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Helping Your Child Study

Praise your child

Imagine you’re nine years old. Your first test is on Friday, and you have your book in front of you. Your mom tells you to revise your study material. Feeling helpless and ill-equipped, you stare at the pages, hoping that somehow you will remember something.

Soon, you lose interest and begin playing with the dog. It is not surprising that studying turns into a lonely, repetitive chore you dread – one that stifles your natural curiosity. In the words of a fifth grader, ‘Studying is not fun.’

‘Tell me, I forget. Teach me, I remember. Involve me, I understand.’- Chinese proverb

While most schools teach learners how to study, they do so in isolated classes, instead of integrating studying skills in daily lessons and notes, so that it becomes a part of learning. It is extremely frustrating and difficult for a fourth grader to try to apply what he has learned about studying in general to specific subjects. Your child therefore depends on you for help. Between a rock and a hard place Instead of treating it as yet another chore, unleash your creativity and approach study time as a fun, inspiring opportunity to bond with your children. By adopting an innovative way of thinking, your child will feel more connected to you and you will empower him with an enquiring mind for life. Children are curious and instinctively explore their environment to find out more about the world around them. By appealing to your child’s innate inquisitiveness, you can turn studying into an incidental part of his daily activities. Show him how studying can be an enjoyable way to find answers to questions. For example, use Zulu words while preparing the salad. And while driving, throw out a question “Why is it important for people to pay taxes?” This will stimulate critical thinking and lively discussion. By collaborating with your child, you will demonstrate positive ways of interacting with others to find solutions to problems. That’s a useful attribute for almost any career your child may choose later on in life. Learning how to study effectively is a process that has to be modified according to your child’s needs. There are so many factors influencing the way children study and how well they recall the material later. Whether your child is tired after a long day at school or just battling to concentrate on the task at hand, physical and emotional well-being plays a big role as does personality. Stumbling blocks

    If you are going through a divorce and your child worries about this, he will struggle to apply himself. If your child is physically unwell, he may need medical intervention before he is able to concentrate. If your child has learning difficulties, he may require remedial assistance before he can study effectively. If your child has experienced trauma or grief, his ability to retain and recall knowledge will be impaired. Play therapy, among other treatments, may be necessary to provide him with the support he needs.

How children learn If you are going to be of any help, you need to understand how children learn and how their brains function. Passively reading through notes, is not the most effective way to study. Research shows that children learn most efficiently by being actively involved in the learning experience. By involving your child personally through writing, speaking, or experiencing the material, you will enable him to recollect it better. Walking around while acting out their assignment helps some students retain information. Others require bright colourful pictures and concrete objects to stimulate their minds. Try different methods, until you find the best way for your child to study- the more memorable and pleasurable the experience, the better the recall. Learning in a group also greatly improves children’s comprehension, Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky discovered in his early twentieth century research. He also found that children who worked together were able to explain what they had learned in the context of their daily lives. Studying with, you, his peers, or teacher, helps your child clarify ideas, ask questions, and understand the subject. Vygotsky calls this ‘reciprocal teaching’ and initially used it to teach reading. So, leaving your child to study alone in his bedroom is not the greatest way to help him retain knowledge. He will recall so much more if he can visualize the material while talking about it to you. Sensory stimulation theorist Dugan Laird found that children can remember seventy-five percent of material presented in visual form such as pictures and diagrams, thirteen percent that is auditory and twelve percent through the other senses. Have some fun ·        Help your child turn his study notes into colourful diagrams, mind maps, and cartoons. ·        Involve the whole family by using different voices to speak into a tape recorder, saying important facts. Let your child listen to the tape in the car or while taking a bath. ·        Use visual and auditory stimulus from the computer, to help your child remember more of his notes. A great idea is to use your child’s notes to  put together a PowerPoint presentation on the computer. It is time consuming, but as a visual aid it can be invaluable. Feeding and stimulating the brain The brain is the source not only of our intellect, but also of our emotions. It is who we are, and our moods influence our ability to concentrate. If your child is feeling pressured or frustrated, he will find it harder to retain information. We have all heard how we only use a small part of our brains and that we rarely reach our full potential. So how can you help stimulate your child’s brain to enhance learning and memory? The brain comprise mainly fat, so it requires ‘good fats’ and protein to function efficiently. Eating a healthy meal of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids before studying will help fuel the brain.  A favourite memory booster recommended by American Mensa supervisory psychologist Dr. Frank Lawliss is banana and chocolate, preferably eaten together. Other brain foods are water, raw or steamed fruits and vegetables, avocado, whole grains, eggs, nuts, and vitamin D. Tips to kick start the brain

    Play marching music and have your child chew gum containing the sugar substitute, xylitol, suggests Lawliss – but avoid gum containing aspartame and sugar. Physical exercise not only relieves stress, it also helps your child breathe more deeply, resulting in more oxygen reaching the brain. Doing a moderate amount of exercise before study will stimulate your child’s brain into action. Too much exercise, on the other hand, will make him feel tired with little energy left to concentrate. Games like chess, charades and building puzzles fires up the mind. Devise games to help your child remember his notes.  Design a quiz show or modify 30 seconds as a revision aid. . Sleep is essential to recharge the mind and help process information- eight to ten hours’ sleep a night is ideal.

