How to help your child learn better

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When it comes to learning, parents know best.  Or do we?  Many of us still believe in the techniques of long and focused periods of learning and drilling, however does this translate to truly embedded learning or only suffice to ace an exam, after which the child will quickly forget all that he or she has learnt?  Recent studies of brain behaviour and development have shed more light on how to improve long-term learning.  Here are 5 ways to help your child’s learning more effective:

1.  Short Bursts 

For a start, avoid long periods of studying.  We know the duration of effective concentration for the brain lasts between 25 to 45 mins, after which the ability to absorb more information decreases.  Set a break time of just 5 to 15 mins after each study period for your child.

2.  Vary the Environment

A part of learning is about building contextual associations.  The brain is inherently creative and craves variety.  Helping your child find new environments to study and learn will assist in creating new associations in his or her brain.

For example, memorising words or formulas in the comforts of his room and later revising it in a quiet hustle of a library study room will help build 2 different context associations to the words or formulas, making it easier to recall them when needed later.  This form of learning is also related to the next tip – distributed learning.

3.  Spread out the Learning

If you have a particularly ambitious child, this learning will boost his or her learning ability to greater heights.  While short bursts of learning works to ensure the effectiveness of the brain remains high, distributed learning helps to reinforce what was learnt to ensure that the brain retains it in the long run.

After your child learns a new topic, it should be reviewed and repeated a few days later.  Some studies have show that this is effective for information retention.  This can be done in combination with tip number 2 above to make it even more effective.

4. Learn by Teaching

A highly popular method of successful people, learning by teaching is simply getting your child to play “teacher” based on what they have just learnt.

Get them to “teach” the topic back to you by pretending you are new to the topic.  By getting your child to prepare to be the teacher, he or she will have to learn to state the problem, explain it and solve it, thereby reinforcing what they have learnt.

5.  Sleep

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, sleep.  Besides the well understood purpose of sleep to ensure a healthy and alert mind, sleep also affects specific types of learning.

According to Benedict Carey, author of  “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens” the first half of the sleep cycle helps with retaining facts and the second half is important for maths skills.

So if your child is studying for a memory-intensive test like history , get him or her to bed early to get the most retention from sleep, and then review in the morning. If he or she is taking maths or skill-based test, it is better to review before going to bed and then sleep in to let the brain process the information.

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