Having a child in school, you have probably gone through a phase where you felt like you needed to do something to make your child understand the value of academics. You could be in that stage now with your child. Parents need to know that having an academically motivated child is not only the teacher’s job but also a parent’s responsibility. Telling your kids that you were top student at their age or a straight ‘A’ student will not necessarily motivate them to be like. It may even make them feel not good enough as they compare themselves to you.
All parents want their kids to get good grades at school. But why does being a good student matter? Most important, quality of life. People who can do enough math to handle mortgages and taxes, who understand the financial and political forces that affect their personal lives, who know something about the natural and scientific worlds, who can use the human legacy of great art and literature to make sense of life — research shows these people have richer, happier lives, make better decisions, and are more responsible citizens.
Does that mean a child who doesn’t go to college cannot lead a fulfilling life? Of course not. Besides, most blue-collar jobs with decent earning potential demand more than a traditional high school education nowadays. Preparation for a career in auto repair requires more time with a computer than a wrench. A carpenter who aspires to become a contractor needs enough math to juggle estimates, purchasing, subcontractors and payroll in addition to construction skills.
In short, helping your kids develop their intellect to the best of their ability is certainly not everything, but it is undoubtedly a gift to our children.
But school success is not possible without a love of learning. How can you as a parent encourage both?
- PHYSICAL EXPLORATION
A baby who is told “No” as he explores his world learns not to question. A toddler who is constantly curtailed from climbing higher (rather than simply being spotted for safety) won’t become an explorer, either physically or mentally. The more you say “no” to a baby, the more her inner world will be filled with limitations, and the lower her IQ will be.
(Think she needs to learn limits, develop inner controls? She does. Just as she needs to develop inner controls over her bladder. And on approximately the same timetable.)
- AGE APPROPRIATE TOYS
Do not waste your money on educational toys. Most have been proven to be counter-productive. Think toys that can be used creatively in many ways, rather than preset games. The classics are still the best: Blocks, paints, clay, puppets, dolls, stuffed animals, vehicles. Instead of structured play with specific characters or story lines, encourage free play, which exercises the mind and imagination, letting him lay down new neural pathways. Studies show that kids who watch TV are more prone to adopt “scripts” of what they have seen, kids who don’t engage in more flexible, creative play.
Children are natural scientists, and they learn by doing. They experiment just to see what happens. You know that the egg will break if you drop it on the floor, but what self-respecting toddler does not want to try it for herself? Be patient. Tolerate a certain amount of mess. And of course you will also have to tolerate their efforts to help clean it up, which can make things worse but are an important beginning to competence and responsibility.
- EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Emotional development and excitement about learning is more important than academics for young children. In the end, your child’s ability to do well in school will depend less on when she memorizes her ABCs and more on emotional development, such as her ability to manage frustration in order to tackle new challenges. Your child’s primary work in the toddler and preschool years is to develop a healthy emotional life and an excited curiosity about the world, not to learn to read. If she loves being read to by the time she begins first grade, she will be a reader halfway through the year.
- DON’T TEST
Don’t test your youngster, and don’t let Grandma do it. It does not matter if you are quizzing a toddler about what color the cars are, or a preschooler on what the stop sign says; if they don’t know the answer they will feel like they should. Quizzing tends to escalate through all the right answers (“Wow, he knows all the primary colors at the age of 18 months!”) until the child is stumped (“No, that’s TURQUOISE!”), and then even the smartest child will feel dumb. That self-doubt can last for the rest of his life, no matter how smart he is.
Inspire questions rather than overloading them with facts. It is true that every interaction with your child is a teachable moment, but think twice about what you’re teaching. For instance, on a nature walk, marvel together at the mysteries of nature, but resist the temptation to label every living thing and reduce your walk to a science lesson. Inspire wonder about the joy and beauty of nature; help them voice their own questions and theories. Notice the birds and different sounds in the atmosphere. Facts are secondary at best, at worst they are a complete distraction from the magic of life. That magic is what will inspire her to want to learn more facts.
Once your child starts school, set up a place and time for her to do her homework, in the same room with you. If she develops the habit of working at a desk with all her books and supplies handy, she will be much more focused. And this gives her a structure to master the developmental task of sitting herself down to tackle an unpleasant task.
Care about the details of his schoolwork. The single most important factor in school success (as long as your child has intelligence within the normal range and no learning disabilities) is whether there is a parent at home who is interested in the child’s schoolwork. Someone who knows basically what is happening in all his subjects, and what he is working on, every night, for homework. Being interested in the report card is not good enough, kids need help to stay focused during the game itself, not punishment when they get the scorecard.
- DO NOT DO THEIR HOMEWORK
Help him manage his homework, do not do it for him. It is not true that you don’t need to be involved in homework; you do. But the parent’s job is to provide structure, not answers. You are not the teacher, so you are not evaluating the work. But you are helping her to manage getting it done. Your goal is to help your child to internalize good study habits. How should he go about learning spelling words? How should she write a rough draft and revise it? How does one manage a project that needs to be worked on over a period of time?
In their first school years, your role might be to actually help him figure out the answers to his math problems, as they progress to higher classes you may find that all you need to do is quiz him on his times tables before the test. The more interest you show, the better. But don’t get into power struggles, you won’t win. Stay in touch with the teacher and let her be the heavy as necessary.
- VALUE OF EDUCATION
Make sure your child’s peers value academics. By the time kids are 8-10 years, their attitudes toward schoolwork are influenced greatly by their peers. How much effort they put into schoolwork and how well they do in school will be very similar to their immediate peer group. If you want your child to do well academically, be sure he or she is in a peer situation with kids who value learning.
- ENCOURAGE READING
Reading to your child is the single most important thing you can do to raise her IQ. That means reading to her even once she can read to herself, because you will be reading her more interesting stories than she can interpret. Read to your child until she makes you stop.
All the best in following the above steps into bringing up intelligent children who value and love education.