- HELPING YOUR CHILD DEVELOP STUDY STRATEGIES FOR LIFELONG ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE
- THE PATH TO MATHS MASTERY STARTS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
- TIPS FOR PARENTS ON HOW TO SURVIVE EXAM TIME
- 3 STEPS TO HELP YOUR CHILD GROW FROM FAILURE
- TIME TO FOCUS AS MATRICS FACE FINAL STRETCH
- HOW TO SAVE FOR THAT GAP YEAR
- PARENTS: HOW TO HELP YOUR STUDENT CHILD TRANSITION TO ADULTHOOD
Parents and guardians can, and should, help their young children develop good study habits from an early age, to help them achieve academic excellence throughout their school years and beyond, an education expert says.
“In primary school, learners will start bringing homework assignments from school, and be required to study for tests. These early years are the best time to guide children and equip them with the strategies and tools to ensure that study discipline comes naturally in later years,” says Clare Pretorius, Senior Deputy Principal at Trinityhouse High Randpark Ridge, a brand of Africa’s largest private education provider, the ADvTECH Group.
Pretorius says once parents have left behind the frazzled and often anxious toddler years, they will be faced with a whole new myriad of uncertainties and frustrations once their school going children are required to start studying and performing to the best of their ability academically.
“Every young person differs when it comes to attention and dedication to studies, homework and exam preparation. Some parents have intrinsically motivated children, while others need to constantly spur them on. Regardless of where a child falls on the spectrum however, parents can guide and equip them to ensure they are able to grow and develop to ultimately realise their full potential,” she says.
It is important for parents and guardians to first establish what a child’s intrinsic learning style is – auditory, visual, or a combination of the two?
“It is possible that the child learns through doing rather than seeing. The preferred method, if used correctly, will facilitate successful learning.”
It is also vital to ensure that children have a suitable study environment.
“This refers to both the physical environment and the atmosphere created for the studying child,” says Pretorius.
“Daily routine needs to be established, and this includes when meals are served and when family outings are arranged, as children need little to distract them from the task at hand. Preparation of the environment also includes ensuring that all necessary equipment is available. As children get older they will organise this themselves, but initially a parent needs to assist and demonstrate best practice.”
Once the groundwork has been laid, parents should assist – with varying degrees of involvement – with the actual study process.
“Intrinsically motivated children may need firmness and guidance as to when enough is enough. Avoid allowing children to study into the small hours of the morning only to sit their exams in an exhausted state. On the other side of the spectrum, many children will need firm encouragement just to get going. These children do well when study schedules are drawn up with the help of parents, with lots of encouragement to get with and stick to the programme.”
Pretorius says study programmes must be realistic and give adequate time to each subject.
“It must be flexible and make allowances for last minute emergencies such as power failures or illness. Such a programme should be set up well in advance, as that in itself brings a sense of control to the situation for both parent and child,” she says.
“Supporting your studying child can be a cause for stress, which is exacerbated if the child also doesn’t enjoy writing exams or studying. So parents should understand that they are key to the maintenance of a relatively stress free environment. There are years ahead of our children that will be filled with homework, tests and exams. If we can engender a positive attitude and a diligence in approach to academic work right from the start, it will go a long way to cultivating positive and diligent young adults who realise their potential.”
The best start parents can give children to ensure they master maths throughout their school careers, is to ensure they banish negative attitudes towards the subject right from the start, an education expert says.
“Parents and caregivers must ensure they don’t pass on their own negative feelings about maths, or any other subject, because they themselves struggled in the past,” says Barbara Eaton, Academic Development Co-ordinator for the Schools Division at ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.
“Children should be allowed to embark on their maths learning in the secure understanding that they are competent and capable, without any kind of pre-emptive fear for the subject,” she says.
Eaton notes South Africans regularly hear about our country’s dismal performance in international maths and science benchmarking tests.
