10 ways to boost your child's academic potential

We recently ventured into the proverbial teachers’ lounge to talk with some of today’s educators. We wanted to get their insights on how children can reach their highest potential in the classroom.

Again and again, the teachers stressed the importance of parental involvement, and not simply as “homework hand-holders.” Parents are key players in the development of a child’s character, confidence, motivation and personal responsibility for schoolwork – all of which contribute to the child’s academic and personal well-being.

“Education is a team endeavour,” says teacher Carolyn Wakefield. “The teachers, parents, students and community are all members of this team. If one member is not involved, the student’s education will suffer.”

Even if you’re already an involved and supportive parent, here are some ways to increase your child’s learning potential.

Read, read, read. Overwhelmingly, teachers agree that one of the most important things you can do to help your child succeed at school is to read to them at home. “Reading is key to a child's success in school, and it begins with their first teachers: their parents,” says Pamela Whitlock.

Don’t just read to your kids, use that time as an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the stories. This is a great way to teach your children about choices and consequences. It’s also an excellent way to introduce your child to appropriate heroes. University professor Dr. Dara Wakefield says, “Children and adults seem content to adore flawed heroes. Spend time reading biographies, stop at historic markers, tell stories of courage, loyalty and character.”

Use everyday experiences as teaching opportunities. Melissa Macauley points out that daily routines and situations can be practical learning opportunities . She says, “Encourage your child to ask the question ‘Why?’ Don’t give your child the answers; help work through the question with them.”

If you’re unsure how to create learning opportunities from your daily routine, don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher for tips. “Teachers are full of ideas and tricks to help their students in the classroom. If parents were to utilize the same methods at home, during car rides, waiting in doctors’ offices, then that would be double, triple, the reinforcement for the child,” says Tessa Hobbs.

Know what your child is studying at school. Look at their assignment book, ask them what they’ve been discussing at school, flip through their textbooks and talk to their teachers. You might even want to consider asking your child’s teacher if you can occasionally help out in the classroom. This way you can observe your child in their academic and social setting and even assist the teacher.

Don’t just look for A's. Encourage your child to do their best, but be willing to accept that their best might not always translate into an A . . . and that’s okay. Marissa Burt says, “In a success-driven, standardized testing educational culture, I think this letting go and appreciating the uniqueness of every child is difficult for parents to achieve.” Not everything will come naturally to your child. God designed us as unique individuals, and your child will naturally show interest in some subjects while needing help in others.

Take care of the basics. Make sure your child has enough sleep, nutritious food, good hygiene and regular medical care. For example, the ministry of education in British Columbia reports that children who eat a healthy breakfast before school experience enhanced academic performance, concentration and cognitive functioning.

Talk to your child’s teacher regularly. Over and over again, the teachers reiterated the importance of parent-teacher conferences. Schedule a time that works for both of you, and show up at school-sponsored conferences whenever possible. If your child’s teacher is open to it, you might also get their email address and phone number.

What’s your child’s motivation? Empower your child to make the right choices not out of fear of punishment, but because they see the value of doing their best. Marissa Burt says, “. . . the trick becomes teaching children to want to choose the good versus forcing them to choose the good out of fear of punishment or disappointment. I think this serves children well in school and also later in life because it fosters an appetite for excellence in every endeavour. Instead of studying to earn a grade or please a parent, a student studies to the best of her ability in order to learn or grow as a person, to steward her intellect and to contribute meaningfully to others around her.”

Allow your child to succeed – and fail – on their own. It can be tempting to take control of your child’s schoolwork, but don’t underestimate the power of consequences. Carolyn Wakefield says, “The most successful students are those who learn to be responsible, dependable and organized through trial and error.” Sometimes the best life lessons come from failures or learning how not to do something. When parents, in essence, do their child’s work for them, “they are denying the student the practice that he needs, the responsibility of taking care of an assignment and the satisfaction that comes with completing an assignment,” says Pamela Whitlock.

Practice discipline and respect at home. The teachers overwhelmingly agreed that disrespect is a consistent problem in the classroom. Some parents look to their child’s school to handle discipline, but discipline is something that needs to be reinforced foremost in the home. Tessa Hobbs says, “If children are not required to act a certain way at home, then they are most likely not going to act that way when they walk into a classroom.”

Also, make sure respect is something you talk about and display at home – through your marriage, friendships, business, church relationships and even towards your children. Beth Terry Merchant pointed out that sometimes students don’t display respect at school because they don’t respect themselves or don’t feel respected at home.

Praise and encouragement. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Be your child’s biggest cheerleader,” and there is great value in this statement. For a child to do well at school, he needs to believe in himself, to have confidence that no matter what his report card says, he is valuable, loved and gifted by God. Reiterate this message again and again.

Find out what your child is good at – even if it’s not math or science – and help him cultivate that interest. But also, “Look at specific areas that your child struggles with and take notice when the smallest of accomplishment has taken place,” says Teresa Madden. Let your child know you’re proud of who she is, just the way God made her.


Want to learn more? Check out these related articles:

Boost your child's progress in school: Understand how your child differs from you

Homework hijackers

Could weak math skills mean a learning disability?


Julie Vaughan was the editorial director at Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.


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