8 ways to help your child flourish at school (and life)

Montessori Educator & Principal, Gavin McCormack shares 8 essential life skills to teach your child

how to improve school

In the past, parents and carers have relied on teachers and the school system to educate their children. However, with the new research surrounding the importance of essential skills such as empathy, resilience and time management, parents and carers should not underestimate the influence they can have over their child’s educational performance.

Whilst teachers go above and beyond the call of duty to cultivate well-rounded individuals, we must not forget that children, on average, spend around 532 hours per month at home, compared to 140 hours in school. While some may argue that most of that is spent sleeping, that sleep in itself has a crucial impact on children reaching their full potential.

The following actions, which can be carried out very easily in any household, will have profound effects on the way your children navigate their way through the complex maze we call school, whilst providing them with some of the essential skills that will allow them to flourish.

#1 Allow your child to pack and carry their bag to school.

By allowing your child to pack and carry their own bag to school, you are teaching them about responsibility, independence and self-regulation. They will learn to spend each day prioritizing what they do and don’t need to bring with them. If they forget to pack their homework, their hat or their project on dinosaurs, be mindful before rushing to their aid and delivering the items to them at school. From mistakes such as these, they will develop great curves of learning. They will learn to take time to think about what they need each day at school. They will learn that if the bag is too heavy for them one day, the next day they will need to repack to make it lighter. Don’t bend to their whim and carry their bag for them, either. Show them that you trust them and give them the responsibility to look after their own bag by carrying it themselves.

#2 Make bed time and wake up time a nice calming process.

If you’re looking for ways to ensure that children are receiving adequate sleep, there’s no surer way to this than creating a calming process around going to bed and getting up in the morning. Children find it easier to fall asleep when there’s a calm routine to prepare them for bed; having a bath, brushing their teeth, reading a story, and getting to bed at the same time each night. With these routines in place, children are more likely able to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed.

#3 Model the behaviour you want from your child.

There is a famous quote by the author James Baldwin; “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” There is so much truth to this. You may ask your child to behave a certain way, but unless they see this behavior reflected in you, they’re unlikely to feel compelled to listen. Even when children are very young and it might seem as if they are too young to understand what’s going on around them, they are always watching what you do and how you act, and they absorb this information like a sponge. They learn how to deal with stress by watching how you handle your stress. They learn how to treat other people by watching how you treat others. If you want them to be kind, be kind. If you want them to speak quietly, speak quietly. So even if you think they aren’t paying attention to you, be a positive role model for your children and model the behaviors you’d like to see in them.

#4 Talk about feelings and what they mean.

Emotional intelligence for children under ten years old is one of the hardest topics for teachers and parents to embrace. Children can be irrational at the best of times, and as they grow older, their hormones change and this can cause eruptions of emotions within them that they themselves don’t even understand. This is the perfect opportunity for discussions around feelings and why we have them. Everyone speaks of happiness as the ultimate goal, but humans were designed to endure all emotions; happiness, sadness, guilt, anger. We have all these emotions within us, and more, and in a normal, healthy human, all are acceptable within reason. In order for your child to regulate these emotions, healthy discussion and an open channel of communication between parents and child are crucial.

#5 Always get to school on time.

Acceptance is a huge part of every primary school classroom. The moment a child walks into the classroom, they are silently asking themselves; Who will I sit with? Who will I play with? Can I complete the task set by the teacher? All of these wheels are set in motion in the first ten minutes of every single day. To arrive late, the whole trajectory of the day is pulled out of whack. Your child is automatically out of the loop and therefore feels isolated from the moment they walk in the door. All the seats are taken, all the plans are made, and this can affect not only the potential for your child to learn on any given day, but repeat offenders can seriously damage a child’s motivation towards learning and school in general. So remember, it’s crucial; wake up early, take your time getting to school, and arrive on time!

#6 Allow your child to choose their own clothing. If they want to wear their clothes backwards, allow it.

Demonstrating individuality through clothing is your child’s first exploration of choice. Allowing them to choose their own clothing enables them to express themselves in a very simple format. Giving children the opportunity to be themselves, to express themselves and feel unique, is important as children mature. The sooner we can allow our children to feel these sensations, the better, but we can still impose some limitations. Prepared choices by parents allow children to feel the sensation of being independent without making what ultimately might be a bad decision. For example, on a winter’s day, three sets of warm clothing may be laid out to choose from, giving the child a sense of choice that has ultimately been predetermined by the adult.

#7 Spend one night per week walking and talking. Look at the moon and discuss big picture ideas.

Going out for a walk at night before bed is not only pleasurable for the child but is also a time to reflect for the adult. During these moments, adults can ask key questions about their child’s day and the feelings they may have encountered. What was their favorite thing the learned about? Did they enjoy playing with their friends? This time can also be taken to talk about their place in the world. Take a moment to stop and stare at the night sky and talk about subjects such as the stars, the moon and the universe. Paint a picture for your child that’s bigger than the child’s daily routine.

#8 Explain everything and don’t dumb it down.

Adults sometimes fall into the bad habit of underestimating children. One thing to remember is that in the early stages of child development, children’s brains are like sponges. From birth to age six, this is called the ‘sensitive period’. The period of time when children absorb information very easily. During this time, it is vital that we don’t underestimate the power of vocabulary. Don’t be afraid to bombard your young children with a high level of vocabulary; even if you think they won’t understand you. When they eventually begin to speak, write and communicate, that vocabulary will come pouring out. Avoid short, simple statements like ‘don’t do that’, ‘stop’, or ‘eat this’. Instead, use complete sentences that explain the full reasoning behind your requests, such as ‘Please don’t rock on your chair because you might accidentally fall backwards and damage your cranium.’ Your child may not understand at first, but the new information you are providing them will soak through into their sponge-like brain.

These are simply eight of many actions that parents and carers can take, within the home, to both enhance their child’s potential at school and build a solid relationship with their child. Build these into your weekly routine and you’ll see your children grow into independent, empathetic citizens of the world.