“Those of us who work at the Pre-Primary level are well aware that the results of the children at prep and college levels will not improve if we do not focus on the correct teaching of maths concepts within the three to six-year age group,” she says.
But she warns that early learning should be age-appropriate and concentrate on ‘hands-on, brains-on’ activities.
“Early mathematical experiences have to be presented in kinaesthetic and concrete ways, leading to semi-abstract activities in Grade 0. We certainly do not favour worksheets for children at this young age,” she says.
Eaton adds that while many young children enter Pre-Primary school with knowledge of counting, numbers and shapes, it is also important to expose them to more challenging content.
“Young children are ready to learn more advanced concepts as long as they are presented in an engaging and developmentally appropriate manner. This does not equate with ‘pushing down’ the curriculum content to younger and younger children, as that could have the opposite of the intended effect.”
Eaton advises parents to take a keen and active part in getting their children excited about maths, and says that the foundations of later maths mastery can be achieved through play-based activities in the early years.
Activities which promote the acquisition of maths concepts include:
- Singing number songs and rhymes.
- Counting out everyday items such as plates and cutlery for supper, potatoes for cooking, biscuits for tea.
- Matching how many times you clap with items such as bottle tops.
- Baking, which involves counting and measuring of ingredients.
- Drawing attention to numerals on gates, cars, busses – anywhere in the immediate environment.
- Sharing out sweets amongst the family or the teddies at the play tea party, which teaches division.
- Dividing fruit, veg and cakes into pieces and talk about halves and quarters, which teaches the concept of fractions.
- Working out how many sweets we need if everyone is to get two, which teaches multiplication.
- Matching, identifying and counting coins, and giving coins to spend on small items in the shop.
- Comparing the sizes of clothes and shoes that the family members wear and arranging them in ascending and descending order.
“Research tracking American, British and Canadian children found that children who entered pre-school with a strong grasp of numeracy, counting, relative magnitudes and ordinality achieved better maths scores in later years, and that these skills were more predictive of general scholastic achievement than were language, attention or social skills,” says Eaton.
“But parents should not, in an attempt to ensure their child’s future maths mastery, try to get them to learn something now, with difficulty, which they will manage more easily later. Helping your child at this stage does not entail the teaching of isolated maths skills through memorisation, rote or the reliance on worksheets.
“Parents and guardians who want to make a substantial contribution to their children’s performance later in life can ensure they lay a solid and positive foundation in the early years, simply by making maths meaningful and relevant to everyday situations. Quite simply, maths should become child’s play.”
Exam time is often stressful for children, but many parents suffer from exam anxiety too, worrying about their kids’ performance and even revision.
According to a recent survey in the UK, nearly a quarter of the parents polled said their own mental health had been affected by the pressure of their children’s exams. A quarter also said they had often lost sleep worrying over their children’s exams.
An alarming two in five parents said that not knowing how to help their children with revision made them feel as if they were “not good enough as parents”. And nearly a third said they had offered their children money as an incentive to revise in the hope of boosting their marks. The poll also found that more than half would like more help and advice on how to support their children through revision.
“We often come across parents who are stressed about their children’s exams and studying, and in some cases, they’re even more worried than their kids are,” says Claudia Swartzberg, CEO of Top Dog Education. “Parents’ stress can have a negative effect on their child’s self-esteem and even performance, which might even perpetuate the cycle of stress,” says Swartzberg.
To alleviate parental exam stress, and to help them with their children’s learning and revision, Top Dog has the following tips for parents:
- Identify your child’s best way to learn:Try to identify how your child enjoys studying best, and adopt strategies around that. For example, kinaesthetic learners like to learn via movement such as dancing, counting fingers, gestures or even acting. Auditory learners absorb information the best through sound such as songs and recordings, while visual learners study best through picture stories, shapes, mind maps and even paintings.
