As a parent, you’re constantly balancing pros and cons. Do you take the time to carefully prepare a healthful meal for your loved ones — or grab chicken rice from a hawker stall to sneak in more quality time with your kids? Do you let them stay up late to finish the educational movie — or prioritise their sleep above all else?
Perhaps one of the biggest conundrums for today’s parents, though, can be found at the heart of schoolwork. You want your kids to get good grades and make something of themselves in the world. But you certainly don’t want them to be miserable while doing so. What’s a concerned parent to do?
Understand The Science Behind Studying
You probably already know that overly strict testing isn’t going to foster a love of learning in your children — but you also know that Singapore’s tough PSLE isn’t going anywhere. Before you sit your kids down in front of a huge stack of revision worksheets, take time to read up on what, exactly, scientists are saying about learning.
For example, not all homework is created equal. Studies have shown that homework in general is more effective for older students (ages 13-18) than it is for youngsters, and that homework time should increase in duration as students get older. That is, your 5-year-old does not need to be studying for as long as your 14-year-old.
Other studies have shown that it’s better to spread out your study sessions and take breaks in between than to study for an extended duration of time, that practice tests are helpful when it comes to gearing up for the actual test, and that if people study expecting to teach the material afterward, they perform better in retaining and recalling the studied content. Oh, and the best music for studying has a repetitive pulse to it, aiding in retention of knowledge
This is not to say that you should start blasting the radio right now in search of the perfect study song; the point is that, as a parent, studying up on studying itself will help you to maximise your child’s time spent in front of a workbook. If your kid can study in an optimal environment, then they’ll be able to study less and have more to show for it. Plus, they’ll be able to avoid some of the pitfalls of ineffective studying, which range from suffering from exhaustion and headaches to a fully fledged hatred of learning.
Use A Growth Mindset
At home, whether or not your child is in the middle of a revision session, think about developing a “growth mindset” in the way you interact with him or her. You want to encourage the idea that intelligence is all about growth, rather than stay fixated on the notion that it is an innate trait that your kid possesses or does not possess.
How do you do this, exactly? Discuss brains with your kid. Tell them that their brain is malleable, wonderful and growing, and that their hard work leads directly to their brain getting stronger. This is incredibly empowering for a child to hear! Reframe mistakes as learning opportunities, so that your kid isn’t petrified of failure. And instead of complimenting them on how smart they are, compliment them on how hard they’re working. It may seem unconventional at first, but research has shown that lauding kids for their smarts signals to them that intelligence is a fixed trait, while praising them for hard work teaches them that it’s all about progress. (Read more about the growth mindset philosophy here.)
Encourage their Thought Processes and Questions
As your child is studying, don’t fret too much about sticking strictly to the script. Let’s say the two of you are poring over a math question about how fast trains are moving, when your kid suddenly asks you a question about trains. Instead of getting frustrated and bringing him or her back to the math, allow him or her to talk about trains for a bit. A love of learning is cultivated by allowing your kid to wander down imaginative pathways, peer into new subject areas and generally develop a strong sense of curiosity — and they can’t do that if their questions are always being shut down.
Go one step further and encourage these questions. “What is it you like about trains?” you might say. “What else do you want to know about them?”
Let Learning Be Aspirational
School doesn’t have to be all about heavy books and concrete hallways. It can be exciting and inspirational — it can even be cool. At The Learning Lab, we like to introduce our students to iconic figures like Jack Ma and Elon Musk, showing them the (awesome) real life applications of a love of learning. We also encourage them to get into the thick of the action by making their own circuit boards, periscopes and even terrariums so that they can learn difficult concepts in a very hands-on way. We’ve discovered that when learning is seen as something intriguing and not something mechanical, kids get inspired and become intrinsically motivated to learn more.
As a parent, framing studying in a positive manner will allow homework to become less about scoring well for tests and examinations but also about the thrill of the Learning process. And that’s how a lifelong love affair with learning begins.
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