As a parent or guardian, we all ask ourselves the same question: how can we support our child’s learning?
Many studies have looked at the importance of parental involvement in child development, and the results are clear: getting involved in your child’s education has a greater impact on that child’s development than school.
Indeed, getting involved in your child’s education has been demonstrated to be a key factor for children’s academic outcomes. This research has shown that more parental involvement in a child's life results in many positive outcomes including better academic achievement.
At the same time, the quality of this involvement matters. Being involved in an unhealthy or unproductive manner can be run detrimental to the cause, so what kind of environment works best?
There are many ways parents can be involved in their child’s education and development, and in this article we’ll look at some of the best.
1. Getting Involved by Talking and listening
The first step to getting more involved with your child’s learning is by simply discussing key elements of their lives with them. Find 10 to 20 minutes a day to have regular discussions about their school program, activities, what they studied in class, what their plans are, what they like in homework, how they plan to approach their exams, etc.
Child psychologists have found that by discussing school related topics with children, parents convey the importance of schooling, thereby improving attitudes and expectations in this regard. In other words, talking with your child about school sends the message from yourself as a parent to the child, “school is important to me, and I want it to be important to you.”
Whether you believe it or not, your child does care about what's important to you. Even though they might not admit it, your child does care about your approval and deep down they want to see you happy with them. Even when they are kicking you out of their rooms, they know that you want them to do well and they do want to make you proud. What you consider important will become important for them as well. This is why involvement works.
Ask them, “are you satisfied with what's going on?” or “are you on track with what you want?”, “if not, what's your plan?”. Sit down and encourage them to plan things with you. The idea is to make them reflect on problems and resolve them while you can offer suggestions, encouragement and motivational nudges.
2. Meet your child’s teachers
Have a meeting once a month to meet with the school principal, counsellor, and your child’s teacher. Talk about what's working, what's not working, if there's something you can be doing at home or perhaps suggesting what they can do at school. This can create a great level of communication between you and your child’s teacher so they don't feel nervous telling you anything, and you don’t get anxious asking for any guidance either.
3. Be a school volunteer
Volunteering to help out with your child’s school can make a huge difference to your child's future development. It can really improve the relationship not just between you and your child's teacher, but also the relationship your child is building with their teacher. This doesn't mean you have to be a constant presence at school. Elementary school volunteer opportunities come in many shapes such as taking a day to chaperone a field trip, or helping marshal school events. It all helps! The benefits of volunteering at your child’s school are numerous so don’t overlook the opportunity!
4. Take positive steps to promote a healthy homework habit
It’s crucial for parents to get involved with homework, but this does not mean doing it for them. Not only does that devalue their studies, but ultimately your child will learn less. Instead, focus on promoting the homework process: sit with your child and work alongside them, or provide a reason for them to work through it, giving praise and small rewards afterwards. If they seem to be struggling, perhaps encourage a different study approach such as doing homework in short bursts when concentration is in short supply.
5. Go explore
Take learning off the page with museum visits and homemade nature trails (with the relevant museum/wildlife guide!), or suggest to your child activities outside of school they can sign up to such as scouts, cubs, brownies, or guides. This can also help them develop confidence and a positive attitude to developing new skills.
6. Set up a supportive learning environment at home
It’s important to think of the environment your children have to learn in at home. Ensure they have a dedicated learning-space to work in, a place to read, develop their curiosity, and mobilise their energy for learning. In addition to the physical space, promoting a healthy mindset is especially helpful to a child. Give them a set time to step out of study mode with a mentally stimulating activity like baking a cake or engaging in out of school activities.
7. Keep the school in the loop with any development-issues your child might have
Some children might have issues that a lot of their peers don’t, such as mood disorders or learning difficulties. Whilst it might be something that doesn’t directly affect their marks it’s important to make sure there aren’t any problems occurring that you don't know about or that the school doesn’t necessarily pick up on right away. If something's happening you and your school need to be aware of it, so make sure you keep the school in the loop on that and vice versa.
