“Trinidad and Tobago,” I patiently repeated for the second time.
“What?” She frustratingly retorted.
As our children get ready to head back to school, I thought I would take this opportunity to point out the obvious: learning needs to be fun—not necessarily entertaining, but fun. I am a firm believer that children do need to work on their listening skills and memorise some things—like their times tables—but even those difficult tasks need to end up feeling like a reward for learning. One of the best ways to make learning fun is to make it a natural part of children’s lives.
Relate everything to life in some way so that maths means making a budget to spend your allowance or figuring out how many snacks $20 can buy in a grocery store. Reading needs to be that vacation you get to take every day when school is over. Revisions need to be a game—and speaking of games, sports and games should not stop just because school is back in session. All children need to participate in sports and games—not just athletes.
It baffles me every time I see parents who make school a grind. Once vacation is over, sports or dance get shelved because students need to study nonstop or go to lessons. That is drudgery—not learning. Too much of life seems to get put on hold when school comes back into session.
Those little breaks that we take—the hour for dancing or kicking around a football—help to build invaluable social skills that are necessary for life. They teach sharing and caring, diligence, sportsmanship, empathy and confidence. They get children’s minds off of endless school work and the threat of all of those dreaded tests.
Children need to socialise more—and I don’t mean via social media. They need to have study groups with lots of lively conversation, good, home-cooked meals and popcorn. They need to feel like we’re all in this together – parents and friends. I will say this ad nauseam, but all children need to be engaged in leisure reading half-hour a day because reading is the foundation of all their learning. School books don’t count for this. Children also need down time, which reading facilitates.
Children need a parent reading to them so they can build their listening skills as well as their higher-level thinking skills. A parent can read a book to a child that is on a higher level than a child can read himself. Teens also need quiet time. These days, children—especially teenagers—are growing up with a set of buzzing and noise all around them: cell phones ringing, e-mails pinging. Switch off all these devices for a few hours every evening.
A well-lit, quiet space is important for studying. Beware of children who convince you that their high-tech rooms are the best place to study in the house. Don’t forget that children also thrive with routines. It’s good to have a well-balanced meal at a given time of day, a programmed study period, a time set aside for breaks and playing; a set time for reading and going to sleep. A confident child is a happy, successful child and much of this confidence and success comes from a schedule that helps a child keep on top of all the work.
Children need to be taught what a short-term, medium-term and long-term school assignment means. They need to know how to budget for different assignments; how much time to spend on homework and how much time to devote to revisions. It’s important to work revisions into a routine schedule. Cramming for tests puts information into your short-term memory.
Successful students are organised students, and there are ways that parents can help to build these organisational skills. A check-list from the homework notebook ensures all homework is completed. Packing the homework bag at night means nothing gets left behind in the morning rush.
Children also need responsibility in their lives to feel good about themselves. Normal chores or responsibilities should be woven into every evening. It gives children a break from studying and a purpose in life other than school. Children can help to set the table or do the dishes; feed the dog or straighten their room. This too should be worked into a schedule. Of course you don’t want to give a child hours worth of chores at night, but the world really doesn’t stop because school is in session.
Too many children look back on school as a drudgery. They live in fear of exams. They live in fear of failure. It’s up to parents to present school as a fun-filled challenge. That doesn’t mean every school assignment will be fun or every subject will be a joy, but it does mean that a student gets a sense of satisfaction from persevering and completing a task or course. So, that’s my advice in a nutshell. Have a great year at school. Enjoy!