- Create a great learning environment:A good atmosphere and comfortable learning space can lead to productive learning and revision. Ensure your child has what they need to thrive, whether it’s sufficient light and quiet, or a comfortable chair and the necessary stationery.
- Get them to “teach”:A good way to get children to understand what they are learning, or to just practice their revision, is for them to “teach” you. Ask your child to pretend they’re the teacher, and go through a mock “lesson”.
- Spread out revision:It’s difficult for anyone to concentrate on learning for long periods of time, so ensure your child is taking short breaks between revision bursts.
- Support them:Studying is not always fun or easy, so praise your children when they are working hard. Encourage rather than threaten, as kids don’t need more stress during exam pressure. If they do get stressed, try to respond to their emotions by listening, reassuring them, or hugging them. Once they’ve calmed down, you can deal with practical solutions, such as setting up a revision timetable, or getting the necessary help they might need.
- Ensure they’re sleeping sufficiently: Sleep is important to not only give children mental and physical rest, but to consolidate what’s been learnt during the day. Ensure their room is dark as light interferes with melatonin (the hormone needed for sleep) production. The blue light emitted by tablets and phones can also be disruptive to sleep.
- Set up “rewards”:Incentivise studying and exams not necessarily through material rewards or “prizes”, but through fun activities that children can look forward to after a series of revisions or after an exam. Incentives can include a dinner out at a restaurant, or watching sport or series together. Or better yet, ask them what they want to do the most.
“Parents needn’t feel alone with their children’s curriculum and revision. The key is to ensure a personalised and powerful learning experience which can also be achieved through technology interventions,” concludes Swartzberg.
In today’s competitive environment, where some toddlers attend maths development classes and other youngsters are pushed to start reading fluently before they enter Grade 1, parents can be forgiven for being concerned about the future of their children who show signs of struggling academically or otherwise.
But one of South Africa’s leading education experts says that the situation can and must be turned around before it spirals out of control and negatively impacts – unnecessarily so – on a child’s entire sense of self and self-esteem. And the way to do this is to cultivate a “growth mindset”, she says.
“Children who think their intelligence and ability is ‘fixed’ – that they are stuck at a certain level of smarts — tend to do less well than those who think that they can, with perseverance, achieve at anything they set their minds to,” says Traci Salter*, Strategic Academic Development Advisor at ADvTECH, Africa’s largest private education provider.
“However learners who understand that their intelligence or skill level can be improved by effort and experimentation seek more challenges, learn from mistakes and don’t give up in the face of failure,” she says.
The concept of the Growth Mindset was pioneered by Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, and draws on neuroscience showing that a learner’s brain can improve with dedicated effort. Her research showed that personal qualities and abilities are not fixed, but can change with a simple change in approach.
Dweck’s research further showed that how children think about themselves has a significant impact on learning; with a strong connection between students’ motivation to learn a new skill and how they perceived their intelligence.
“Cultivating a growth mindset in one’s child is not a complicated process, and it can be given immediate and significant momentum with just one little word: yet,” says Salter.
For instance, if Anna is having trouble with language learning skills, explain that she isn’t good yet. If Mandla can’t get to grips with algebra, it is because he hasn’t grasped it yet. Emphasise that with effort, they will eventually master these skills.
Carol Dweck recommends we ensure that children know “it is okay and safe to fail, and that taking risks and learning from failure can lead to invention and creativity”, notes Salter, adding that the way we praise our children also plays an important role.
“Dweck advised that, rather than using general praise, for instance saying ‘you can do it because you are so smart’, parents and teachers should praise specific efforts that lead to improvements such as focus, persistence and work habits. For instance, one could say ‘you’re doing a great job organising your science fair experiment. It will give you plenty of time to practise presenting.
“This takes the spotlight off fixed ability and puts it on the process of learning and developing.”
Following Dweck’s strategies, Salter says there are 3 steps parents can take to help their children develop a growth mindset:
1) HAVE DAILY LEARNING DISCUSSIONS
At dinner, in the car or at bedtime take time for both children and parents to share the answers to these types of questions:
“What did you learn today?” (Instead of “How was your day?”)
