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Learning to Learn

How good is your child at learning?

In addition to April showers, this month also brings about the beginning of the end of the school year. Pretty soon, it will be May - one of the busiest months for school aged kids and their families - and then before you know it, there will be the end of the year parties, yearbooks and summer break.

As you’re talking to your child’s teachers and even planning for next year, you’ll likely learn how they do in Math and English, how many days they have missed school, and how they navigate the social world at school. Here is another question to consider: How good is your child at learning?

So many educators I talk to do an amazing job with this. They think about underlying patterns in their students' learning, strengths and weaknesses outside of the final product - basically they think about the process of learning. How does the child learn? How good are they at learning?

Learning is a process. The stage of not yet knowing something, but working towards understanding, acquiring new knowledge, or developing a skill. It's a process that we can improve.

Have you heard of a growth mindset? A growth mindset means that the individual doesn’t think their abilities are set in stone and can continue to develop overtime with effort, compared to a fixed mindset in which your abilities are set, or fixed. It’s a really important idea, not only for school aged children, but for adolescents and adults too (and for students in all ranges of academic achievement). Here are some questions to consider, and even to ask your child’s teachers if it hasn’t come up already, to help understand your child as a learner:

  • Can they stick with what they are learning? Can they tolerate being in the learning zone (compared to the learned zone)?

  • When do they ask for help? Immediately when something is tricky? Or, do they wait too long?

  • What happens when they are frustrated? How long can they continue? Do they take a break?

Once you’ve identified some areas to work on, how can you help your child?

  • Ask their teacher for suggestions based on their experience with your child - they probably have some great ideas and strategies.

  • Talk to your child directly about the learning process and the learning zone.

  • Label and validate their feelings about learning when they come up in your presence (e.g., homework, or if your child is telling you a story about school).

  • Praise or reflect on the effort you see, on their engagement in the process of learning, instead of the final product or outcome.

  • Model what you’d like to see. If you’re working on your child asking for help only after they’ve tried sufficiently on their own, you might say: (out-loud and around your child, but to yourself) “It’s okay, I’m going to try my very best one more time and if I can’t get it, I will call my sister and ask for her help.” Don’t say to them “did you see what I just did there?” just do it, and trust that they were watching.

Remember, our brains are always changing and growing and these small examples and strategies do make a difference.


Dr. Kate

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