Supporting Your Child's Learning

The beginning and end of the school day

The beginning of the school day can be a rush for everyone. Establishing a routine in the morning and evening will help the day start smoothly and with minimum stress.

Tips for a positive start to the school day:

  • encourage your child to pack their school bag and lay out their uniform before going to bed each evening;
  • try to make sure your child eats breakfast - this provides essential energy and will help him or her perform better at school;
  • allow plenty of time for your child to get to school - build extra time into your morning routine so that if there are transport or other problems he or she won’t be late for registration;
  • check each evening for letters home or permission forms or on Show My Homework as this will help avoid early morning panic and items being forgotten.

Helping with homework

Your child will need to work more independently at secondary school than at primary school, but your interest and input will still be important and will help your child to do well.

Look for opportunities to talk to your child about schoolwork - children enjoy sharing what they are learning. Try to find topics you’re both interested in so it's more of a conversation than an interrogation.

Ask your child if there's anything you can do to help with homework. Discuss the organisation of the work. If your child has several assignments due in on the same day, suggest they space the work out rather than leave it all until the night before.

Other ways to support your child's learning

You may not be reading with your child as you did at primary school but you can still support good reading habits. Talk to your child about the books you're each reading. Ask what books your child would like for birthday and Christmas presents. Go to the library together - if your child is stuck for a new author, ask the librarian for guidance or look online at book reviews.

Keeping up-to-date with the news helps with school work. Try to encourage your child to read a newspaper at least once or twice a week. Find news stories that connect to lesson topics. If your child is researching a subject, suggest the online archives of a good newspaper or the BBC website.

If you’re planning a day out, visit a museum or gallery that will tie in with work your child is doing in subjects such as Art, English, History, Geography or Science - this can be a fun way to add depth and interest to your child's learning.

Simple steps every KES parent can try at home to help your child do well at school

What our students bring to the classroom matters every bit as much, and in some ways more, than what they are taught at school. We live in a world of high expectations. A world where good GCSEs are a minimum requirement and giving your child the edge is key.  

  1. Teach your child that failure is a stepping-stone to success.
  2. Any skill requires a period of incompetence in order to get competent. In short: to get good at something you have to start out being bad. What’s more, encouraging your child to increase their failure rate (‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again…’) is the best way to increase their learning and develop their success in any field.
  3. Make learning an activity your child loves.
  4. Learning is a hundred times harder if it is seen as a chore. Many of us had a mental block about Maths at school and much of this was down to the fact that we told ourselves we didn’t like Maths. Research psychologists have proven time and time again that a good mood makes you smarter, more engaged, more creative and more willing to persist at a difficult task. So if you can encourage a child to enjoy learning, then the rest is easy... or easier. The key is to set out with a positive mind-set that is pre-programmed to succeed.
  5. Allow your child to follow their passion.
  6. In a world of hyper specialisation it isn’t important – or even possible – to be good at everything. It’s more important to be excellent at a few things. So, if your child shows specific interest and takes a lot of joy in a certain topic at school, they will find it much easier to excel.
  7. As parents there is a natural tendency to worry about the things our children are less good at and allow them to get on quietly with the things they love. If English is their passion, don’t be afraid to encourage and go OTT on its positive impact. Spending time with them as they connect and enjoy a subject will also give insight into ways we can help transfer that joy to a less loved topic.
  8. Make academic subjects feel relevant to your child.
  9. Often it is hard for a child to focus and truly enjoy a subject because they cannot see how has any relevance for their life or will help them in the future. Specific subjects are branded in their heads as something they need to do to keep the adults around them happy. When travelling, involve your child with map reading (geography), ask them to help with finding the translation of a word on your iPad (French, Spanish… even Mandarin)! Ever tried making homemade modelling clay or slime? This is science in the real world. Tell them it is chemistry. Or dip in to biology when they bump and bruise their knee.
  10. You can also tell your children how Maths has been useful in your jobs. (‘When I was a student I worked in a bar and I had to learn to do mental arithmetic very quickly. Drinks were 99p back then and I was I glad I knew my 9 times tables.’)
  11. Involve games in learning as much as possible.
  12. If you can turn learning into a game children, who are hard-wired to play, will respond and learn much more quickly. An entire area of psychology has developed to study this field. It’s called gameification, and the term is used to describe the action of turning something into a game in order to improve engagement.

