“It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer”
There is significant pressure on children in Singapore to do well in school. From Primary 4 onwards children feel that pressure mounting and parents are faced with the new challenge of keeping their child motivated under these stressful circumstances. Research has shown us time and again that children who are motivated do better in school. This is not because they feel that they HAVE TO be the best but because they are TRYING TO do their best.
The Parent Institute identifies characteristics of children who are motivated as being more likely to:
- Choose tasks that are challenging
- Begin tasks without having to be prodded
- Show serious effort and concentration
- Have a positive attitude toward learning and schoolwork
- Use coping strategies to get through the rough times
- Stick with tasks until successful completion
While children who are not motivated are likely to:
- Choose work that is inappropriately easy
- Need lots of prodding to get started
- Put in minimal effort
- Show a negative or apathetic attitude about learning and schoolwork.
- Give up quickly when the going gets rough
- Leave many tasks unfinished.
It is easy to see why children who display more motivated characteristics will be more successful in both school and life. It is therefore important that instead of focusing on keeping your child’s grades up you must put your efforts into keeping them interested in learning and motivated to do their very best.
At Chiltern House Preschool, children are encouraged to use their natural curiosity in their learning in order to stay motivated in learning.
The first way to ensure you can do this is by understanding their learning style. This means you can be more effective in communicating with your child and can more easily have realistic expectations. Dr. Caron B. Goode has identified 4 main styles, their traits and ways to approach such a style.
|Cognitive||Analytical, orderly, organized, logical persistent, can be stubborn||Set clear goals and ways in which to achieve them. Set deadlines with a reasonable amount of time to do a good and complete job.|
|Behavourial||Independent, competitive, results orientated, problem-solver, can be impatient and want to do things their own way.||Just be clear what is expected and have an agreed timeline. Leave them room to work in their way without too much control.|
|Affective||Passionate, creative, sociable, intuitive, can be undisciplined and find time management very hard.||Break large goals down into small achievable goals. Check in regularly to ensure they are able to stay on track. Give lots of breaks and praise.|
|Interpersonal||Dependable, calm, cooperative, practical, patient, can be introverted and wants to please you and teachers.||Be very thorough in your explanation of expectations, work closely with her to ensure she understands and agrees she can do it.|
We are models for our children. This is true even for tweens and teens. There are a few ways in which we can show our child how important we think success in school is and that we are there as a support for them.
- Make time to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher. Nowadays with email, this is much easier for both busy teachers and working parents. Share information about your child and what your idea of success is.
- Support them in their assignments and homework. This doesn’t mean doing it for them but do make sure they have a suitable space to work, away from distractions. Keep an eye on deadlines and speak to them about their progress, find out what exactly they need to complete the assignment. Limit time spent on video games and watching TV if that sucks up too much time to get much else done.
- Make time to go to parent evenings and special events at the school. If you can volunteer as a parent helper this can be an enormous motivator for a child.
- Be positive about school and school work. Even if you don’t see the point of a certain assignment or unit of learning, keep that to yourself or share your concern with the teacher or the school. Share what you enjoyed about school and how you benefitted from what you learnt at school. Say how much fun you think a certain field trip will be or how exciting a new subject may be.
Children who understand that learning is not restricted to the hours in the classroom are more motivated. By understanding your child’s learning style and interests you can help them extend their learning by expanding their points of view and understanding that there is the opportunity for learning in so much. In Singapore, we are so lucky to live in a vibrant city with so much on offer. Museums, theatre, different cultures and experiences all can make what they learn in school relevant. Once you are able to make your child see how what they do in school can be applied and be of benefit to them they will naturally feel more inclined to continue and keep learning.
Strategies to keep your child interested in learning:
- Be enthusiastic and involved
Show an interest in your child’s school day. Ask questions about their subjects, friends, and activities. Get excited about what they are doing, share stories about your school days and what were the highlights for you. If your child has a problem or concern about a teacher or subject, find out more and help them come up with solutions. Show them that obstacles that stand in the way of enjoying school can be overcome with perseverance and support.