“What mistake did you make that taught you something today?
“What did you try that you found hard today?”
It is important for parents and guardians to share their learning as well, because it models to children that even grownups learn new things every day, and learn from failures.
2) GIVE FEEDBACK ON PROCESS ONLY
Praise effort by children – for instance persistence, thinking of alternate strategies, seeking new opportunities, setting ongoing goals, planning for achieving these, and considering creative alternates to the challenge at hand.
Don’t praise personal abilities like being smart, pretty, or artistic. This kind of praise could actually lead to a loss of confidence since children won’t be smart at everything. They’ll doubt their ability to master something that is difficult initially.
3) ENCOURAGE RISK, FAILING AND LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
Failure teaches our children important life lessons. For one, it’s how they learn resilience, perseverance and self-motivation. Now is the time to let our children risk and fail. But we often want to prevent our children from failing, from feeling upset or sad. Don’t.
“We must let our children experience some failures while they are young, so that they can strengthen their growth mindset muscles. If we don’t, they will become adults with no perseverance, or belief in their abilities to work hard and succeed,” says Salter.
“And when the going gets tough, and challenges feel extra challenging, we should help our children celebrate the fact that they are learning and building mental muscle. Tell them about all the famous people who failed and didn’t give up, like Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey, and remind them that every challenge provides an opportunity to become more empowered.”
As the Class of 2017 return to their desks for arguably the most important few months of their school careers, it is time for them to eliminate all distractions, and budget their time to ensure they stay in control of their revision and ultimate success, an education expert says.
“In the same way that the proverbial penny saved is considered a penny earned, so time saved and invested in what really matters now can be considered an investment in the matriculant’s future success,” says Nola Payne, Head of Faculty: Information and Communications Technology at The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest private higher education provider.
Payne says parents and guardians should sit down and discuss with learners what to expect in coming months, and how they are going to approach the preliminary and final examinations.
“Most importantly, the discussion has to focus on what is going to be the focus for the next few months, and how the learner is going to settle into the right headspace, not allowing unnecessary distractions and managing the additional stress and challenges calmly.”
Although some exciting events will be happening in addition to exams – think Matric Farewells, 40-days celebrations and the like – these must not be allowed to overshadow either time or energy-wise the really important work that should be taking place, says Payne.
“Don’t, for instance, start anything new. Now is not the time to start volunteering in an attempt to boost your CV, or embarking on a new relationship. Be ruthless with your time. Be aware of what you’re spending it on, and make sure that you are spending it overwhelmingly on getting ready for the assessments which will ultimately influence what you are able to embark on post-Matric.”
Payne says although Matrics should still make time to lead a balanced life – getting enough exercise and spending quality time with family and friends – they should be more careful than ever about not allowing time-leakage. Exercise, for instance, can be done with friends. Family time can be built around mealtimes.
“As an experiment, learners can take a day or two tracking their time and keeping a detailed log. Break the day down into 10-minute slots where you carefully note what you spent your time on. The results can be scary but also empowering. Upon waking up, do you intend to quickly check what’s happening on social media, and then only get back to reality an hour or two after you logged on? Do you take a break to watch some TV, only to find 3 episodes into your favourite series that you haven’t done anything useful for hours? Then it’s time to take action and salvage your time,” says Payne.
She advises the following steps for rescuing the minutes that turn into hours and ultimately days – minutes spent on brainless activities instead of brain-building ones:
1) CONSIDER USING THE POMODORO TECHNIQUE WHEN STUDYING
Having a study roster is one thing. Sticking to it is another. The Pomodoro (tomato timer) technique is a fantastic and very empowering tool to get things done in a hyper-focused way, and can feel almost like a game, says Payne.
