3 Tips for Parents Supporting Children’s Learning at Home


David (parent) asks:

Which three pieces of advice would you give parents about supporting their children’s learning at home?

Dr. Marion Blank answers:

A few years back, a study appeared with the following headline: To predict student success, there’s no place like home. (http://news.ufl.edu/2010/03/22/school-success). It’s an apt way of stating what we’ve long known—namely, that what happens in the home is critical to a child’s success in learning.  However, the times they are a-changing. The modern hi-tech age has made it more difficult for parents to guide their children in the ways that they did some years back. Children increasingly spend hours a day with their devices and not interacting with others. A study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2005 found that school-age kids spend an average of about 6 hours a day in front of a television, a computer, a smartphone, or other digital device. By 2010, that figure had risen to 7 ½ hours. No other force in children’s lives approaches those numbers. Children learn quite a lot in that time, but that learning is basically free of adult influence. The children are in charge of what happens! For parents who want their children to have this force balanced by other skills, it is critical, from early on, to ensure that certain patterns get established.

One key pattern is diligence—that is, being able to persist through difficulties.

This is an invaluable skill and one that is needed for learning mastery. There are many ways in which parents can foster this behavior by empowering a child to stay with tasks they want to abandon (e.g., offering targeted help when a child is facing difficulties). At the same time, the tasks that the children are given should not make excessive demands. At the outset, the interaction should be such that the child is encouraged and empowered to stay with the difficulty and overcome it for maybe just a minute or two. As the child’s powers increase, the demands for diligence can also increase –in slow, steady increments. The key is to not allow the child to abandon the difficult activity on the grounds that it is “boring” or “hard.”

A second pattern that is critical to a child’s learning is having fun.

Although many tasks of daily life are boring, it is vital that some of the interaction with adults be attractive and appealing. For example, with the stress on school achievement, many parents spend precious bedtime interaction reinforcing the phonics activities emphasized in school. The children, however, have had enough of that during the day. It is more interesting and ultimately more productive to hear stories that expand a child’s horizons and create the base for high levels of reading comprehension.

As for a third factor, I would select the absence of bargaining.

For a variety of reasons, parents often feel uncomfortable in setting limits –even though those limits serve the children’s well-being. The end results are endless negotiations over routines that should be set and unchallenged. For example, in many homes, bedtime is an area of repeated negotiation as the parents set out the time and the children plead, cry and argue for “five more minutes” and the like. Once routines are established, they should not be subject to negotiation. In aiming for this goal, many parents are delighted to find that silence is a powerful friend. In place of responding to the children’s pleas, the parents just wait them out. It’s hard to argue with someone who is not arguing back. In so doing, the patterns of daily life become easier to manage and the children’s energy and intelligence can go towards more productive pursuits.

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