Academic success doesn’t start only when a child walks through the kindergarten classroom doors; the foundation for learning can be laid long before that ever happens. Don’t get too caught up worrying about test scores and ACT prep just yet; instead start cultivating a positive attitude around learning and reading, and you’ll have your little one off to a great start.
Wee ones [0-18 months]
Babies may seem very far from the school years, but you can start setting the stage for a great academic experience even now.
When it comes to babies and school success, don’t get too worried. The most important thing is spending time with your baby and talking to him as much as possible.
Read, read, read
Research has shown countless benefits of reading to babies as soon as they are born. According to KidsHealth.org, babies will have learned all the sounds needed to speak by the time they reach their first birthday, and the more you read aloud to them, the better they’ll be able to speak.
But it’s not just about the words. When you read to your baby, you’re also teaching her about emotion and expression, which promotes social and emotional development. Books also offer babies the opportunity to look and point and eventually ask and answer questions, which is an important step in developing critical thinking skills.
Pictures and sounds
Reading to your child helps your baby’s brain comprehend that certain images represent objects, according to KidsHealth.org, and your baby will start to develop preferences and respond to what you’re reading with sounds or reactions.
Repetition is key
Reading “Goodnight Moon” hundreds of times may not sound that appealing to you as a parent, but your baby loves to hear the same stories over and over. It’s another way their little brains make connections between words and images and emotions, so let them reach for their favorite book as many times as they want.
Tots [18 months to 3 years]
Toddlers love to read as well, and at this age, it’s about making the occasion even more special and fun.
If you’ve already been reading to your child since they were born, you’ve laid a great foundation for developing the joy of reading and what the act can bring to your child in terms of language development. Now it’s time to bring the fun.
Embrace the silly
Humor goes a long way with kids this age, so don’t shy away from acting out stories in a theatrical way or picking up a story full of silly rhymes. Don’t hesitate to make funny noises or create silly voices for various characters.
Make sure your child understands that reading can be a shared experience by asking him to turn the pages or by quizzing him about what’s happening in the story. Chances are your child will love answering your questions, and you can gradually make them more complex by asking about emotions or details included in the story.
Venture into the nonfiction category
Now that your toddler is exploring more of the world and trying to figure out how everything works, she will be even more interested in nonfiction books about things such as vehicles, animals, the environment, places, etc. Embrace her curiosity and start exploring the world together through a great book.
Make it special
When your toddler wants to read a book, do your best to devote your entire attention to him and the occasion you are about to share. Turn off phones, televisions, computers, etc., to show him how important reading together is. You might also consider having a special reading location in your home that is filled with comfortable furniture, cozy blankets, and, of course, lots of favorite books.
Preschoolers [3 to 5 years old]
Preschoolers are just dipping their toe in the academia water. There’s a lot you can do at home to ensure as they dive in they stay afloat.
Preschool-bound kids not only are preparing for a more structured environment, they’re also getting ready to engage those brains on an academic level. Getting them ready with plenty of reading, interactions and play will help develop a good base set of skills that will lay the learning foundation.
Singing is a useful (and fun!) tool in helping kids learn the basics, whether it’s colors, the alphabet or numbers. As you belt out those tunes, incorporate visual examples such as crayons or magnetic letters to help improve association. Make it even more fun by using actions and finger play. There are also many opportunities to learn the basics all around us. Get outdoors and see what colors you can spot. Exploring the town with your child is also a great opportunity to talk about the sights and sounds.
Spark your little one’s critical thinking skills with reading. It’s a huge part of learning and personal development so it’s no wonder we’re always told to do this from day one. Check out the library where little ones can explore all types of books and see what piques their interest. As you read, discuss the challenges the character is facing and how they think they will overcome those challenges.
Problem solving is a valuable lifelong skill that you can start building at home, too. Puzzles, memory games and building blocks are perfect for this. Take it large scale and have them help you figure out how to build the best fort.
Toddlers love to help out. Giving them ownership over some household activities helps fuel their confidence and independence. Have them set the table or help you prepare food. Most kids this age love cracking eggs and stirring food. Dusting surfaces and washing windows are also good options. While patience may be required and you may need to do some touch ups, the rewards are well worth it.
Keep them active with singing and dancing, playing tag or riding a bike. The most important thing is to have fun! When we make these experiences fun in a supportive environment kids are more likely to fully engage and absorb those valuable skills.