The way it works, is to sit down to your task with determination, then set a timer to 25 minutes and work intensely until the buzzer goes. Then get up, take a break of 5 minutes (do some stretches or take a quick walk – don’t check Facebook!) and get back to your books for another round. After every 4 rounds, take a break of about 30 minutes during which your time is your own to use as you please.
2) RESOLVE TO QUIT SOCIAL MEDIA COLD-TURKEY FOR A WEEK
It really does sound harder than it is, says Payne. She says that if you remove social media distractions and their temptations completely for a set period, your devices will soon lose their time-sucking lustre. You’ll also find that when you go back after your self-imposed period of abstinence, you would not have missed out on much at all – almost like going back to a soap or reality show after not watching it for a while.
On the pay-off side, your brain is likely to become much sharper for the experience, and potentially even less inclined to go back to unproductive time-sapping activities by default.
3) SORT OUT YOUR WORKSPACE
Find a space where you can sit down and get to work immediately and optimally. Have all your books and tools ready, so that you don’t have to spend the first 15 minutes of each session tidying up and getting into the swing of things. Know what you are going to spend your time on – set a goal for each session – before you start. While it is tempting to procrastinate by filing, tidying, or reworking your roster, those are precious minutes that dilute your focus and can lead to you doing all kinds of admin unrelated to the work you need to be revising.
4) STAY MINDFUL
While you are studying, focus on nothing else. At night, when you go to bed, and in the morning when you wake up, think about your future. Visualise why you are putting in all the hard work now, and picture your future – what you want to do with your life and how you are going to get there. The discipline and strategies you work on now will not only ensure you perform optimally when the time comes later this year, but also that you’ll continue on the solid path you’ve constructed throughout your studies and your career.
“In the world of work, most people are compensated financially according to time worked – whether that be hourly or monthly. Essentially, time is money. For matriculants, their focused investment of time pays off in results. It is therefore in a matriculant’s best interest now to take careful stock of their time and carefully budget it for the rest of the year,” says Payne.
Taking a gap year may not necessarily be for everyone, but there still seems to be a growing appeal of a gap year amongst matriculants and graduates, presenting a time to explore both the world and oneself.
Depending on what you plan to do in your gap year, your finances could play a big role. Whilst gap years are exciting – a year off without an income can be quite taxing so it needs to be planned for carefully.
“Whether you are a young person who needs more clarity to consider future goals or you plan to travel before settling into your studies and ultimately your career, once you decide about what you want to do in your gap year you need to plan how you will fund this lifetime experience,” says Stephan Buys Head of Strategic Business Development at FNB Cash Investments who also offers these basic tips on how to save for that gap year.
Set you savings goal
Whether you plan to spend an entire year travelling or volunteering in a specific country, you will need money for food, accommodation and transport costs. Start listing what you want to do, where you want to go, how you will get there and link costs to each of these items. This way you will be able to determine how much you will need to save.
Open a savings or an investment account
Now that you know how much you will need to save, open a savings or an investment account, specifically for your gap year. Make sure you take the time to find an account that works best for you as savings and investment accounts have different features – consider when you will need access to your money.
Get a part-time job before travelling
Take up a part-time job, as you will need to earn money that you can put towards your savings goal. Depending on your current situation, you may be able to take up two jobs, not only will you earn more but you can reach your goal sooner. Working more hours will likely keep you from spending more.
Cut unnecessary expenses
Review your monthly spending by listing all of your expenses to identify where you can cut on things you don’t need. Things like convenience foods, daily snacks and treats. Less spending means more savings that you can put towards your gap year.
Think about volunteering or taking a gab year job
Take the time to research gap year programmes, where you still get to travel and explore different places but at the same time get paid or provided with food and accommodation. You can also look at jobs such as au pairing, which are available in most countries.
Get a gap year buddy
Partnering up with a close friend not only means you will have good company to share the experience with, but financially it can assist as you will have someone to share some of the costs with.
