Practice makes perfect to help kids at school - The Centre for Independent Studies
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Practice makes perfect to help kids at school

The summer school holidays are a great opportunity to set children up for academic success this year. That means there’s some homework for parents, too. To start, you must know the areas where your child could be doing better. Read last year’s report cards, get specific feedback from teachers, see how they went in standardised tests.

Each year, students in Year 3, 5, 7, and 9 receive results in NAPLAN that shows you how your children are performing in core literacy and numeracy tasks. Objective markers are an important check against national expectations for students in the same grade.

If your kids have fallen behind expected levels, don’t panic — but understand that academic catch-up rarely happens without committing to take action. NAPLAN data shows only one in five Year 3 students that fall behind the national minimum numeracy standard goes on to exceed the minimum benchmark by Year 5.

In other words, once students fall behind, many will stay well behind. The early years of schooling are so important for this very reason. So, even for those on track, here are three top tips for boosting the progress of your children with reading, reading, and maths.

First, be sure your child is actually learning to read, not just looking like they’re learning to read. It’s sometimes mistakenly assumed that because children know and use lots of words, this means they’re becoming better readers. However, it can simply reflect that they’ve learnt to memorise words they see frequently or are able to guess words based on context or other cues.

This is not the same as actually reading — and can mask difficulties in making progress. For this reason, don’t just rely on building up vocabulary. Kids must also be able to decode all kinds of words, not just those they already know (or can guess). With good decoding ability, children quickly become accurate and fluent readers.

Choosing the right books to read goes a long way. Rather than books that seem the most interesting or have the best pictures, choose ‘decodable’ books that repeatedly use letters and sounds that kids need to be familiar with.  These books help develop the right skills and build reading confidence.

Second, don’t leave learning maths to school alone. Success with maths comes from picking up some key skills early, including at home. You may not be ‘maths person’, but you can help your child be confident and capable with maths. Research shows that children making an early mental leap between number words, number order, and number values is the secret sauce for their later success in maths. The key is not just being able to count to five, but to be able to collect five items when asked too. Kids that can do this not only start school ahead, but also gain related maths skills more quickly too.

Help kids practice giving and getting items of a quantity — say, apples at the supermarket. Once they’re capable of doing this, start some basic adding and subtracting of items to bridge the link between the order of numbers and the value of numbers.

And, lastly, children must practice writing, not just speaking. A recent Australian study found most Year 9 students have the grammatical skills expected of a Year 3 student. And at Year 9, one in five boys are not at the national minimum standard — meaning they’re struggling to form sentences, express ideas, and use words correctly. It’s often assumed that children who speak comfortably are also better writers. But this isn’t always the case — largely because we often don’t use the same conventions in written and spoken language, and often don’t speak in whole sentences.

It’s easy during holidays to avoid pen and paper writing. As adults, we can get away with this as we’re already proficient writers, but children still need to practice writing. And, yes, writing by hand is far more beneficial than practicing using keyboards on computers or mobile devices.

Importantly, being able to write is not the same as being a good writer. Once children have the basic foundations of writing, there’s not always enough support to helping them becoming more comfortable and capable writers. Keep working at it!

The start of a new school year always comes with some trepidation and some excitement at the possibilities ahead. But with these tips you can help give your kids their best shot at school success.

Glenn Fahey is program director in education policy at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio