“You don’t have to make it perfect, but you can make it great.” – Alessio, my 5-year old son, advising his frustrated little sister on why her squiggly lines are okay in her first attempts at writing the alphabet
It’s back-to-school time again. In families across America the homework showdowns have already begun. Parents struggle with homework almost as much as kids do. After a full day at school, it’s hard to get kids to concentrate, let alone sit still. Nonetheless, homework is a fact of life from kindergarten onward.
Most parents have had their share of whiners, fibbers, weepers, forgetters, procrastinators and tantrum throwers—spending more time on the drama around homework than the homework itself. Nagging backfires. Bribery only ups the ante until your cookie jar is bare, and your child won’t budge a finger without some tough negotiations. How do we teach our children the love of learning, instead of the drudge of learning?
A recent study on the successful habits of nearly 50,000 families is shedding new light on best practices we can all apply in our own lives. The Learning Habit Study is the largest study of its kind on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to academic success.
Five Best Practices for School Success
- Try the 10 Minute Rule. Grade point averages do not go up the longer a child spends on homework. The study found the most effective time span for homework is no more than 10 minutes per grade on weekdays. If you have a 1st grader, 10 minutes daily is enough. If you have a 7th grader, 70 minutes. Set a timer and when the time is up, books are closed. If your child hasn’t finished, that’s fine. He’ll learn to put more effort in the following day. Children who are held accountable learn to make better decisions, and also develop courage and confidence.
You and your child can choose the time and place. It doesn’t have to be the same place every day. Remove distractions such as tablets, toys, phones. If your child has no homework or finishes early, she can use the time for reading or quiet work. This way, she will not be tempted to rush. The 10 Minute Rule builds a daily habit of effective time management and effort. Homework is no longer an eternal chore or debate, but a specific time to train the mind on the task at hand.
- Empowered parenting works best. Effort-based praise is more effective than nagging or punishment (which proved to be the least effective means of motivating children in the study). Disciplinary measures around school success backfire, creating anxiety in children instead of confidence.
Talk often with your children. Let them know you love them, believe in them and their ability to figure it out. Then stand back and let them do it. Praise is the best reward, but when your child accomplishes an extra special effort, it doesn’t hurt to show your appreciation with a movie night out or favorite dinner.
- Develop true grit. “Grit, the ability to persevere regardless of obstacles, is the character trait most closely correlated to academic success,” according to Dr. Melissa Neman of Brandeis University and lead statistician for the study. But 40% of parents say their kids give up when faced with a challenge. One of the best ways to develop grit is consistency in household chores. One of the worst? Too much screen time.
- Limit screen time. After 45 minutes of media use, children’s grades, social skills, emotional balance and sleep were negatively affected. After 2 hours, GPAs dropped by half a point. After 4 hours of screen time, GPAs dropped over a full point, plus kids took 20 times longer to go to sleep than children with screen limits.
- Spend family time together. Family time plays an important part in good emotional balance and better grades. Regular family dinners, playing board games, and attending religious services together all had an impact on children’s success.
Learning can and should be fun. Get excited when your children learn new things. Talk about projects over dinner. Tell your daughter what you love about her ideas, or how excited you are about what your son is learning. Around the table, each family member can talk about what they learned that day. Fostering a life-long love of learning is indeed a family affair.