The 9 essential school skills your child is not learning at school

child psychologist 

If you've spent any time in or near a classroom lately, you'll have seen the amazing job teachers are doing trying to help students learn, while catering for a huge range of abilities, learning needs, emotional problems and physical skills.   Thirty young people, all with their own needs and a huge checklist of curriculum to cover - I've heard teachers describe it as combination of war zone/emergency room/therapy centre!  

Classrooms are incredibly busy places. 

This means our own children will not receive teaching in all the school and learning skills they need in those classrooms.  Whether we like it or not, even the most awesome teachers simply don't have time to "do it all", for every student.

As parents, we need to help.

This does not mean we need to teach our children how to do long division or the difference between a pronoun and an adjective.  Although some days this might be required. (and then we will all thank our lucky stars we live in an era with Mrs Google).

But more importantly, parents can and should be helping their kids and teens a range of other essential school and classroom skills.   We - not just their teachers - need to take the lead in helping our young people learn skills related to study habits, concentration, mistake making, communication and working with others.

Here are nine critical school skills we should be teaching young people:

  1. How to politely and confidently ask their teacher helpful questions

  2. Strategies to remember to take essential possessions to and from school

  3. What to do while they are waiting for the teacher/other students to finish something

  4. What to do when a student is unfair or mean to them in the classroom

  5. How to work in a group and compromise when differences of opinion come up

  6. How to express their opinion kindly

  7. How to acknowledge their own skills without making another person feel bad

  8. Strategies to cope when they feel bored or stuck

  9. Strategies to increase their skills at concentrating

This takes time of course and changes don't happen overnight.  

But they are worth working on.  

Before you think:  great, just another thing to do.  Let me provide the good news.  This doesnt need mean long hours of work for parents.  Teaching these skills can happen naturally during the day and in conversations with students.  We can do it as part of other activities we are doing already.

And doing it will ultimately save us - and our young people - time and hassle down the track.

Here are four ideas you can use to help teach your child and teen these school and study skills.

1. Find out what your student needs help with.

If your child is young enough (or the school allows it) - go in to the classroom or be around the school at times if at all possible.  Watching your child in a school setting and how they differ/are the same as other kids will give you immediate information about what skills they need help with.  

If you work full time (or it's not appropriate for you to go to) the classroom, you will need to get data elsewhere.  Meet with a teacher after school hours and ask them specific questions about how your student is doing in a range of learning skill area like those above.   Email them some questions.

For example, you might ask questions like:

Do you think my student generally asks questions when they need to?
Do they express their opinions enough?  Do they do it in a kind way or a little harshly?
Are they able to wait or take turns at about the same level as the other students?
What are their organisational skills like compared to the other studnets in the class?

Keep in mind that many teachers don't like to talk negatively about students, so be prepared to pick up on just a hint of an area of challenge for your young person.

2. Work on specific skills - one or two at a time

When you have information about an area to work on, make sure you define it very specifically.  If concentration is a problem, make this more specific.  What do they do when they are "not concentrating"?  In what context? 

Now you have a target skill:  "Helping her keep her eyes on the paper during maths instead of getting up and going to talk to other students".

If organisation is a problem, make this more specific.  What exactly do they do which is disorganised, and when? 

Now you have a target skill:  "Helping him remember to write all due dates in his diary and to look at his diary every evening"

3.  Talk with your child/teen about how you can help them get better at that skill

Helping students with study and school skills needs to be a collaborative effort - not a lecture. 

Ask the student what is happening for them in these situations and what is going wrong.  Ask what you can do to support them to get better at the skill.  Ask them if they know why it matters (little tip:  they probably won't care nearly as much about you as this.  That's okay.  Persist)

4.  Use reminders, rehearsal, coaching, systems and practice

Younger children benefit from actual rehearsal at home of the skill.  Older children and teens benefit from systems, visual reminders and opportunities to practice the skill in a range of areas. This is time consuming.  Stay calm and think about the long term.  Remember, it's a marathon not a sprint.

I go into schools across Australia each year to teach teenagers study skills.  From my work in schools it seems that now more than ever, study skills matter.  Students can look up information/facts in the blink of an eye.  But learning how to study effectively is something they need us - not just their teachers - to help them with.  When we do, the rewards for them are lifelong.

If you would like to work with us in helping your child or teen do better at school, please click here on counselling.  For information about our school seminars, click here.

Developing Minds News:  

RARE PUBLIC SEMINAR:  Kirrilie is running a "Calm and Confident Kids" seminar for parents of primary school aged children at Hawthorndene Primary School at 7pm on the 17th of June.  All are welcome.  The seminar will cover:

  • Helping children manage worry and stress
  • How to help children cope with tough times
  • Strategies for helping children act in confident ways
  • What to say and not say to children when they are stressed, angry and worried.

Cost is $10 per person. Any enquiries, contact Maria on 0417 889 456    

IN SCHOOLS:  We are busy running seminars for parents and Year 11/12 students in schools in SA and Victoria about revision technique, how to succeed in exams and how to cope with stress.

AT THE CLINICS:  We are currently taking new client appointments for August at both Aberfoyle Park and Wayville.  For information, please call 8357 1711.

You can also email me directly with any questions, comments, feedback or concerns.  I answer all my emails personally: