How do children learn? Step by step. Lesson by lesson. Skill by skill. Some students will be better at certain academic aspects than others. This is what makes each student unique. This can also keep some students from learning what they need to learn.
Most parents have heard their child utter, “I’m bored!” It’s normal for students to be “bored” occasionally. However, if it is a constant occurrence during homework or study time, it could be a sign of a bigger problem.
It is important for parents to intervene early. Study skills are the basis for succeeding scholastically. Whether a student wants to be a singer, a surgeon or an Olympic athlete, it will require the discipline of studying, learning and focusing.
Ideally, parents should begin teaching study skills when children are two or three years old by asking them questions about subjects that pique their interests and encouraging them to ask questions as well. Fortunately, it is never too late to build a new foundation. Educators believe common problems keep students from studying effectively. Problems include not knowing how to approach information, difficulty comprehending material, improper test-taking methods and not working within their personal learning style. Parents can help students overcome these obstacles – no matter what they are – with a few, simple steps.
1. Form a Partnership. Frustrated parents often fall into the trap of telling their children and teenagers to improve their grades without pinpointing an area for improvement. Maintain a constant flow of two-way communication. Together, with your child, decide what steps need to occur for his or her grades to improve while promoting knowledge retention. Allow the student to take responsibility for the learning process and for individual success. Students may not be aware of the skills that require improvement, but asking them questions may identify their difficulties. Remember that every child is different, with unique needs and learning styles. So, help your child learn in a way that is personalized to best fit his or her needs.
2. Understand Your Child’s Learning Style. Generally, people learn in three different ways. Students can be visual (learn by seeing), auditory (learn by hearing), kinesthetic (learn by doing) or a combination of styles. Parents should talk with their children to create a beneficial learning environment. But, it is up the child to develop study habits that mesh with his or her personal learning style. If you help your children work in their individual styles, they will work more effectively.
To determine your child’s primary learning style, visit the “Parent Resources” Area of www.SylvanLearning.com and take a Learning Styles Quiz.
Visual learners prefer to take classroom notes and learn best while reading. To assist these types of learners, parents can utilize charts, create summary outlines and help students highlight keywords in their notebooks.
Auditory learners enjoy classroom discussions and verbal instructions. Auditory-focused students will benefit from reciting their notes aloud, tape recording their classes (if allowed by the educator) and participating in discussion or study groups.
Kinesthetic learners favor active learning and frequent study breaks. Parents of tactile learners should use touch, action, and hands-on activities during homework time. For example, use flash cards, create games that help with fact memorization and teach breathing and relaxation techniques so help your child focus.
3. Choose a Time and Place. Just like adults, children and teenagers work according to natural schedules. Parents can assist in recognizing when a student works best and create a study schedule around that sweet spot. The schedule should include not only time for homework completion, but also reading and recognition of accomplishments. Make a daily commitment to spend 15-20 minutes working with your child to see how he or she is doing. Take baby steps. Work on reading comprehension one day, essay composition or mathematics the next and so on.
The setting for studying can also affect a student’s productivity. Create a homework zone - an area in your home for studying, complete with a dictionary, paper and pens. Make sure the area is free from potential distractions and that study tools are at children’s fingertips to keep them focused on homework. Keep in mind that each individual responds differently to particular environments. One student may work well at a desk with quiet music in the background while another functions better spread out across the floor in complete silence. Be flexible.
4. Know the Purpose. When it’s time to hit the books, parents should encourage their child to think critically and to break down the information or assignment into bite-sized pieces – before the task breaks down the student’s self-esteem. Discuss why the student is reading a specific chapter or the importance of completing the assignment. What should be learned? What kinds of questions will be answered? What type of test might be given on the material? There are a limited number of test types, such as multiple choice, true/false, essay and fill-in-the-blank. Identifying the potential test format allows students to be proactive in the way they study. Highlighting, taking notes while reading and asking comprehension questions along the way are also guaranteed study methods to prepare for any type of test.
5. Celebrate Accomplishments. Set weekly milestones. For big projects or exams, get a large calendar for your child’s desk area and help him or her set short timelines to ensure projects and studying aren’t left until the night before. Celebrate with your child when each milestone is met.
Most families are great at reinforcing excellence, but parents should reinforce improvements and progress as well. Don’t wait until your child brings home an “A” to celebrate. Show him or her that you are confident in the individual’s academic abilities and reward the little things – improved concentration while studying or increased inquisitiveness about assigned reading. These are all indicators of a strong study skills foundation that is built one skill at a time.
Remind your children how extraordinary they are and discuss how they can achieve their lifelong dreams if they remain diligent and develop the skills, habits and attitudes needed for lifelong success.
6. Individualized Instruction. Individualized instruction can help develop strong study skills, particularly if your child or teenager needs personalized attention. Maintain regular communication with your child’s teachers because most educators will know whether the student has an underlying problem with study habits. A student who is performing well can also benefit from supplemental assistance outside the classroom to sharpen test-taking and study skills.
Mark B. Kance, M.A.T. is the Executive Director at the Hamilton Township Sylvan Learning in Hamilton New Jersey. Sylvan Learning is the leading provider of tutoring to students of all ages, grades and skill levels with more than 30 years of experience and nearly 800 centers located throughout North America. Sylvan's trained and Sylvan-certified instructors provide personalized instruction in reading, writing, mathematics, study skills and test-prep for college entrance and state exams. Sylvan also hosts MomMinded.com, a blog offering tips and resources from moms and education experts. For more information, call 1-800-31-SUCCESS or visit www.SylvanLearning.com.