Help your children achieve their academic potential
Summer holidays can lead to school success!
1. Make a short list of the basic academic skills that you have noticed your children need to improve.
In junior school this is often:
- addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts, word problems
- reading aloud fluently, accurately and with expression
- reading comprehension
- writing stories using vivid and varied vocabulary
- careful handwriting
For secondary school it might be some of the above plus:
- essay-writing: developing ideas, giving examples, drawing conclusions
- memorising specialised terminology and definitions for each subject
- studying foreign language vocabulary, verb endings, idioms
- revising history dates
- practising exam techniques
Sit down with your children for a half-hour each day (except Sundays) and have them practise some of these basic skills. Of course most children will not feel like practising skills they are not yet good at. So you can expect them to complain, sulk or argue at first. But don’t change your mind! Stay determined. Keep reminding yourself that the half-hour goes by very quickly and that they will feel so much more confident in September when they go back to school with sharper skills.
2. To help children learn to tackle schoolwork and homework independently, start by training them to play independently. Designate a half-hour every day when each child needs to play alone quietly in a separate room (not in front of a screen). This will enhance concentration, perseverance and problem-solving skills. And there is an added benefit: siblings will enjoy each other’s company more and will squabble less when they come together afterwards.
3. Limit screen time to one hour a day (a half-hour a day if under aged eight) to give children the opportunity to develop other, more intellectually challenging pastimes. Harness their motivation by having children earn their screen time: make sure it happens only after they have tidied their rooms, fed their pets, helped around the house and completed their half-hour of academic work.
4. There is a way to maximise the likelihood that an easily distracted or sensitive or rebellious child will learn to listen carefully in school and follow the teacher’s instructions the first time. Here’s how: Stop repeating yourself! Before you even start telling your child what to do, get his or her attention. Then give the instruction clearly, calmly, simply and only once. Stand and wait for cooperation, instead of walking away to answer the telephone or deal with a whingeing toddler. Praise even tiny steps towards cooperation. Children who are in the habit of doing what they are asked the first time they are asked (most of the time!) rapidly grow in confidence and self-esteem. This is partly because they receive more smiles and hugs from their parents, who will be appreciably less irritated and stressed once cooperation the first time has become the norm.
5. In addition to the fun times your whole family spends together, set aside several times a week for each of your children to be alone with each parent. This builds a treasure house of lovely shared memories and will stand you in very good stead when parent-child conflicts over homework inevitably erupt. Children are far more open to absorbing the values of a parent with whom they share lots of good times, and they are more keen to try and please that parent.
6. A strategy for boosting maturity and enhancing attention to detail and problem-solving skills is to make it a habit never to do anything for your children that they are capable of doing for themselves. This even applies to not doing their thinking for them. Before you answer their questions, ask them to take a sensible guess. And instead of reminding them of their responsibilities, give a little clue and then wait for them to tell themselves what to do. This habit develops competence, which leads to confidence.
7. Expect a child who is starting at a new school to be anxious, even if he or she denies it. With your child, on a number of separate visits, explore all around the school and the grounds, so that your child gradually builds up a vivid, accurate mental picture of the layout. (Even during the holidays, the school may be open at times.) With your child, draw a floor plan and fill it in with whatever information you can gather. Nowadays many schools have websites that can be a mine of illuminating and comforting information.
8. Have several short family meetings towards the end of the summer holidays to re-aquaint children with the rules and routines governing homework, revision and reading during the school year. Before you sit down with the children, discuss these issues with your partner, if you have one, so that you present a united front. Single parents don’t have this particular challenge, but talking over your ideas with a friend first will help you to clarify your values and solidify your resolve.
9. Re-start the term-time bedtimes and getting-up times a whole week before school begins. This will ease the transition and make for better moods all around.
10. Remember to notice and mention any progress, however slight – a minimum of ten Descriptive Praises per day per family member, including your partner and yourself! This will rapidly improve everyone’s willingness, self-confidence and motivation to do their best.