Learning can happen anytime and anywhere…not just in school. In fact, most learning probably occurs outside of school. Our children learn by watching us. They learn while playing. They learn everywhere. But if you really want to get your children “ready to learn” in more formal settings like school, a series of five studies out of Ohio State University offers a simple, yet powerful suggestion. In this series of studies, participants played a simple computer game in which one group saw “colorful images of unfamiliar creatures” later identified as “flurps” and “jalets.” They received no information about these creatures in the first phase of the study. They simply saw them. A second group played the game and did not even see the creatures.
In the second phase of the study, both groups received explicit instruction about “flurps” and “jalets.” The researchers measured how long it took participants to learn the difference between them. The first group, who had previous exposure to the creatures, learned the differences between “flurps” and “jalets” more quickly than those who had no exposure to them. Simple exposure prepared them to learn.
In another study, participants would see the creatures in the middle of the screen and have to push a one button if the creature jumped to the left or a different button if it jumped to the right. No one told them that one category of creature always jumped left, and another category always jumped right. Surprisingly, participants did not recognize this difference while playing the game. Mere exposure did not teach them which creature jumped in which direction. But, that exposure did allow them to learn the differences between the creatures more quickly than a group who had received no exposure to the creatures. In other words, the exposure did not teach them about the creatures, it simply prepared them to learn about the creatures.
What does this mean? It means that merely exposing your children to new places and things prepares them to learn about those places and things. They may not learn from simply experiencing the new object or place, but the experience prepares them to learn about it more quickly when they receive actual teaching. In other words, you can prepare your child to learn by simply exposing them to new things. Here are some ideas to prepare your children to learn.
Go on vacation. When you go on vacation, your children encounter new places, new people, new foods, new ecosystems, new animals, new history, and more. Simply experiencing these things prepares them to learn about them in their school studies, readings, or family talks.
Listen to a variety of music. Don’t get stuck in one style of music. Let your children experience a variety of music. Also, buy some toy instruments and let them play with them. Let them bang on the Tupperware, shake the toy tambourine, hum in the kazoo. As a result, they will be better prepared to learn about rhythm, melody, harmony, and instruments.
Play with sports equipment. Toss a ball around. Play catch. Swing a bat or a tennis racquet around. Run. Have fun. It will prepare your child to learn about sports when they get more serious.
Play board games and card games. Games can expose children to the concept of “chance” and numbers as well as strategy and more. Counting dice, counting moves, deciding if it’s worth the risk to ask for another card…all these prepare a child to learn math and science skills.
Cook with your child. Measuring ingredients for pies or cookies prepares your child to learn about math.
These are just a few ideas. There are many more. Take the time today to engage your child in something new and get them “ready to learn.” What activities can you think of that will expose your child to a skill that they will later learn as part of life?
You might be asking, “What is ‘Forgivingly Fitness’?” Good question. Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher refers to the benefits of building our “forgivingly fitness,” our openness and ability to forgive those who hurt us. Of course, we want our children to learn how to forgive. After all, forgiveness builds resilience and helps us not fall prey to resentment. Forgiveness restores a more positive outlook on our life. But did you know it can also improve academic performance? According to one study (discussed by Robert Enright in this Like a Sponge podcast) participating in a 12-week forgiveness class was associated with a full letter improvement in their grades. A control group of students who did not participate in the forgiveness class did not experience any academic improvement (see this study also).
Why would learning about forgiveness improve academic performance? I like Dr. Enright’s answer to that question: “If you are a 13-year-old in middle school and you have a throbbing knee that day, you’re going to miss the lesson because your knee is getting in the way of concentration. What if you have a broken heart…? You’re going to miss the lesson too. But, what if we can bind up the heart? Now, you have more time, focus, and energy to focus on your lessons.” In other words, unforgiveness leads to resentment. Holding a grudge takes up space in our minds. Resentment and holding a grudge interfere with our ability to concentrate and learn. Teaching our children to forgive, on the other hand, allows them to let go of the resentment and not hold the grudge. It frees them up to expend energy on more important aspects of life…like learning.
How can you teach your child to forgive? First, model forgiveness in your own life. Many “small opportunities” arise for the practice forgiveness. Take advantage of those opportunities. Practice forgiveness and talk about your work to forgive with your children and family. Something as simple as, “Someone ran through a stop sign and cut me off on the way home today. It really made me angry. It’s dangerous and not fair that they cut me off (Acknowledging the Wrong Done). I don’t know why they did it. Maybe they were daydreaming, had an emergency, or they are new to the area and kind of lost. We all have those times. (Acknowledging Our Mutual Humanity with the One Who Offended Us.) So I just took a breath and let it go. No need to hold on to that. (Altruistic Choice to Forgive.) Hopefully he’s safe. (Wishing Compassion for the Offender.)” (Steps of the forgiveness process noted in italics.)
