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:
How to politely and confidently ask their teacher helpful questions
Strategies to remember to take essential possessions to and from school
What to do while they are waiting for the teacher/other students to finish something
What to do when a student is unfair or mean to them in the classroom
How to work in a group and compromise when differences of opinion come up
How to express their opinion kindly
How to acknowledge their own skills without making another person feel bad
Strategies to cope when they feel bored or stuck
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.
Our online resource Calm Kid Central has helpful videos and activity sheets for children on following instructions and issues around fairness. There is also a video and tip sheet for parents/carers on coaching kids to be kind to friends and siblings. To find out more, click below.