8. Read with your children (and set the example too)
Research says two of the best things you can do with your children from the time they are born revolve around reading. The first is reading with your children, which studies have found is the best precursor to making a good reader, and has been directly correlated with improved academic outcomes. The second thing is to set the example of reading yourself. This is important because when kids see you read, they see the passion you have when you're reading, and will become readers as they want to do what you're doing. Kids are always observing. They might not always be listening but they're certainly watching and learning from what they see. When you're reading a book, or the newspaper, have them right beside you reading as well to reinforce the habit, and create a bonding experience that revolves around this positive practice.
9. Set up some routines and rituals around learning
Routine helps children become more organised with their learning, and it’s up to you as a parent to help them set this up for when they’re at home. You’ll soon find your child learning better when they can predict what's next on their schedule because it takes away any anxiety or uncertainty about their day, making them feel more in control. It can be helpful to put chores, homework times and break time into a wall chart. If you can get a laminated version, they can check things off themselves as the day progresses. This will help them develop a sense of responsibility as they work through their day with less prompting from others.
10. Positive communication
Positive communication with your children helps them develop in a healthy way, and strengthens your bond with them. Parents can really tune in to what their kids are saying by building their communication skills, which in turn improves the language and social skills integral to learning. Use praise to help your child know what you'd like them to do. Be clear and specific with your praise. So instead of, “Good job!” say, “Good job putting away your toys!” It's really important as a parent to not just be aware of what your kids are doing, but also acknowledge that what they're doing is good, repeatable behaviour.
11. Regular and routine sleeping schedule
A lot of research has been done on the importance of sleep in children and how it affects their learning development. It’s imperative they get a good night’s sleep so they can process what they’ve learnt that day, and be in a clear, rested mindset for the next. Put in place a wind-down routine in the evening including a regular bedtime, no screens an hour before sleeping, turning the lights down, and choosing a book to read together. This will signal that bedtime is coming and help your child fall asleep more easily.
12. Have fun
Learning doesn’t have to be just from homework and school. Introducing games at the weekend that also have an educational element keeps your child learning as well you involved. For example, try making (or purchasing) flash cards with a maths problem on one side and the answer on the other. Turn it into a timed game, seeing how many cards your child can get done in a minute, or how long it takes to get through them all. This competitive element can really help them have fun with their subject, encouraging them to practise without realising they're practising. As we all know, practice makes perfect, and this will make the subject easier for them in school.
13. New books
Try to keep a constant flow of new reading material in the house, whether that’s through a big pile of books in their room, or with regular visits down to the local library or bookshop. Even better is letting them choose the books themselves, allowing your child to freely wander the bookshelves for something they are most interested in. This keeps them engaged with new content, whilst keeping you in the loop as to their developing interests.
14. Create a balance
It can be easy to go overboard on involving yourself in your child’s learning and school, but as they say, “everything in moderation”. Don’t involve yourself too little, but don’t involve yourself too much either. If you do too much, your child will start to pull away and show signs of disliking the idea of talking to you, repeatedly running from the conversation. Whilst a little bit of push is okay, don’t do too much. Doing so can hurt your connection and the caring environment you’re looking to develop.
15. Nurture their curiosity and observational skills
Ask different questions whilst you’re out and about. For instance, let’s say you’re driving: if you’re passing by an interesting scene, ask “who knows why this is happening?”, “who knows why this happened?” Or “hey what happened?”. Focus on asking about different things to what they might usually be asked in the classroom. At the same time, you can even ask math questions while driving to keep them talking and competitive with each other.
Conclusion on How to Get Involved in your Child’s Learning and Development
If you involve yourself in the right manner your child can be more engaged with their studies, do better in exams, and develop a sense of importance for their own personal progression.
Most importantly, staying involved builds a deeper connection with your child, and there's simply no substitute to keeping in touch with your child's life on a day to day basis.
It requires time. It takes effort. It's about asking them questions and allowing them to explore their own learning.
It's also about setting up some rituals in our homes and routines, being organised and being a really good role model - an advocate for lifelong learning almost.
What we have to do as parents is support and guide our children every day. When it comes to involvement, be proactive, not reactive, and check in with them regularly.
As parents, we want to help our children want to learn and believe they can achieve:
“I can do this.“
“I can progress.“
“I can learn complicated terms.”
“I can bake a cake.“
“I can join in.”
We're not looking for perfection. We are just looking for that love of learning, and the aspiration in our children to fulfil their potential.