The start of this school year will be all about facing unfamiliar situations and acclimatizing to new routines. Eventually, though, it will be time to learn again.
Due to the pandemic and summer vacation, your child may not have been in a traditional school environment or had to “buckle down” to do a legitimate amount of schoolwork in several – or many – months. As the academic expectations and homework assignments return, here are some tips and strategies to help keep motivation levels high.
1. Find a subject or topic that interests them.
If you can ignite passion, you can ignite learning. All parents want their kids to find things that truly interest them – but we need to let them be individuals and make their own discoveries. Katie Hurley, author of The Happy Kid Handbook, points out: “When parents support instead of push, kids find their passions and interests and learn to follow their own paths toward success and happiness.”
With this in mind, ask your kids about the things they’re doing, reading and watching. If their eyes light up when they’re describing something, pay extra attention and try to help coax that spark into a full-fledged flame. Expose them to a variety of different experiences in hopes that they’ll connect with something that is meaningful to them.
2. Stay one step ahead.
Parent involvement and enthusiasm are a major factor in a child’s learning – especially now, when many homes have become makeshift school environments.
Take a few minutes to proactively log in to your child’s online learning account or classroom blog and get a sneak peek at upcoming activities or assignments. You’ll be better prepared to guide him through the task and defuse any frustration that might bubble up. If the class is doing a novel study, pre-read the book so you can casually discuss it, pointing out surprising moments, characters you like or dislike, and so on.
3. Promote reading of any kind.
A love of reading opens kids’ minds and sets them up for success in academics and beyond. Shared reading experiences are powerful at a young age, so set aside a daily time to read together.
To inspire independent reading in older kids, seek out options that will appeal specifically to them. Your young reader may eagerly dive in to a popular novel series, be intrigued by non-fiction fact books, or gravitate to comic strip-style graphic novels. Embrace the notion that all reading is good reading, and be extra resourceful in your quest to put appealing content into her hands.
4. Identify your child's learning style.
We all learn in different ways, so it’s worthwhile to figure out how your child learns best. This information will help you structure tasks accordingly and foster optimal study habits. While the three learning styles are interconnected, your child likely has a stronger tendency toward one of them:
- Visual – learns by watching. These students may be especially skilled at remembering names, places, and people.
- Auditory – learns by listening. They are attracted to sound and may be musically inclined.
- Kinesthetic – learns by doing. These “hands-on” types will count on their fingers and eagerly use manipulatives.
Goal setting encourages students to think about what they want to achieve and how they can achieve it. Goals should follow the SMART acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Rewarding and Time-bound). Consider using a goal-setting worksheet to break things down and identify the next steps.
6. Teach them how to focus.
Some youngsters have difficulty beginning a task and seeing it through to the end. Like any other skill, this takes practice. Here are a few hints to set them up for success:
- Find a space that is conducive to working productively. This means turning off screens and choosing a quiet, distraction-free zone.
- Do one thing at a time. Research has shown that multi-tasking reduces concentration and diminishes overall performance, since jumping between tasks causes a loss in momentum.
- Make a checklist. No one wants to feel overwhelmed, so create a to-do list and celebrate the sense of accomplishment when items are completed and crossed off.
- Take breaks. Be realistic about the length of time your child can persist on a single task, and mix in some “recess” type activities to get refreshed.
7. Use incentives appropriately.
Offering a small incentive (like extra playtime, a treat or a special privilege) may provide added motivation for reluctant students. Be warned, however, that if external prizes and bonuses are used repeatedly, they may lose their effectiveness. We also want kids to develop internal motivation, where the satisfaction of a job well done is its own reward.
8. Tap into high-quality online resources.
When used with care and purpose, educational websites, apps and online games can be useful tools to engage young learners. Many sites also have a “For Parents” section with free printables and other resources. Here are some recommendations:
- Education.com – games can be selected by grade (kindergarten to grade 5) or subject (math, reading/writing, typing and coding).
- PBS Kids – featuring popular characters from shows like Super Why, Sesame Street and Curious George.
- Starfall – teaches preschoolers and kindergarteners their ABCs and 123s with simple, colorful activities.
- Prodigy – elementary students (grades 1 to 8) will embark on an exciting multi-world quest and practice math skills at the same time.
Organized students are confident ones, since they have what they need to learn effectively.
For youngsters, simple tasks like matching socks or sorting toys by category can promote this type of thinking. To teach older kids to take charge of their schedule and belongings, use visual aids such as calendars, checklists and labels.
10. Embrace a growth mindset.
Individuals with a growth mindset believe that abilities and talents can be enhanced through hard work. Kids need to hear that struggles and mistakes are okay, because that’s how we get feedback and make improvements. Work with your child to turn something negative (like a sub-par result on a quiz or test) into a positive step forward (identifying the gaps in his knowledge and reviewing the relevant material). If your child is a Star Wars fan, feel free to quote Yoda in The Last Jedi: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”
We’re all going to need some time to get used to the “new normal” of school this year. However, once the initial adjustment period has passed, the focus will naturally shift back to learning. By using the strategies described above, you and your child will be ready to pick up where you left off.