How to help your child learn more

As a parent, you are your child's first teacher. Here are some suggestions on what you can do at home to help your child succeed in school. These activities can also help you develop a better relationship with your child.

Important overall considerations

In addition to specific hints for helping your child learn particular subjects, there are several important guidelines to help ensure that children achieve their full potential.

A healthy, rested child learns better

Make sure your child goes to school well-rested. A tired child is simply in no shape to learn new math lessons or improve reading skills. Neither is a child with an earache or upset stomach. In order to learn, children must focus all their attention on their teacher and the subject they're learning. That's not easy to do when the child is distracted because he or she is tired or not feeling well.

All work and no play makes children less eager to learn

Be sure your child has activities outside of school, such as hobbies, sports, or music. Like any of us, children don't like to be in a rut, doing the same things all the time. Varied activities, in addition to school, provide other learning opportunities and make children feel better about themselves and more eager to learn in the classroom. Of course, while outside activities are important, school still comes first. Be careful not to "overload" your child with activities.

Get to the root of problems – quickly

Don't allow any kind of problem with school to drag on, no matter what subject is involved. If something is bothering your child - whether it's an issue with the teacher or the difficulty of the course - go directly to the teacher and discuss it calmly and openly. The teacher will want your child to feel good about school and succeed in class, and will also want to work with you to resolve any problems.

Know what your children are learning

Talk with your children and their teachers and attend back-to-school events and conferences. Get to know what your children are learning in school. Even if you don't actually help them learn, the more interest you show in what your children are doing, the more interest they're likely to show. If children know you care about school, they're likely to care more, too.

Listen

Being a good listener is important for any relationship, but it's especially important in helping your child learn. Children are naturally eager to share their school experiences - take a moment to listen. Be an active listener by joining in the conversation and asking questions. Show your child you're really listening and that you're interested in their learning.

When you "go to school with your children," they'll get a lot more out of school.

Tips for helping with specific subjects

Reading

Read to your children early and often. It's never too early to introduce a child to reading. Read "regular" books, newspapers, and magazines, in addition to children's books. Encourage children to take turns reading to you, too.

Use a large chalk board or message board for writing notes to your child to read.

Take your child to the local library. Show how the library works - how to find and take out books - and how much fun it can be! Ask your librarian about special programs for children.

Math

Play games based on numbers, such as bingo, dominoes, "go fish," and board games. They're a fun way to help your child learn numbers.

Use "flash" cards to help your child learn addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.

Show your child how math is needed to do many jobs at home. Ask him or her to help you measure ingredients when cooking or baking. Show your child how you measure material for a home repair project. Explain how you compare prices at the store to make sure you get the best value. In other words, make math a part of your child's everyday life.

Science

Teach your child all rules of safety concerning electricity, chemicals, and fire.

Subscribe to a child's science or nature magazine, or look for these materials in the library.

Encourage your child to be a collector - stamps, leaves, shells, etc. Set aside a place for his or her collection, even if it's just a drawer or shoe box. Ask your child to tell you about the collection and help your child learn more about it (e.g. learning the names of different shells from a book).

Work with your child on special home projects, such as making a bird house or feeder, setting up a weather station, or preparing a garden.

Arts

Encourage musical activity in your home - singing songs, playing music, etc. A toy piano or drum can be a good way for a child to learn the basics of rhythm and tone.

Keep paper, crayons, and water colors on hand. Provide a place for your child to use these things. Save scraps of wood, fabric, wallpaper, etc. from home projects for your child to use in his or her creations.

Take your child to concerts or plays. Student productions at your local high school can provide children with free or inexpensive exposure to the arts.

Keep a bulletin board or other place to post your child's best work. Show it off and be proud of it.

Ask you child to make up a story and tell it to you. Suggest that he or she illustrate and "publish" the story as a gift to grandparents or other family members.

Social Studies

Keep research materials - maps, an atlas, a globe, an almanac, a dictionary, an encyclopedia - in your home and help your child learn to use them.

Include map puzzles when buying toys or gifts for your child. They help a child learn the shapes and locations of states, countries, and continents.

Take your children to the airport, courthouse, museum, and the local newspaper. The more they see, the more they'll learn.

On a day off from school, take your child to work with you. Show them what you do and what your employer does.

If you go on a trip, take along a notebook and pencil, and encourage children to write down things they see and learn.

There are many other ways you can help your child learn more. Hopefully, these ideas will help you think of other activities you can do at home. The most important thing you can do with your children, no matter what activity you're doing, is to talk with them and show you're interested in helping them learn and grow.

School staff and families...the more we work together, the more we'll help our children.

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