First things first: I am by no means about to tell you that your kindergartener should be spending their free time studying for their SATs. (We don’t have SATs in Canada, but you know what I mean.) The most important learning young kids can do comes through play, and I’m not suggesting that kids should be hitting the books for anything more than fun.
That being said, when I taught high school, I quickly noticed that many of my adolescent students were lacking basic study skills.
Skills such as time management, organization, self assessment and goal setting are vital to academic success but are also very helpful outside the classroom. We can teach these skills long before our kids ever have to sit a test or write a paper, and these skills are much more transferable than long division! (I’ve heard there’s a new way to do math, and I’m pretty nervous about it, by the way.)
Using DK’s Help Your Kids with Study Skills book, I’ve isolated eight strategies that will help kids when it comes time to study and will also help them learn responsibility and autonomy in other aspects of their lives.
1- Encourage healthy sleep
As any sleep-deprived parent knows, our brains work best when we are consistently getting a good night’s sleep. Learning the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being is key to building lifelong healthy sleep habits. Not getting enough sleep affects focus and decision making, not to mention that during sleep is when our brain consolidates and stores new information.
Show your primary-aged child how much sleep they’re supposed to be getting and calculate their ideal bedtime together. Turn off screens an hour before the lights go out so kids (and grown ups) can learn to wind down before it’s time to go to sleep.
2- Model realistic goal setting and rewards
This summer I really wanted my son to learn our address and phone number. He was completely overwhelmed by learning the whole thing. It just seemed like a jumble of numbers and letters, and he felt like he’d never be able to memorize it.
We set a goal for the week, dividing the task into bite-sized pieces. The reward he chose for himself when he completed each step was 30 minutes of iPad time. We started with our phone number one day, our house number and street the next, our postal code and finally how to spell our city and province.
Goal setting and rewards might already be a part of your parenting style. Give yourself props because modelling this behaviour will give your kids a leg up when it comes time to study!
3- Strengthen memory muscles
Sometimes we need to learn things by rote memory before we can really put new information to work. As a second-language teacher, I often found myself teaching my students how to memorize a verb conjugation rather than the verb conjugation itself. If you’re wondering how my students learned to conjugate the present tense of regular AR verbs in Spanish, it was thanks to a song I made up to the tune of the year’s smash hit, Soldier Boy. The kids even ran to find me when the song came on at the school dance to conjugate in unison!
I taught my son some of my favourite memory tricks to help him learn important phone numbers. For example, he had to remember the sequence of numbers “1840.” We remembered the sentence “I ate four donuts,” where the letter “I” was like the number “1,” the word “ate” is a homonym of “8,” and the number “0” we imagined as a donut. What I hope my son learned from this was not just a string of numbers but also to react to a challenging task with “What can I do to learn this?””
My husband’s favourite memory strategy is good old-fashioned repetition. At random times throughout the day he’ll call out a question related to one of the DK Find Out! books he and Cub are currently reading. For example, “Which animal was on the prow of a Viking ship?” “A dragon!” (Thanks to DK findout! Vikings.) I do the same thing when Cub and I are reading a chapter book together: I ask him what happened in the chapter we read the previous night, before we start the next chapter.
4- Visit the library
I know our kids are going to be using a lot of online resources for studying, but the library is still an important place, and learning to use the library is a skill they can transfer to the digital world too.
Whenever my son has a question I can’t answer (which is, sadly, most of the time), I tell him we’ll find a book on the topic next time we hit the library. Visiting the library also encourages reading for pleasure, which can be a key indicator for students’ success:
“International studies show that students with a more positive attitude toward reading tend to be more successful in all subjects. They are more likely to read more and to seek deeper knowledge and consequently develop deeper conceptual understandings of the subject matter.” [Source]
I love to read, and I love sharing that passion with my kids. Children who see their parents reading are definitely more likely to be avid readers themselves.
5- Identify their learning styles
A kid who knows how they learn best is a kid who is ready to learn. A kid who knows their learning style can advocate for themselves in the classroom.
Too often when I would first meet a private tutoring student, they would have no idea about their personal learning style. We would spend precious time using trial and error to figure out how best to work together to review for a test. The information in Help Your Kids With Study Skills will help you and them determine how they learn best.
6- Follow a schedule
A lot of my students struggled with planning ahead and respecting deadlines. Learning to use a calendar shouldn’t start in high school. A family calendar on the fridge is the perfect tool to help kids learn key organizational skills. Cub likes to count the days until special classroom events.
Part of our morning routine in kindergarten was to look at his class calendar, which had symbols on each day depending on which activities were happening (library, music, gym, etc). We would look at the calendar before packing his backpack to make sure he had what was needed for the day.
7- Make Connections
Being able to connect new information to something familiar is key to integrating knowledge. Being able to relate something learned in one subject area to something learned in another is a valuable skill. It’s a way to organize our brains: it’s way easier to remember a fact or concept when you can relate it to something you already know.
In DK findout! Ancient Rome, Cub learned about the Roman numerals. Then we found Roman numerals in our Star Wars book!
8- Admit your weaknesses
As a recovering perfectionist, I like to make a point of admitting to my kids when I make mistakes or when I find something particularly difficult. It’s my hope that they’ll see that it’s okay to struggle and it’s okay to ask for help. I try to focus on the strategies I use when I find something difficult, because ultimately my goal is to teach my children resiliency and problem solving.
My spatial reasoning is disastrously poor, so much so that I often confuse left and right. While my son doesn’t seem to have this problem, he knows that I make an “L” with my hand to determine which way is left.
Whether they’re in preschool or middle school, DK’s Help Your Kids With Study Skills is a fantastic reference guide. The DK findout! series is a fun way to learn alongside your child while you encourage their natural curiosity about a wide variety of non-fiction topics.