Helping your children with their learning throughout COVID-19 school lockdowns has been an enormous challenge. And as a teacher, I believe it is you the parentswho should be awarded a joint “Australian of the Year” for the way you’ve all adapted.
Once we return to some kind of normality with the resumption of face-to-face schooling, you’ll be left with a far greater understanding of how your children learn. And with that comes the new found confidence to better shape their education than you may have felt in previous years. So there’s no better time to share with you some unfortunate mistakes people make when supporting their children’s learning.
Now, even though it can feel uncomfortable to have your attention drawn to the missteps you may have taken throughout the challenging journey that is parenting, the great news is the following mistakes can be easily corrected with a subtle shift in mindset. And because children are so adaptable, they will respond to your adjustments far quicker than you may expect.
Why the word unfortunate?
Well if you’re reading this, it’s clear that you are the type of well-meaning parent who is highly engaged and interested in your child’s learning. You offer your time and support and have high expectations. These are all essential ingredients for guiding your child toward a successful future.
As a teacher, I feel it’s so unfortunate when parents fall into these learning traps, because they do them unknowingly and with great intentions. It’s not unusual for first-year teachers to go down the same path, until they gain enough experience to realise how powerful some educational techniques are.
As you read through the below, keep in mind the “less is more” philosophy. Finding the right balance between parent and “home educator” is key to ensuring a great educational experience for your children.
Unfortunate Mistake #1 – Correcting your child’s writing
The urge to act as your child’s editor is strong, and many of us experienced this back when we were at school. However, this is not the right way to offer constructive feedback. It may result in your child feeling judged or wrongly perceiving that their writing is poor quality. And beside that, a sea of red ink is just not an effective way for a young person to learn from mistakes.
Quality teachers instead go over a piece of writing looking for patterns and opportunities to further the learning. Verbal feedback then aims to guide students to recognise their own errors (in small doses). It’s also OK to place a few circles around incorrectly spelled words or missed capital letters to direct your child’s eyes to the right spots, as long as these errors are within their ability level to correct.
Unfortunate Mistake #2 – Always answering your child’s questions
It is far more desirable to respond to your curious child’s continual questioning than to ignore or dismiss them altogether. But by the time your child hits school age, always responding with detailed adult descriptions can get them too used to the idea that new knowledge is something to be received not discovered. Not to mention it will surely drive you mad after the thousandth “but why”!
Quality teachers know that new understanding is developed with a combination of explicit instruction (telling them), experiential learning (observing and trying things
out) and social dialogue. Try asking your child if they might know the answer to their own question. You can help them get there by wondering aloud to encourage deep thought, or by helping link it to a prior experience. For example: “Good question…do you have any ideas why there are tiny flowers on this tree? Remember what we saw on the tree earlier in the year?”
Unfortunate Mistake #3 – Emphasising facts and procedures over conceptual understanding
Along with red-marking children’s writing, teachers of past years also relied on filling their students’ minds with facts and procedures (“do this, then that”). So it’s no surprise that many parents dedicate time to helping their children master word lists or teach them “shortcuts” to solving maths problems. Teaching in this way however promotes a reliance on memory and may devalue authentic learning.
Quality teachers focus on supporting students’ capacity to understand and explain their ideas, so that they can develop essential higher-order skills like making connections and applying knowledge to new situations. Automatic recall of important facts and using procedures is important too, but only if the underlying concepts are fully understood.
Unfortunate Mistake #4 – Prioritising milestones over “boring” day-to-day learning
Milestones (like first steps or eating independently) make for wonderful achievements when your baby develops into a toddler, so placing a focus on them as your child enters formal schooling feels like a natural extension. But giving more attention to milestones over less obvious day-to-day learning creates artificial pressure. This is because normal learning growth is actually very unpredictable and inconsistent.
Quality teachers know that some kids will go on extended bursts of development and progress followed by plateaus and even dips where they appear to regress against arbitrary national standards. The milestones that parents are encouraged to judge their child against at reporting time (eg. reading age, maths achievement level) ignore this reality. Instead we can help our children thrive at school by reminding them that it’s all about the journey, and by not forgetting to also celebrate the more mundane successes.
You may be feeling just a tinge of guilt or negativity after reading through these four common mistakes, and that would be completely understandable. But allow me to offer some reassurance and help shift your mindset to the positive! The intention of this article is not point the finger or make anyone feel worse about the loss of control many parents felt during the distance learning period.
It is YOU, not a tutor, who is the best person to provide home learning support to your kids. You’ve spent thousands of hours learning with them and have direct contact with their classroom teachers. And just as us teachers encourage our students to recognise mistakes as learning opportunities, the same must be true for you. A simple mindset shift to engage with your children in a similar manner to a teacher’s approach will result in an enormous educational impact.
So rather than adopt a negative response to the thought that you may have mistakenly corrected writing, answered too many questions, or emphasised facts, procedures and milestones over everyday conceptual understanding, please take this as an opportunity to become an empowered and proactive learner yourself.
Thinking this way will allow you to set a strong example for your own young learners, without the need to stray too far into “teacher mode”. Remember, you don’t need to be an expert! For your benefit, as well as your child’s, less is more!
If you would like to learn more about these 4
Unfortunate Mistakes as well as discover 3 more, we invite you to read the brand new and completely free eBook entitled: “7 Unfortunate Mistakes Parents Make When Supporting Their Child’s Learning”.It includes several real-life stories taken from the recent classroom experiences of an Australia primary school teacher (who you may read more about in the bio below).
Andy Parthenopoulos is a primary school teacher and parent advisor who was trained under the Master’s of Teaching program at the University of Melbourne. Andy is passionate about empowering parents to effectively engage in their children’s learning as well as form meaningful relationships with classroom teachers. In response to the sudden shift to distance learning in 2020, Andy started up EdMentor to advise and coach parents on how they can adopt a teacher’s mindset to best support their kids from home.
You can connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn, and find out more about his parent/teacher mentoring on EdMentor’s website.
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