Big kids [6 to 9 years old]
These are some big years for big kids, as they begin to develop the academic habits that could continue to help them as they get even bigger. Here are a few tips to set them up for success:
Create a homework ‘zone’
If kids know how to do anything, it’s how to create their very own spot they can own and love. Make sure their homework zone is quiet, free of screens and loud distractions. Let them spice it up with all the school supplies they need — scissors, crayons, markers, pencils, paper and a simple, organizational system. If possible, create regular homework zone hours and rules such as, “Homework before play or screens” or “Homework zone is for homework only” so that it remains a functional space that allows for students to focus.
Set expectations nice and high
Don’t let kids sell themselves short. Insist they reach their own individual potential. Not every kid is going to be able to get As in every class, and that’s okay, as long as you and the child’s teacher are in agreement that they are, indeed, topped out at their potential. But if they’re not, don’t feel bad for making them work for a little bit better grade than what comes easily. They’ll develop a work ethic and pride that can take them far.
Talk about school
At this age, kids aren’t usually as “shut down” with parental conversations as they may be in a few years, so take advantage of it and let them know you’re really interested in their school days. Take the time to actually talk about the problems and successes they’re experiencing in school. Show them that no matter how big or small, you’re there to help them navigate the crazy years of growing and learning. Extra chit-chat about school also impresses upon them that it’s important to you and should be important to them.
Tweeners [10 to 12 years old]
Teach study skills
No more messing around with naps and exploratory playtime — it’s big kid time. And with this comes real homework and tests that are more challenging. Teaching your child how to study now can be a great tool for them for many years to come. This can include keeping tabs on when their tests are and making sure they begin studying days prior, not cramming the night before when it can be too much, overwhelming and stressful. Making sure they have good study guides and proper materials can help, as can old tricks like mnemonic devices and word association. (How else would we have learned all 50 states, had it not been for the states song that listed them in alphabetical order?)
Take attendance seriously
We’re not talking about sickness here — if they’re sick, keep those little honeys home. But we all know that some kids have a tendency to want to stay home if they’re just not feeling it, and while we all could appreciate those mental health days, try to keep those few and far between. Sometimes issues at school can cause a child to be reluctant to go, whether it’s problems with classmates, not being prepared for tests or homework or a gamut of other tough things to face. But letting them stay home sends the message that they’re not strong enough to face it and address it. The problem could then become prolonged and their confidence weakened. If they’re not sick, give them your best parental advice with their problem and encourage them to make it through the day.
As a parent, you may not agree with every decision your child’s teacher or local school district makes, but when that happens, remember to express your dissent in a constructive way rather than a purely negative one. Bad-mouthing teachers or aspects of your child’s school gives them the impression that they’re not a part of something good, and with that can quickly come a bad attitude. If there are issues that need to be addressed, put your problem-solver hat on and dig in with a positive attitude that shows your child that it’s okay to respectfully disagree and even better to be a part of the solution.
Teens [13 to 18 years old]
Teenagers are entering some of the most exciting, yet stressful times of their life. High school means social pressures, extracurricular involvement and more challenging academic material. The grades they get in the years from 13 to 18 can impact their chances of getting into a college of their choice. Here is some advice from the National Education Association and the National Parent and Teacher Association on how parents can help guide their teen for greater academic success.
Catching some ZZZs
Two out of three teens are not getting enough sleep, which can lead to depression, weight gain and poor academic performance. Help your child keep a sleep routine. Encourage them to shut off the devices and turn out the lights at the same time every night.
Mornings can be hectic even if you had a good night’s sleep. To lesson the hustle and bustle of school mornings, encourage your teen to plan ahead for the next school day the night before. Lay out clothes, put homework inside backpacks and know what the schedule is for the day.
Help them understand work/life balance
Help teens to understand, homework is their job and should come first. But extracurricular activities are an important part of high school too. Life-enriching memories are made on the school stage, basketball court or football field. However, having too much on their plate, between homework and activities will add stress they don’t need. Most of the time, teachers will work with students to extend deadlines if needed.
Teach resilience and perseverance
Not every kid is a math whiz or talented writer. Your teen might not shine in every class in school. But teach them to do their best when they can and stick to it. The class they dislike or are struggling with won’t last forever. Once they pass the class, they might have more opportunities to take classes they enjoy.
It is vitally important that parents show interest in their child’s education. Learn about the school by going to back-to-school night and visiting the website. Stay in touch with teachers (but don’t hover) and ask your teen to talk about their favorite subjects.