“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Maria Robinson, From Birth to One
As the school year begins, what are the most powerful things you can do to help your child prepare? If the last school year was less-than-successful for your student, you both may be feeling some trepidation about starting back to school. So how do you make a new start – one that will optimize your child’s chances of having a successful school experience?
In his book How We Learn neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene encourages parents to understand their power as change agents:
“[Parents] are the primary actors in a child’s development, whose actions precede and prolong school. Home is where children have a chance to expand, through work and games, the knowledge that they acquired in class. Family is open seven days a week.…” (p. 244)
Dehaene offers a brain-based blueprint for how parents can help their child make this school year – and every school year – successful and productive. He identifies “four pillars of learning because each of them plays an essential role in the stability of our mental constructions: if even one is missing or weak the whole structure quakes and quivers.” (p. 145)
Below we have listed Dehaene’s four pillars of learning and some ideas for how to implement them to launch (and continue) a successful school year.
Use Calendars – Keep a calendar and teach your student to keep one, too. Even the youngest students need to begin to pay attention to important deadlines, such as when assignments are due. Digital tools, like Google Calendar, make calendar sharing easy.
Create a Study Space – Set up a study space for your student in a quiet location, at a desk or table away from media, with comfortable seating, ample light, and a surface for writing. Younger students benefit from having a study space in a location near the center of the home, where it is easy for an adult to engage and supervise.
Control Media – Consider using the American Academy of Pediatrics Family Media Plan.
|2. Active Engagement
Personalize – Be sure that your student’s curriculum is properly adjusted to their current level. School work that is too easy or too difficult undermines engagement. Dehaene says, “…what matters most is to restore their desire to learn by offering them stimulating problems carefully tailored to their current level.” (p. 195)
Connect – For humans, conversation is pivotal for engagement. Talk with your student about what they are learning at school. Dehaene says, “Maximally engaging a [child]… means constantly feeding them with questions and remarks that stimulate their imagination and make them want to go deeper.” (p. 197)
Reward Curiosity – Encourage your student to ask questions. Even beginning students can learn to search topics online. For comprehensive guidelines for use of online media see Common Sense Media.
|3. Error Feedback
|Build a Growth Mindset – Encourage a growth mindset, which is the belief that skills and abilities can be improved with effort and practice. Discourage a fixed mindset, the belief that skills and abilities are pre-determined and unchangeable. See: Normalize Dyslexia and Build a Growth Mindset.
|Prioritize Sleep – As Dehaene explains, memories are consolidated during sleep and that helps shift from “slow, conscious and effortful processing to fast, unconscious and automatic expertise.” (p.222) For guidelines about healthy sleep at different ages see HealthyChildren.org.
Dehaene’s recommendations are straightforward and easy to implement. All children, but perhaps especially those with dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities, will benefit as these simple tools are introduced, practiced, and repeated. They offer the student a greater sense of control over their work and their environment, which can lead to a more fulfilling school experience.
If you have concerns about your child’s reading or writing, please contact us to find out more about understanding and diagnosing dyslexia, or browse our website to learn more about Lexercise online therapy.
Sandie is a speech-language pathologist with more than 30 years of experience in the private practice sector. She is Visiting Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences & Disorders at University of North Carolina Greensboro, and founder/owner of the Language & Learning Clinic, PLLC, a private practice in Elkin, NC, and Greensboro, NC, specializing in communication disorders, including disorders of reading and written language.