In many families, homework time, test and exam time, can be so stressful for children and their parents. Parents get frustrated thinking “Why is he not studying and doing well?” Research now shows us that the ability to study is not one skill but, actually made up of many sub skills, each of which can be learnt, practiced and mastered.
This article is an attempt to highlight various aspects of the sub skills that contribute to studying plus learning. Here we have adapted Thomas Brown’s scales to understand children's study habits. With this checklist/method we can observe tasks our child can do independently and also, the tasks the child has difficulty, needs help with.
This approach is best applicable when we need to help our children with their home work , tests and exams and not something we can use for young children.
Learning skills can be divided into roughly six areas. We will be addressing the first three in this article and the last three in our article next week.
1)Initiation - what one does before actually sitting down for a task.
Does your child get their pencil case ready on their own?
Does he/she write down their home work in their diaries?
Does he/she carry the right books to school? ( Middle and High school children)
Choosing to finish the harder task before losing time on easier ones. For example, finishing homework before stepping out to play, or being able to stop play on time to begin work.
Are they able to sit to work by themselves? Start a task without any reminders? it could mean simply getting to the study desk.
How can parents assist children with Initiation?
- Observe the distractions and temptations.
What's happening in the house?
Is anyone watching tv close by?
Are younger siblings around playing?
- Be mindful of their day so far.
Are they tired?
Are they hungry?
Have they had a lot of physical activity?
Declutter and keep their workspace area clean with everything they need.
Set schedule with reminders, help them set goals and start with small simple ones they can achieve easily.
What they can do now, and what can they delay for later?
Choosing the hard task first, help them break the hard task into doable chunks.
Try and create a separate study space away from distractions.
Stay with the child, if he needs your physical presence to begin a task.
Use a timer, alarm.
2) Focus- Here we are look at what happens once they start work.
Focusing and sustaining focus
Are they able to focus on the task, or do they get distracted easily? Do they study one day, and are unable to the next?
Shifting focus between tasks
If from History they need to go onto doing Maths homework do they loose focus? Do they forget the task at hand when they get up for water maybe?
Some ways in which we can support them with focus:
Focussing and sustaining focus
Do not to interrupt them when they are sitting down to work, it breaks their concentration.
Do not correct any mistakes when they are in the middle of a task, unless they ask.
Guide or discuss corrections after the task is done.
Our goal is to get them to refocus with minimal cues.
Shifting focus to tasks
Younger children may need physical or verbal help, cues. Older kids can write the list of tasks to be done, tick on their to do lists when they complete the task.
When they need to put in more effort are they able to? Do they start off studying with great concentration and lose track?Do they wait until it is much closer to the exam date to study.
When studying how is their body language? Do they yawn often? Are they sitting, or laying their head on the desk .
How long do they take to understand the concept , assimilate the information in the textbook, or learn spellings.
Here, when assisting the child, do keep in mind your child's learning style. Is she a visual , auditory or kinesthetic learner?
For what length of time will they sit? If your child is able to sit for 10 mins, then expecting anything more than 12-15 mins as a start might be hard. When they do sit remove distractions, set a timer if need be.This takes a lot of energy for the child hence the key is to really start by giving tasks that are a little difficult, but not impossible.
This could mean getting them a better chair so their body will be upright and hence more alert . What time they function the best? Are they in a space with good lighting, or is it bright, overstimulating? Some children are sensitive to that.
Working / processing speed
Practice the same concept repeatedly, till the child masters the concept. Give time and space to do so. This is something that cannot be done just before the test/ exams as it may confuse children and make it difficult to recall. As children grow older this aspect of repetition is sometimes forgotten. We teach a concept and expect them to understand it, and then quickly move to another concept. Repetition builds mastery and improves speed.
In our article next week, we will address the other three areas covered in this scale, thus gaining a better idea of study skills and our child.
Author: Rama Venkataraman is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.