How to Help Your Kids Become Better Studiers
Some kids are natural learners: They love school, and doing schoolwork at home is a pleasure, not a chore. But not all children love studying—and some simply aren't good at it. In that latter case, our experts say it's important to step in and help your children find their bearings.
"While most people think of studying as something students do for school, the reality is that the skills required for studying something are necessary and applicable in many areas of life," says Nicole Beurkens, a licensed psychologist who specializes in children and families. "The process of studying requires time management skills—planning ahead, working on something over time, breaking larger tasks into smaller pieces, and prioritizing our activities—and all of these concepts are things that benefit students, not only while they are in school, but as they move into the world of adult life." If you'd like to help your children get better at studying here are seven expert-approved ways to lend a hand.
Let Them Create a Study Schedule
When your kids step off the school bus, have them make a plan for the rest of their day, says Beurkens. That plan should include "any homework and studying that needs to be done, chores and other home responsibilities, meals, and leisure activities," Beurkens says. "Depending on the child's age, they will need more or less help with this—but the goal should be for children to be able to think through this process independently by the time they reach high school." Why do this? "This planning process helps children think about how to use their time, gives them some choices for how to organize their time, and provides motivation as they can see that they get to do some things they enjoy as well as school-related tasks," she says. "Learning to organize time and activities is a vital skill as children get older and have more school and life tasks to manage."
Tell Them You Believe in Them
Emily Denbow Morrison, a high school English teacher and mother, says she often sees parents unintentionally put down their kids' ability by the way they talk. "Though this also feels like it's common sense, you'd be surprised how many times parents can unconsciously, or consciously, put down their children's intelligence by saying things like, 'All you need to do is pass,' and 'No one thinks you're a genius—just throw something together,'" she says. "Comments like this do nothing to encourage a child to learn. Why would they?" Instead, Denbow Morrison encourages parents to tell their kids they are smart—and, if need be, that the believe that can do even better.
Teach Children How to Break Big Tasks Into Smaller Chunks
According to Beurkens, "One of the biggest challenges with studying is that we have to sustain attention to something we don't generally prefer to be doing. This is a skill that develops more with age, and can be tough for kids and adults." To improve your child's focus and increase their motivation, Beurkens recommends taking large tasks and slicing them into smaller assignments. Not only will these tinier tasks keep your kids focused and motivated, they will also feel a sense of accomplishment when each one is marked as complete.
Use a Visual Timer
To track those small tasks, Beurkens recommends using a visual time, which will show your kids how long they've worked and when they'll be done. "This also helps parents stay aware of when their child is supposed to be working versus doing other things, and helps everyone stay on track with getting things done," she explains. "I've worked with many kids who find the visual timer so helpful for tracking their time and keeping motivated that they take it with them to college and beyond."
Check in with Your Kids Regularly About School Work
"This may seem like a no-brainer," says Denbow Morrison, "but parents can go long stretches of time without asking kids, 'How's school going?' When we make conversations about school, difficult classes, favorite classes, or easy classes common-place, then we open up a dialogue that allows children to vent about their day in a way that doesn't feel [scary]." Denbow Morrison says this limits surprises when it comes to studying, too. "This way, when issues do arise, it's not such a surprise to parents or a big deal to their children," she says. "Of course they can tell mom about a failed math test—they've been sharing how they were studying all week."
Avoid Media Multi-Tasking
Today, kids aren't just using a pencil and paper for homework. "Many children use electronic devices for assignments," points out Beurkens, "and accessing online resources is often required. But research has shown that media-multitasking, which means using more than one device at the same time, has a very negative effect on our ability to focus, understand and retain information, and complete tasks in a timely manner." So, when possible, try to keep your kids from using multiple devices; for example, you might want to restrict their phone use while they're on their laptops, Beurkens says. Another common example of media multi-tasking is having the TV on in the background while using the computer for homework. "Parents who want to instill good study skills in their children should set and enforce a rule that only one device is used at a time. This is best implemented by removing unnecessary device access during study time so children—especially younger kids—aren't tempted. Then provide access again when required tasks are complete."
Practice Summarizing Information with Them
Beurkens says that "strong students know how to read or listen to something and quickly grasp and summarize the main points." And that skill only gets more important as kids age: "This is a highly important study skill as children reach high school and college, as there is too much information for them to study," she says. "Rather, they need to be able to determine what information is most important and understand the gist of what it means." A simple way parents can help their children practice this at home is "asking the child to provide a summary of something they did or learned that day," says Beurkens. "They can also give verbal or written summaries of something they read or heard. Students who can summarize well are typically stronger and more efficient studiers."