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Tips for helping your child learn more

Tips for helping your child learn more

Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 09:57

I have been learning a new skill recently, and it has got me thinking about the complex interplay of factors which influence our ability to learn.

Harnessing a pony from head to tail to get it ready to pull a 450 kg  vehicle which will enable a disabled person to take part in a carriage driving lesson is very rewarding. However, for a novice like me, this mammoth task has all the complexity of completing a cat's cradle with the added complication of having a large beast breathing down your neck while you are doing it.

I usually pick things up quite quickly, but not this particular skill. I am painfully slow at it. This experience has made me look anew at the learners I work with in schools. So recently I have been asking myself, what are the hidden barriers to my learning?

1. Listening

We are a very sociable bunch, and there is usually an interesting horsey conversation going on nearby that I need to tune out of.

2. Praise

Everyone likes praise, but we shouldn't need it in order to make progress. I need to work on my intrinsic motivation.

3. Practice

I only go to the group once per week so I need to find a way of practising this complex skill without a pony having to be present. A quick internet search reveals that YouTube and Wikihow have step by step guides on how to do just about anything.

4. Anxiety

There are high stakes involved in harnessing a pony to pull a carriage with three people aboard. One mistake and there could be a terrible accident. However, my efforts are always closely supervised, and the equipment is checked and rechecked. I need to deal with my needless anxiety and focus on the task in hand.


So, does your child, like me, find it hard to tune out of background chatter? Do they crave praise or feel anxious? Perhaps they lack opportunities for practising a new skill?  If so, there are a number of things you can do to help them overcome these barriers.

  • TEACH  - teach your child the skill of tuning out by finding a craft activity or board game which they will really enjoy. Build their confidence and skill level, so that they are soon engrossed in it and oblivious to what is going on around them.
  • PRAISE - Experts now agree that we should praise effort not ability to encourage a growth mindset. Saying "well done, you worked really hard at that" reassures the child that they can perform at a similar level again. Telling them that they are wonderful artists or mathematicians, however, can create pressure. Try to avoid making your child anxious by letting the best become the enemy of the good. 
  • SUPPORT - You need to think creatively about supporting your child with their schoolwork at home. Spelling a problem? Play games with them like "spot words with double consonants on billboards" while you are out  and about. Number bonds eluding them? Next time you are on the motorway, help them to calculate how many miles it is to the next turnoff. Take the "school" out of schoolwork by keeping it real.

When we talk about barriers to learning, we tend to focus in on the usual suspects, like dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD. However there are many factors which can affect our ability to pick up a new skill, be it harnessing a pony or learning to read. The trick is to know your child really well. Observe them at play to pick up any little quirks or foibles which might be getting in the way of their progress. Share your observations with your child's teacher to allow the school to build up a complete picture of your child as a learner.

And if you want to get an insight into how frustrating and challenging learning a new skill can be for a complete beginner, try harnessing a pony!

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