Second you can talk about forgiveness while watching movies or tv shows in which one person offends another. Let the discussion loosely follow the steps alluded to above. If you’re not sure about questions to ask or how to discuss forgiveness for a character, consider some of the questions in “Enright’s Forgiveness Process Model.” The conversation doesn’t have to go from beginning to end. It doesn’t need to lead to a complete understanding of forgiveness. It’s simply an opportunity to discuss some of the questions about forgiveness, what it involves, and the benefits it might have for that character.
Becoming “forgivingly fit” will help you and your child navigate life in a healthier way. You will experience more joy and contentment. Most important, your child may even experience greater academic success.
Do you remember the feeling you had when “school’s out for summer.”? It was the moment of freedom and fun. Now that we have children in school, many parents worry that their children will fall behind over the summer months when they don’t have classes or a need to “study for the test.” But good news! A study published in 2019 suggests something more important than extra studies for a child’s academic success—TIME—specifically, time parents spend with their children. This study involved 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent to death before the age of 18 years, 77,000 children whose parents divorced, and 600,000 children who did not experience parental death or divorce. Not surprisingly, the death of a parent or divorce impacted a child’s academic success. But the specifics were much more interesting than that.
If a mother passed away, a father’s education became more important to the child’s academic success.
If a father passes away, a mother’s education became more important to a child’s academic success.
Overall, the results suggest that parental presence and involvement were more important than income. If income were the key factor, then losing the “bread winner” would have a larger academic impact. But it did not. In fact, the loss of the parent who spent more time with the child (generally the mother in this study) had the bigger impact. Time spent together was more important than income in promoting academic success in this study.
The negative effect of losing a mother can be partially minimized if the father remarries.
The research revealed similar results when a child experienced divorce in their family.
So, do you want to keep your child’s academic success moving forward over the summer months? Spend time with them. The time parents spend with their children has a powerful impact on their educational achievement…even more than income. Besides that, it’s fun to spend time with your children. You’ll enjoy the time you spend with your child. Your child will enjoy the time you spend with them. You will also promote their academic success as you develop an intimate relationship that will last…through college and beyond.
Neuroscientists from the University of Geneva recently published a study demonstrating an interesting way to improve memory. It will work for your children, your teens, and even you! The way to enhance your memory is as simple as getting physical. That’s right. Put down the remote. Turn off the Xbox. Get off the couch and get moving.
In the case of this particular study, participants attempted to learn a motor sequence (like typing) after spending 30 minutes of moderate cycling or after 15 minutes of intense cycling or after a period of rest. The participants who participated in the intense exercise learned the motor sequence more quickly. They memorized the motor sequence more easily than those who rested or exercised moderately.
You might be thinking, “I don’t need to learn to type faster. I don’t need to learn any motor activity right now.” Maybe so. (Although it may help you memorize the sequence of the video game or the password you ‘punch in’ to various devices.) Still, a previous study showed that exercise at a moderate level of intensity enhanced associative memory. Associative memory is the ability to learn and remember relationship between items. For instance, learning to associate a name with a person, a label for an object, or a smell with a food. It can help you remember the which capitals go with which states or what symbols have what meanings in math or science. You get the idea. Associative memory can help your children with academic work.
So, if you child is struggling to do their homework, take a break and go outside. Go on a quick bike ride. Play some catch. Go for a jog. Take a swim. Wrestle. Play some one-on-one basketball. Then return to the homework. It might just help them learn it quicker and better!
The school year has started. Well, sort of…I mean, it is different. Some of our children are in school part of the week and on-line part of the week. Others are on-line all the time. No one seems sure about school next month…in person or on-line? With all this in mind, how can we support our children in having the most productive, successful school year possible? Here are a few suggestions.
First, provide a space in your home for schoolwork. In fact, make this space specific to schoolwork. Whether it be a desk or a space at the dining room table, having a space set apart for schoolwork will help your children focus. Designate this space for schoolwork only–no social media use or gaming from this spot. Encourage your children to get up and walk away from this designated area when they engage social media or simply need to take a break. This space is designated for schoolwork only. This will help your children focus; and, it will inform others in the family to “not disturb, schoolwork in progress.”