Create the right environment As a child how many times were you told to go and sit at your desk and study? We tend to believe that to study properly we should be seated at a table in a quiet room with good lighting. Good lighting is crucial to avoid eye strain, but children learn in different ways and can study in all sorts of environments. Your child may be able to concentrate better when he walks around or sits on a gym ball with music playing in the background. Be sensitive and flexible in the way you approach your child’s method of studying. Almost any environment can provide an opportunity to learn, so experiment with different places in the home, until you find those best suited to study. Being able to relax and being comfortable will make the experience more beneficial and pleasant. Nevertheless, trying to study in a room with the television on and other children playing is probably too distracting for most children. Children with learning difficulties learn more effectively in an environment that is free of clutter, well organised and structured. Have all the necessary stationery available, especially brightly coloured highlighters, dictionaries, and keep a file for notes and pictures. Don’t forget to use the computer as a visual and auditory study aid.

Recent research by Robert A. Bjork, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles found that learning different content in different environments helps to remember the study material better. So learning maths while looking out on to the oak tree in the garden, or history while glancing at the lava lamp, gives the brain many associations with the subject which helps to retain it. “When the outside context is varied, the information is enriched, and this slows down forgetting,” said Dr. Bjork, author of ‘The two-room experiment.’

Instead of focusing on only one aspect of a subject when studying such as vocabulary, Bjork suggests combining various aspects of the subject in one study session as athletes or musicians would. For example: while learning a language alternate between “speaking, vocabulary, and reading.”

Nate Kornell states: “What seems to be happening is that the brain is picking up deeper patterns. It’s picking up what’s similar and what’s different.”

Establish a routine Routine makes children feel safe and secure. Children like to know with absolute certainty what is expected of them. Having a study routine will do away with questions like, ‘Do I have to study now?’ Remember to also chat about the subject in an informal way outside of study time while grocery shopping, watching the news, or when an interesting fact occurs to you. . Most children become irritable when they are tired, so it is best not to schedule study time just before bed. Negotiate a time for studying with your child that you know is best suited to your child’s temperament. Some children study well in the afternoon after lunch and free play, while others study better after supper. Try to schedule it for the same time every day, but accommodate extra-murals and playtime. Your child needs a balanced lifestyle- time to pursue other interests and to relax in order to be successful. Studying for hours on end is not productive. Your child will become tired and de-motivated. Memory and concentration also decrease after a while. Stick to the allotted time, and stop when that time is up. Focus instead on managing the set times efficiently. Allow short breaks to maintain concentration and to let the brain process the information. Tomorrow will provide another opportunity to study. If your child continues to spend hours doing homework and learning, it may be necessary to evaluate your expectations of him, or chat to the teacher to find out whether the workload is too heavy. If he is experiencing difficulties with some of the material, provide him with additional help. Managing stress Aspire to stimulating curiosity in your child along with the desire to know more about himself and the world around him, instead of merely aiming for higher grades. Children who leave school with passion and energy are motivated to seize the challenges faced in adulthood, whereas overachievers who tried to please their parents throughout their childhood may feel burned out, stressed and disinclined to pursue their ambitions. Stressing over homework and studying is counterproductive. A stressed child can’t concentrate or remember what he is studying. Choose to stop stressing about studying and your child will most likely develop a more positive attitude towards it. Waking up early to study on the day of a test is likely to create additional stress- and it will probably be ineffective, since the brain will not have sufficient time to process the crammed information. Sleep is more important at this age than studying at the last minute. Pressuring your child to obtain higher marks, criticising him, and making him redo work over and over again, is discouraging. Not only is your child less likely to do well, he may also develop feelings of resentment, and rebel by underachieving. Avoid comparing your children, especially across the sexes, since boys and girls learn in different ways. Research shows that children who have controlling, strict parents, tend to have lower self esteem, as they learn that they cannot be trusted to manage themselves. Avoid living vicariously through your children, and make sure your intentions are to help him find his true purpose in life. Show your child how to relax. Deep breathing, visualizations, yoga, swaying and meditation, are all ways to deal with stress, and so focus better. Explain to your child how to concentrate in class, call on the teacher for help, and get guidelines for tests- this way much of the knowledge needed can be gained in the classroom. What to avoid

    putting pressure on your child to get higher marks being overly critical making your child redo work over and over again comparing him to others, particularly a girl to a boy, or a boy to a girl being too controlling living vicariously through a child

What to do:

    Teach your child relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, visualizations, yoga, swaying and meditation encourage your child to concentrate in class teach your child to ask teachers for help make sure your child gets guidelines for tests and exams approach your child’s school notes with a positive attitude and cultivate this attitude in him allow your child to take control of his schedule, helping where necessary give praise where it is due ,without allowing the praise to turn into added pressure