Set monthly targets
Set monthly targets, on a monthly basis aim to settle expenses such as costs related to acquiring a Visa, airfares, accommodation and travel bags. In this you will be able to settle major expenses before the trip commences.
I can’t adult today: funny when stated ironically on social media, but not so much for parents of students who struggle to start taking on the responsibilities of adulthood as they should be doing in tertiary education.
“Students need to start preparing for their adult lives and the world of work incrementally at university, but many of them may be reluctant to do so – to the consternation of their parents and guardians,” says Dr Gillian Mooney, Dean: Academic Development and Support at The Independent Institute of Education.
“The central reasons for many young adults’ ‘failure to launch’, is often because parents don’t hand over the appropriate responsibility reins when they should, which means that their children don’t become empowered to handle their own affairs, and simply, some children may not yet be ready to cope,” she says.
From the mother who still cleans her daughter’s dorm room, or cooks weekly meals for her son, to the father who calls the institution to explain why his child didn’t complete his assignment, there are so many ways in which parents and others – in a loving effort – can do students more harm than good.
“Higher education should not just be seen as a period of life when one acquires theoretical knowledge and a degree, but also very importantly as a stepping stone from dependence at school into adult independence,” notes Mooney.
“It is understandable that letting go is a difficult thing to do for parents, but it is the developmental challenge of parents of university students to do so. Letting go of your children is a fundamental part of raising them and is developmentally appropriate for parents of children at tertiary institutions.”
Yet many parents don’t always know where they should step in, and where they should step back.
“This is a complex question, and depends on both the parents and the child. However, it may be helpful for parents to think of this developmental challenge as they did about any other. For example, we feed babies milk before we feed them solid foodstuffs. In other words, we implement incremental steps in any changes. It is, therefore, important to realise that the ‘letting go’ needs to take place in small steps.”
Parents should therefore consider the following developmentally-appropriate handovers:
Prospective students should be taking responsibility for researching their options, investigating entry requirements, filling in and submitting their applications. The parent’s role is a supporting one to ensure that proper research was done, and that forms were completed correctly and submitted timeously. Under no circumstances should parents be taking the lead in deciding on courses or institutions, or completing applications on behalf of their children. It is important to remember that many students who are not successful at university are the ones whose parents have “forced” them into a specific qualification or university.
Parents and prospective students should sit together and determine what their available budget is to cover studies, accommodation, materials, transport and other living expenses. Then the child should do the legwork to determine how this budget should be implemented – obviously with parental guidance and final approval. Looking for accommodation, for instance, is an important part of the process for the future student, which will start giving them an idea of the realities of affordability.
TROUBLE & CHALLENGES
It is instinctive for parents to want to step in when a problem arises, but in their student years, young adults must learn the very important twin skills of taking responsibility for their actions and negotiating the process of rectifying what went wrong. This develops the all-important emotional intelligence that is in demand in the workplace, and also provides an opportunity for the student to demonstrate their maturity to those who can play an important role in terms of future options.
This learning cannot be by osmosis though, so the parent should also institute an incremental approach here – preferably by allowing the child to handle progressively more complex challenges from when they are young or, at the post-school stage, doing this progressively. First the parent can brainstorm and plan with the child or even accompany them the first time, and then next time just talk through possible solutions until eventually the skills are learned and the first thing the parent gets to hear is how something was resolved.
DAY-TO-DAY LIFE MANAGEMENT
Shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing the washing – these are all basic tasks which surprisingly many students still leave in the hands of the grownups. Parents should assist in showing how the budget needs to be spread, but thereafter the student needs to start managing these tasks independently.
“If parents and guardians still feel that their ongoing interventions with these ‘adult’ tasks are required, it could be an indication that the child is not yet ready to live alone,” says Mooney.
“If that is the case, this should be considered when choosing a higher education institution – by choosing one closer to home or opting for distance learning instead of a contact institution.”