Motivate children by consequence rather than punishment

We’ve all done it. Used the threat of taking away something our child loves in order to motivate them. ‘If you don’t start doing your homework in the next ten minutes, there will be no iPad after dinner.’

The problem is that this does not mimic life as a grown up. Adult life is determined by a cause and effect, and if a child starts to learn that the outcomes are determined by their actions, you can nurture a strong sense of motivation which they can take with them right through their education and beyond.

Motivation by consequences:

  • Helps the child learn self-control
  • Can be used with teenagers, who might otherwise find ways around a ban
  • Builds the child's self-esteem
  • Sets a good example of effective ways to solve problems
  • Motivation by punishment:
  • May teach children to deceive parents
  • Rarely helps teenagers to learn valuable lessons
  • Can reduce self-esteem
  • Teaches children that threats are an acceptable way to solve problems
  • Improve your child's depth of processing

Researchers at Sheffield University found that trying to remember something has been shown to have almost no effect on whether we actually remember it. Look at notes with your child and help them reorganise the information in some way so they process and understand it. This approach, called depth of processing, is one of the best ways to ensure material gets lodged in your memory.

The implication for revision is clear: just looking at your notes won't help you learn them. Instead, you need to reorganise the information in some way – whether by making your own notes or practising writing answers. This will help to ensure that material gets lodged in your child’s memory.

Equip your child with switching off and relaxation techniques

Focus and concentration can be one of the biggest barriers to success in school. Teaching your child to shut down can be vital in improving their ability to switch on at the right times. Active relaxation, simple breathing exercises or even basic meditation can have a powerful impact on the ability to learn. Switching off in front of TV may feel relaxing for your child but it is far better to learn the skill to calm your mind on its own.

Allow your child (safe) access to the internet

Historically, academic success has been founded on an ability to remember and regurgitate facts and figures. This is changing in our hyper-connected modern world where the answer to pretty much any question can be found at the click of a mouse.

The ability to research and find answers to questions is as important as ever, if not more. The internet can be a powerful tool in learning this key skill.

As parents there is a tendency to try to limit screen time as we often use iPads and PCs as virtual babysitters, something our children can switch on and give us a little space. This shouldn’t stop pro-actively scheduling computer time for educational purposes: so-called ‘tech for good time’ can be highly beneficial. Children with regular, education-focused internet access are at an advantage when it comes to exams.

Follow these two easy steps:

1. Keep the computer in the living room 

By having the computer in a public room of the house you can monitor what your children are doing and also more easily manage time limits.

2. Install a protection tool

It’s vital that you have child security settings installed to enable you to relax and let your child research to their heart’s content without fear of them coming across inappropriate material. Internet Service Providers (ISPs), provide controls to help you filter or restrict content. You can install software packages, some are available for free, that can help you filter, restrict or monitor what your child can see online.

Allow them the space to learn empathy

Children with better empathy tend to relate and do better in the world. Can you directly teach empathy? The short answer is no. The more you try to actively encourage empathy, the more you get in the way. The presence of a parent often goes hand-in-hand with a set of instructions (i.e. we tell them the right way to behave) but a hands-off approach to encouraging empathy can be very effective.

And finally… lead by example

The New York Times recently ran an article with the headline 'If Drivers Buckle Up, Children Do.' It was based on a US study looking in to the way children copy the behaviour of the adults around them.

So how can we expect our children to love reading if they don’t see us pick up a book?