I realize that the title of this article makes the assumption that your child already has study habits that we are now going to improve. Unfortunately, it is more often the case that students don’t actually have any regular study habits. Many students get to high school and readily admit that they don’t actually know how to study. This is especially true in math classes. This list of tips applies to students of all ages, but my hope is that parents of early elementary age children will instill these habits into their young children and then continue to reinforce these all the way through high school. What if your child is already in high school? Then start immediately. It is never too late.
1. Always encourage your child. Make sure your child feels that you have confidence in his/her ability to master the material. Likewise, provide a safe place to fail. Your child needs to feel confident that you will support and help him even if he is not successful at first. Take care, though, that your child understands that homework is his responsibility, not yours!
2. Remember that your child is preparing the groundwork for his/her future. Stress success! NEVER say, I wasn’t good at math either.” This simply provides an excuse to fail. Likewise, if you were a whiz in school, avoid making an issue of it. Your child may just decide he/she “can’t measure up” and won’t even try. Keep the emphasis on the child.
3. In your home, set up a study area (not the child’s bedroom), and have consistent study time. Have space for you or a tutor to work with your child. Study sessions should be limited to 15-45 minutes at a time (the time increasing with the age of the child.) Then allow a snack or phone break for 10-15 minutes. Then repeat the pattern until homework or studying is finished. Check over completed homework every day. You do not need to know if the homework is correct. Just check for neatness and completion. If necessary, get an assignment sheet from the teacher so that you know what is expected. If the math homework shows only answers with no work, check with the teacher about the homework policy. Math teachers generally require that students show their work. Do insist on some review time with your child for any subjects causing difficulty.
4. Don’t accept “I can’t learn math.” Remind her that if she can memorize the words to 25 different songs, and the steps to get to level ten in a video game, and the phone numbers or her 15 closest friends, then he/she can learn!
5. Have your child read homework chapters and questions to you OUT LOUD. Then have him try to explain what he just read. If he can’t explain it, then he doesn’t really know it, and won’t be able to pass a test over it. You don’t have to understand the material yourself. Just listen for hesitations and/or the ability to complete a thought. If he obviously doesn’t understand it, he should read it again and do so until he understands what he is reading. If he never understands it, then ask the teacher for suggestions.
6. Far too many students do not know how to study for a test, especially a math test. Students tend to think that if they did their homework, they are ready for the test. NOT TRUE! Studying means reading and re-reading the material, verbalizing concepts both old and new, reviewing all previous lessons, studying/ reviewing with others, and practicing some of the previous homework questions. If the chapter ends with a practice test, he should do it. Be sure to have a test schedule for each subject. Do not allow your child to slip into the habit of being absent on test day. This creates a situation of the student being behind for the remainder of the school year.
7. Help your child study by using flashcards. This “old-fashioned” idea has lots of new-fangled value in learning in all class definitions, math facts, dates, etc. Just because we used flashcards “in the old days” doesn’t mean they have no value today.
8. Encourage your child to use his strengths for learning in all classes if he is artistic, he can take pictures to help understand the material; if musically inclined, he can set class information to music; if addicted to the computer, then you could invest in a good educational program, etc. Learning strengths from one area can help to learn in difficult subjects.
9. Keep in close contact with the teacher. Arrange to meet the teachers early in the school year. Check on your child’s grades early in the year and check often. Do not wait for six or nine weeks to find out that your child is struggling. Do not expect the teacher to contact you frequently. The teacher may have 150-200 students and contacting all parents frequently is impossible. However, if you initiate contact by phone or email, the teacher will be thrilled to respond to an interested parent! REALLY!
10. Get a tutor at the first indication your child is struggling with. Sometimes students are embarrassed to get or ask for help from parents but would welcome a tutor, and the cost of a tutor is nothing compared to the emotional cost of failure.
The sooner you can establish a good study routine, the quicker it will become ingrained in your child’s mind and become a habit. If you can start this routine during the early years of school, then your child will begin to grasp the concept that learning is his responsibility, and less and less supervision will be required by you.