Second, encourage working on one task at a time. Set up your children’s work areas so they are not distracted by other screens, TV’s, people, or cellphones (including their own). Turn on the “do not disturb” on their phone and computer to help them focus. Teach them to focus on one class at a time. Do not disturb them with other household tasks during school time. Learning to focus on one task at a time is an important skill leading to success. Multitasking is ineffective and inefficient. So, set up their “on-line school environment” to encourage a single focus on school.
Third, establish a healthy sleep schedule. Our children still need a healthy night’s rest to function well in school, even when they are “doing school” from home. A good night’s rest improves mood, concentration, and ability to learn. Set up the routines that will allow your children to get the sleep they need. Their academic achievement will thank you for it. (Learn about Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep)
Fourth, start the day off with positive interactions to promote a positive mood. Negative emotions take up space in our mind and interfere with concentration and learning. There is enough going on in the world that threatens to rob our children of a spacious mind for learning. Make your home a haven in which they can experience positive emotions that support positive spaces in the mind for learning. (Prime Your Children for a Good School Day)
Fifth, foster their motivation to learn. I believe this represents one of the great challenges of on-line learning. How can you foster your children’s internal motivation to “do school”? Having our children at home increases the risk that we, as parents, might step in to “help out” and accidently “take over.” Resists the urge to step in. Promote their independence instead. Ask them about their plan to complete homework, prepare for school, or complete an assignment rather than planning it for them. Allow them to experience their own failures rather than bailing them out. Let them experience their own successes rather than doing the nitty gritty for them. Foster their independence and you foster their motivation to learn. (Read 3 Tips to Motivate Your Child to learn more about instilling internal motivation.)
Sixth, acknowledge their effort. Our children need to know that we recognize their hard work, especially in these times of uncertainty. Rather than focusing on the final grade, acknowledge their effort. This will help build a growth mindset that will benefit them for a lifetime.
These six tips can help make this school year a productive, successful year of learning whether they “do school” on-line, in person, or both.
I hate to say it, but report cards
are not a very good measure of school success. We want our children to learn so
much more in school than how to regurgitate enough information to get an
“A” on their report card. We want them to develop a joy for learning.
We want them to learn how to think independently and to ask insightful
questions. We want them to develop a sense of competence. We want them to learn
the social skills necessary to become successful in the workforce. And, we want
them to develop an intrinsic motivation to learn and grow. Those traits would
reveal a child’s success in school. An “A” on the report card just
doesn’t reflect all these skills. In fact, pushing for good grades can even
undermine this deeper success. Pushing for good grades can devalue the process
of learning the skills of life and replace it with a crazed obsession to achieve
the end product of an “A” without really learning anything. This anxious
effort for an end product can crush the intrinsic motivators inherent in our
children, motivators like curiosity, and a desire for competence. It can limit our
children’s sense of mastery and leave them feeling anxious, unsuccessful, and
less competent to meet the challenges of the world after high school.
If that’s the case, what can a
parent do? If grades alone don’t reflect success in school, what does? How can
I nurture school success if I don’t push for good grades? Good question. Let me
offer a few suggestions.
Determine your priorities. What do you really want your child to learn in school and life? What are your educational priorities? Do you really want them to simply recall the dates of Lincoln’s assassination or to develop a compassion for people as well? Which is more important for your child to know: the formulas of calculus or the social skills that will bring them success in the world of work? What Do You Really Want for Your Children? Once you know your priorities, you can encourage the types of learning that reflect your priorities.
Celebrate effort. Don’t get me wrong. Grades still have their place. However, if we focus on the end goal of the grade, our children miss out on the real precursor of successful learning—effort. Effort is what contributes to good grades. So, acknowledge & celebrate effort. (Learn more here.)
Enjoy the content. Do your best to make learning fun. Don’t focus on the dates or the dry facts alone. Pack the dates and dry facts with stories of the funny, the inspirational, the humane. I love the stories that show the inspiration of heroic acts amid tragedy or the acts of love in situations filled with hate. For math, I like to celebrate Pi day with various pies. Or, talk about the Fibonacci numbers and enjoy Fibonacci in music. For history, discover the Righteous Among the Nations (you can read some of these stories here) and the funny stories as well as the successes of various presidents (For one example, consider William Howard Taft). Make learning fun. Teach your child to enjoy the content. Your creativity is the only limit to how you do this.
Model learning. Children learn much more from the example of their parents’ lives than they learn from their parents’ words and directives. So, what are YOU learning? You can learn something for work or something unrelated to work. Learn a language. Take a class in photography. Take instrumental lessons. Whatever you might enjoy, use it to model learning. And as you learn, talk to your children about the excitement, the struggles, and the joys of learning new things.
Nurture your child’s school success.
Learn something new yourself. And, most important, have fun.