- Get involved in activities
Sometimes children will lose motivation because they haven’t yet found an area of learning they are passionate about. Look for extracurricular activities that excite your child. Sometimes finding that activity, be it soccer, music, chess or ballet, may be all it takes to get your child bouncing out of bed and ready for the day!
- Celebrate success and effort
Everyone needs to be motivated! Keep showing your child that you are proud of his or her achievements. Remember that this is NOT about results. The school system focuses on results so it is important that you focus on effort.
- Share the benefits of education
If your child is swamped with algebra, spelling tests and chemistry you may wonder what on earth this is all for and how does it relate to real life? Keep explaining to your child the benefits to a good education. Talk about how it will affect their future. Ask your child what they want to be when they grow up and discuss the educational path to get there. I personally have been trying to explain to my 9-year-old son that the likelihood of him being able to focus only on soccer and still be able to drive a Ferrari when he gets his license is microscopically small! I need to keep working on that one.
- Set realistic goals for your child
Very few people are motivated by overwhelming pressure. If your child feels your expectations are not possible to achieve, like a certain grade or standard, then he may not even want to try at all, especially if he has failed to meet expectations in the past. What is important is that your child keeps trying his hardest and keeps trying to improve his personal best.
- Extend your child’s interests
If you are aware that your child has a specific area of interest then try to find ways to expand that outside of the classroom. Museums, theatre, air shows and many other exhibitions can all be ways to expand your child’s interest. Keep in mind that schools are only responsible for a narrow and limited number of interests, it caters to the masses. You can expand and extend your child’s interest in learning and curiosity by offering him many more experiences that appeal to him.
- My tween’s teacher complains that she isn’t handing in her homework and her usual good grades plunged after she made the school’s tennis team. What should I do?
It sounds as if the extra time tennis is taking has affected her ability to manage all her commitments. Being able to balance both the requirements of the classroom work alongside the newly added responsibility of training for the school’s tennis team has been challenging. I would speak to your daughter and try to come up with ways she can better manage her time. Time management is something many professionals struggle with but is a skill that can be learnt and this looks like the perfect time to explore strategies to be better able to organize her time.
- My son complains that he’s bored by his lessons and doesn’t see any point in school, not when he can just take over daddy’s business even if he doesn’t have a degree.The last thing you want is a child who grows up with a sense of entitlement, nothing will lose friends faster! I would make it very clear that Daddy isn’t going to let anyone take over his business that hasn’t been well educated. Daddy may let him own the business but he may not be able to work there if he isn’t the best person for the job. Explain to him the types of jobs available if he doesn’t study and how running a business, even his Daddy’s, is not one of them.
- My child does not seem to be interested in studying. Her grades are really not good enough. Would it work if I punish her if she does not improve?Generally, punishment does not work as a motivator. A small minority of children will respond positively, but this will not be long-lasting. A more successful motivator would be rewards; these rewards should initially be based on effort, not results. If your child is putting a great deal of effort and still not achieving the results you would like to see you will have to rethink your expectations or other ways in which to support your child. Tuition or educational support from a learning specialist may make all the difference. Also look at what you mean by her grades are ‘really not good enough’. Maybe she will not be getting the high grades throughout her school years you would like. Her talents may lie away from academic subjects. Your job then is to find what her talents are and support her development there as well as in school.
- My son seems to think school is all about recess and seeing his friends. How can I make him understand the benefit of studying hard too?If your son is enjoying school and looks forward to going every day then that is great. Obviously the classes are not getting in the way of his enjoyment so he must be feeling confident with the subjects. If you feel he is not paying enough attention to his studies speak to his teacher. It may be that all he talks about are his friends and games at recess as these are the areas he enjoys most in his day. If he is managing his school work well then that is fine. I know that when I think back to my school days it is the friends, social groups and games we played that stand out. As he gets older work will be a more important part of his day but for now be happy he enjoys school.