Here are eight not-so-obvious results from recent studies on how you can help your child succeed in school.
- Praise work, not results. Children need positive reinforcement, but it’s important how you praise your child’s efforts in school. Numerous studies have shown that children who are praised for their work ethic are better able to solve critical thinking problems than those praised for their ability. When your child brings home a high grade, say, “You must have worked really hard on that.” rather than, “You’re so smart.”
- Have a book-friendly home. It’s important to read to our children, but studies show that children raised in a book-friendly home (with at least 50 children’s books in the home) score five percentile points higher in both math and reading than kids with less access to books. Increase your home library by visiting used book stores or taking advantage of library and other used book sales.
- Engage with your child’s teacher. Be sure to make the extra effort to be physically present in your child’s classroom. Research shows that attending class meetings and parent conferences and volunteering at school is a better predictor of literacy development that family income.
- Get outside with your child. Research shows that spending time in natural settings increases a person’s sense of self-worth and decreases stress—two key items in preparing the mind to learn. One study has even shown that kids with ADHD can have their symptoms reduced by being in nature. When children with ADHD participated in the same activities both inside and outside, those outdoors experienced fewer symptoms.
- Expand your vocabulary. We often speak to our children with simple words to avoid confusion, but new research indicates that children’s brains can handle those big words better than we thought. Children whose parents used complex language were found to have significantly higher IQ scores (40 points higher) than children whose parents did not, suggesting that complex language wires children’s developing brains early for complex thought.
- Make TV time productive. Recent studies indicate that parents can make TV viewing an educational experience for their children by muting the commercials and asking their child, “What just happened? What do you think about that?” Such questions help children become better at critical thinking and communicating, two key skills they’ll need as adults.
- Get moving. The connection between the body and the brain is complex and not completely understood, but research clearly indicates that a child’s ability to learn is connected to physical activity. A recent study of 33 schools in Ontario, Canada looked at the effects of a program that increased students’ physical activity by about 20 minutes a day and improving nutrition. While there were originally concerns about the lost classroom time, the schools saw dramatic increases in academic performance. Overall scores increased 18% in just two years, and third-grade reading scores jumped up by 50%. Results from this and other studies are one reason for Illinois changing its PE standards to embrace Enhanced PE.
- Don’t forget chores. We have busy lives, and so do our children, and the temptation is there to let them skip doing chores since it is so much easier and faster for us to do them. But recent research indicates that children of all ages benefit in school from helping with household chores. One study found that children as young as two years old who performed chores like matching socks and wiping up kitchen counters ended up having more success both in school and in their career later in life.