The secret, experts say, is to get involved by encouraging your child to learn, not by doing his work for him. For example, rather than sitting up all night in front of the computer trying to help him with his project, show him how to use the Internet so that he can do the research on his own.
Of course your child's abilities, personality and age should be taken into account when gauging your level of involvement. For example, a younger child might not be able to do research on his own – but you could encourage him to sit with you while you do a search on the Net, or he could help find the relevant subject in an encyclopaedia or at the library. Not all children are equally disciplined and some might need more encouragement and supervision than others. The idea is that when a child enters high school he should be able to do homework on his own, although encouragement and stimulation continue to play an important role.
Research shows that when parents get involved in their child's education in an encouraging rather than an interfering way, the child tends to do well at school, be positive, dedicated and have a strong sense of security.
Stimulate your child
In the information age in which we find ourselves, children cannot be taught everything within the four walls of the classroom. There are many ways in which you can stimulate your child's curiosity and allow learning to be fun.
- Go to plays, movies and puppet shows about people from different countries. In this way children learn about other cultures.
- Collect and compare coins and stamps from other countries. Discuss, for example, why certain birds, plants or leaders' faces are printed on coins and stamps and what it tells us about that country. This is a fun way to teach them about other countries and history.
- Have fun with different languages. Learn simple phrases – such as good morning or thank you – or learn how to count in a foreign language.
- Expose your children to different environments and to the way things work. Take them to visit a farm, a factory, a reservoir, a harbour or even your place of work.
- Play the weather prediction game for a fun geography lesson. Let them watch the weather forecast on television and read the weather map in the newspaper. They can then 'take bets' on whether the weather forecast will be on par with the actual weather the next day. Also let them keep a weather journal of the weather forecast and the actual weather. At the end of each month they can see whether there were any specific weather patterns that emerged.
- Playing games is a clever way to introduce your child to maths and decision-making. Play games in which you work with numbers and/or have to keep score, such as board and card games. Darts is another excellent game to encourage maths skills. Let him keep score without writing it down.
- Talk to your child about the events of the day. This could entail reading the newspaper together or watching the news on TV. Ask him questions such as why he thinks a particular event happened and what the implications are. Ask him if he can think of any solutions.
- If your child shows an interest in a specific topic get him books or videos on the subject. You can also let him research the topics on the Internet.
Create an atmosphere for studying
- Ensure that your child has a place where he can study without major interruptions or distractions.
- Work out a programme with your child for each day. Take into account chores, extra-mural activities and appointments, watching TV and study time.
- Advise your child not to study the same types of subjects, such as maths and accounting, one after the other. This can cause a drop in concentration. The brain thrives on variety and it is therefore more productive to study a completely different subject, such as a language, after studying a number-related subject such as maths.
- Advise your child to start his daily study session with the most difficult subject and tackle it while his mind is still fresh.
- Help your child to assess what he has learnt regularly. You could ask younger children questions about what they have learnt. Guide the older ones to draw up self-evaluation questions. Self-assessment gives your child the opportunity to measure his progress and highlights aspects of the work that need more attention.
- Ensure that your child takes regular breaks during study sessions. Younger children need to break after 20 to 30 minutes while older children should not continue for more than 50 minutes without taking a break.
Help with goal-setting
Talk to your child about what he would like to achieve. Get him to write down his goals. Discuss with him whether they are achievable and realistic, help him to decide how and when he wants to achieve his goals and encourage him to reach them. Also help him set a time schedule for projects. Parents often end up doing all the work for a project themselves simply because the assignment has been left to the last minute. Keep track of project deadlines by helping your child draw up a schedule of what must be done when. This is also a good exercise for reaching goals.
Connect with the school
Very little will be achieved if there is not a strong and positive relationship between you, your child and his school. It is only when all three parties work together that magic starts to happen. Here are a few practical guidelines to strengthen your relationship with your child's school:
- Get to know each teacher who teaches your child personally and develop a positive relationship with her.
- Attend parent evenings. This will keep you informed of what is happening at the school and why.
- Never criticise the school or teachers in front of your child – this can cause confusion and mixed loyalties that are not conducive to learning.
- Become involved in school activities such as PTA meetings and sports events. This way you will get to know the teachers better and get to meet other parents.
5 questions to ask the teacher
1. How is my child doing compared with the rest of the class?
2. What are my child 's strong and weak points?
3. Could you tell me about my child's work ethic, relationships with other children, his behaviour in class and so on?
4. Is my child handling class assignments with ease?
5. Is my child experiencing any difficulties and how do you suggest we approach the problem?