 minute game at the end, if they worked hard (learning focused, of course). Looking forward to a round of Boggle ™ is motivating for some, while a few students like stickers or a new bookmark, and praise is appreciated by all. 50 minutes of uninterrupted practice is worthy of celebration.
You can do it! Schedule study time into your child’s weekly calendar, and get ready to watch more happy dances!
WANDA BELL is a qualified teacher who tutors privately. She is a writer and a member of the Kent Writer’s Guild. She is pursuing the publication of her first middle grade novel “Charlotte’s Journey.” Wanda can be reached at 226.627.0248 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org