Your guide to encouraging your child to become an active and motivated learner.
Picture the scene: it’s approaching homework time, and you can feel your anxiety levels rising; you know you are going to have to start the oh-so-familiar battle soon. You’ve heard all the excuses and complaints before – ‘I CAN’T DO IT’, ‘please, don’t make me do it’, or my personal favourite, ‘I left it at school, so I really can’t do it’. Even when you do manage to get your little sweetheart to grab their school work and sit at the table, the constant moaning and lack of interest is enough to drive any sane parent to despair. The fun only multiplies if you’re lucky enough to have more than one child completing homework at the same time; you’ll surely be familiar with the bickering, competition and chatting, whilst you try to split yourself between 2 or more children doing work you have no idea how to complete. Before you know it, you’ve got yourself into a home learning routine which is causing everyone nothing but dread, frustration and stress.
Fear not though; there ARE ways to tackle this learning rut, and to genuinely encourage your child to want to learn at home (and elsewhere!):
1: Make learning FUN! Ok, this one may take a little creativity when faced with a dull maths paper, but ANYTHING can be made fun with a little effort. Child confused with division? Demonstrate it with a yummy cake! Can’t spell diplodocus? Make up a funny rhyme to help your child remember it. When children are having a good time and it doesn’t feel like forced learning, they will be much more engaged and responsive. (For some fun but educational activity ideas or educational activities for children with SEN see these articles).
2: Don’t praise the ‘right’ answers, praise the effort. When you praise a child for getting answers right, they start to internalise that when they get the answers wrong, they have failed. This can affect motivation, and means that children are less likely to try for fear of failure. On the flip side, children who frequently get the answers right learn that they don’t have to try, and it can become quite a shock when they do face something they find difficult. Instead, try reframing your praise towards the effort they have put into something, as this teaches the child that their effort is what will gain the reward. For example, try saying phrases such as ‘I can see you tried really hard at that maths test’.
3: Set a good example. It is not failure to admit to your child that you do not have all the answers. Sometimes, showing them you do not know is a great example of how people are continually learning. The important thing is to let your child see you figure out how you can find out the answer, as this strategy will support their growing ability to find out new information for themselves too.
4: Explain how their homework relates to real life. Sometimes, a boring piece of homework can feel so far removed from a child’s real life and interests that the child fails to see how completing the work will benefit them. If you can tap into something useful about this particular piece however, you will be onto a winner. Does your child want to be a vet when they’re older? Then they’ll need to learn how to convert measurements for giving animals medicines. Do they want to be a chef? Then they’ll need to know how to work out the cooking times and measurements. This can also be slightly altered for younger children, using their interests. After all, if they want to spend that birthday money from granny on that cool toy they’ve wanted, they are going to have to be able to add up the values (or work out how much change they have).
5: Encourage your child to make mistakes. Making mistakes is part of human nature, but because it can feel unpleasant for a child, often parents try to shield their child from making mistakes. However, making mistakes is essential for the brain to make connections and grow, and is a vital part of the learning process. Making mistakes challenges us as humans to want to find the correct way or answer, or to try another way, which encourages confidence and satisfaction in your child.
6: Encourage your child’s independence. By encouraging your child to be independent and giving them the space to explore and grow as a person, children will grow into confident and capable children who thrive in life. Independence is a great benefit to your child’s learning, as they will feel that they can cope with difficult tasks that are thrown that them, as well as providing them with resilience to handle life’s knockbacks. It also has the added benefit that, for the most part, your child will probably be able to get on with their home learning without you. (For more information on encouraging your child’s independence and developing your child’s resilience click here).
7: Make sure their environment is suitable to learn in. This may seem obvious, but if your child is constantly becoming distracted by the TV, isn’t comfortable, or can hear lots of noise, it is going to make engaging with their learning that bit harder. Of course, not all learning is of a sit down at a desk nature. The same could be said of learning outdoors for example, if your child has wet feet because they don’t have their wellies on when it is raining, are they likely to be eager to learn if they are uncomfortable?
8: Try not to compare them to other children. This goes for any other child; other children in their class, siblings, cousins, or your best friends can-do-no-wrong (and top of the class) child. Each child is unique, and even siblings rarely have exactly the same strengths or areas to develop. Comparisons with others only serve to make your child feel like they need to be something different; to be as good as Timmy at maths, to be as tall as Bella, etc. Comparisons also rarely do parents any favours, and it can make you feel deflated if you know that your child is on a lower reading band than Sarah’s daughter. By letting children be themselves, they are more likely to embrace their own learning style, and to feel confident in their own learning capabilities.
9: Encourage your child to persevere and take risks with their learning. Offering lots of praise when children have shown perseverance and persistence with something they find difficult is transferrable across so many elements of life; whether in a competitive class environment, when trying to learn to tie their shoelaces, or when tackling that tricky maths question. It is often helpful to frame your child’s struggles as something they haven’t learned yet.
10: Allow them to choose the way they approach things. It can be quite tempting to plan your child’s life with intense precision (with the best of intentions), however letting your child choose the way they do things allows them to feel empowered and in charge of their own learning. After all, if someone told you all day, every day how to do something, it wouldn’t feel that great. For example, by letting your child choose simple thing such as whether they complete their work before or after they eat or choosing their favourite pen can make a huge difference to how a child views their task.
Do you have your own tips to supporting your child to achieve their full learning potential? I would love to hear them!
Wishing you love and happy parenting,
Love Heather x
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