The benefits of early training. From infancy onward, anything you do consistently will enhance your child’s study skills. Helping a child make transitions, such as getting up in the morning, going to bed at regular times, learning how to brush his or her teeth, taking a bath, doing chores, and so on, all help to build good study skills. Doing a set activity at a certain time each day sets the basis for good study habits.
Here are some basic skills that have to be learned:
- Previewing. Before starting any activity, take a few minutes to overview what has to be accomplished. If it’s math, see what problems have to be solved. What is the paper supposed to look like when it is done? What kind of problems are involved? What materials do you need to do the job? How long will it take to complete? Whether doing the dishes, cleaning a room, mowing the lawn, or fixing a bicycle, if you see the end before you begin, it can keep you on track.
- Getting started is often the hardest part of studying. Some people like to start at the beginning and progress in a logical order, taking things in sequence. You can start with the hardest, the easiest, the shortest, the longest, the most interesting, the least interesting, the middle, or the end. It probably doesn’t make much difference as long as you find out what works best for your child. Most children don’t know they have that many options. You may have to experiment for the child to become convinced of what works best. “Best” is defined by a combination of speed and accuracy. If either one is sacrificed too much, studying won’t be effective.
- Sustaining concentration and attention. This is a discipline that usually comes with practice. For children younger than seven, fifteen to twenty minutes may be the longest they can hold their attention on a particular task. For older children thirty to ninety minutes or more, depending on their age, is the usual attention span. An undisciplined or highly distractable older child may only be able to handle twenty-minute study intervals, with a five-minute distraction. By taking short breaks, some children can attend to a task for longer periods. For some kids, having an adult supervisor or a peer study with them helps them concentrate and keep their attention focused. For others, it provides a distraction. You will have to see what works best for your child.
- Providing the right environment is crucial for many kids. A well-lit, quiet room, free of distractions, with fresh air is highly beneficial for most kids. Some children, especially some teenagers, like to have background music when they study because it helps them concentrate and keeps their energy up. For some, the music acts as “white noise,” which they actively use to block out, thereby forcing themselves to concentrate. You might try a study period with and without music to determine if music helps or hinders your child’s study habit.
You should consider your child’s internal environment. On the physical level, the child shouldn’t be too tired, too hungry, or too full. On the emotional level, the child should not be concerned with personal, family, or social issues while he or she is studying. If you think these issues are interfering, listen to your child’s concerns before he or she begins to study. This may take an hour or more. (For more information on communicating with children, see, “How do you know how to get a child to discuss feelings?”)
- Reviewing is possibly the final basic step in developing good study skills. For the child who chooses speed over accuracy, reviewing can be excruciatingly painful. When children are done studying, they feel they are done. Reviewing helps pick up any errors that might have occurred, and also helps commit information to memory. After all, this is where we want the information.
Recommendations: It takes time to learn study skills; be aware of your frustration over your child’s slow development of these skills.