Keeping your child motivated ‘Aw! Why do I have to study?’ moans a sixth grader. Few children are motivated to study. How do you turn this around? What can you do to inspire your child to enjoy studying? Children watch their parents all the time and your child will copy what you do. If you’re positive and enthusiastic and have a probing mind, your child is likely to be more curious and interested in studying. Watching you read or study will encourage them to do the same. Research shows that the children of loving parents whose expectations are reasonable have higher self- esteem, and are more motivated when it comes to studying. In contrast, the children of parents who pay attention only when they do well tend to have lower self-esteem and less confidence in their own abilities. We all enjoy being affirmed and praised for our achievements, and you should be generous in your praise. However, research by theorist William Damon from Stanford University shows that constant praise, especially when nothing has really been achieved, actually limits a child’s abilities. Instead, he says, we should ‘guide them towards worthwhile activities and goals that result in credible self esteem.’ Create opportunities for your child to learn from his mistakes, be persistent in the face of adversity, and accomplish things on his own. Imagine the sense of satisfaction he will feel when he takes control of his notes, and rearranges them to be easier to remember. Setting realistic goals and taking steps to achieve them will help motivate your child. . Children have vivid imaginations and can come up with fabulous ideas to help them remember study material. Inspire your child to think laterally as he tackles his notes. Your curiosity and interest in his subjects will stimulate intellectual thought and conversation- a much more enjoyable proposition than merely studying for tests. We all know how infectious it can be to be around someone who is upbeat and who has a high self esteem. Teach your child the power of positive thinking. Believing in himself, defining who he is and what his abilities are will give him the confidence to overcome stress, especially when studying. Get creative Think outside the box. Engage your child in thinking of novel ways to remember his study notes.

When talking with your child about his study notes, add in tidbits of interesting information from your readings and travels. Children love to hear stories, and if you can tell stories relevant to their study material, it will provide a hook to help jog his memory, for example, ‘Mom saw Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus in the British Museum…..’

Explain how their notes are relevant to their daily lives, and how as we develop as a society we build on knowledge from the past. Ask ‘what if’ questions to stimulate thinking- for example, ‘What if Thomas Edison hadn’t been curious, and hadn’t kept experimenting to find answers? We may never have discovered electricity. Then there would be so many things we wouldn’t be able to do like……”Challenge your child to come up with uses for electricity.

Teach your child to organise his study material, and tackle difficult information first. He doesn’t need to learn work he already knows.

Children learn best from notes and diagrams transcribed in their own words and in age-appropriate language. If your child finds his study notes difficult to understand, encourage him to summarise it in his own words. Help him draw mind maps and spider diagrams.

Take time to teach your child to read his notes critically. Scan the material to find the most important points. Pose questions and find the answers in the study notes. Write down important points. Being able to read and take notes effectively will be of immense help once your child goes to high school.

One picture paints a thousand words, the saying goes. This is especially true when it comes to studying. Always look for a way to represent notes visually. Help your child turn his study notes into colourful pictures and diagrams. For example, if you are studying surface and subsurface water sources, let him draw a diagram showing where the water sources are. These diagrams or pictures can be simple stick figures which don’t take a long time to draw. Use colour to make it more memorable.

Use different coloured cards on which to write important information, such as dates. Post the cards behind the toilet door, the car seat, or on the fridge, so that your child can see the information often. Make associations like, ‘Red is 1361BC when people began to settle along the Nile River.’

Ask your child to teach you, a teddy, a pet, or other members of the family. To teach, he will need to understand the subject material. Let him use his notes initially, but as the week goes by, let them try without notes. Or as one mother found to her delight, her daughter had rediscovered the karaoke function on the family’s music system. ‘She’s been lecturing to a phantom audience all week,” the mother said.

Invent silly rhymes, acronyms and mnemonics with your child to help him remember difficult dates and facts. If your child is musically inclined, he may even make up a rap song from his notes. If your child has good ball skills, let him pin the answers to questions to a wall, and throw tennis balls at the correct answer. Putting on a puppet show for the family can help your child commit information to memory.

Film them as they make a documentary on their assignment. They can watch it later for further reinforcement.

Drumming is often used these days to help children with learning difficulties. Beating out facts on a drum can make them easier to recall – drumming is relaxing and helps to stimulate the brain.

If you can actually visit the place they are learning about, do the experiment, or see the artifact in a museum, your children will easily recall it later.

Give your child strategies and tips on how to do well on tests: “Read the questions carefully, underlining key words. Look at the mark allocation. Always answer the question even if you have to make an educated guess.”

Guide your child to watch programmes on TV or DVD, and read newspaper articles which show how their study notes are relevant to everyday life, and to reinforce the material they have studied.

For many of us parents studying evokes unpleasant memories, which we wouldn’t want our children to experience. Throw out those old methods that didn’t work for you, and strive to replace them with inspirational ideas that make the learning experience enjoyable and memorable for your children. It is possible to show them that the world provides so many amazing opportunities that they can be part of. Note to parents: I specifically didn’t use the word ‘work’ when referring to the child’s school notes or study notes as studying should not be viewed as ‘work’ but rather as a means of finding answers to questions. References: The IQ Answer  by Dr. Frank Lawliss Child Development 5th Edition by Laura Berk This article was first published in the book “Happy Years: A guide for paqrents’ by Abraham Kriel Childcare. The copyright remains with the author Claire Marketos.


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