Small children can often be persuaded into learning by accident; writing shopping lists, counting the pennies and scrapbooking everything. But how do you encourage older kids to carry on loving learning once they reach those tricky teenage years?
With almost 20 years’ experience teaching teenagers, Cindy Penney, currently Head of Student Services and SENCO at the prestigious Dubai College, gives us some usable advice for keeping teens on track.
Our brains aren’t fully developed until we reach 25 years of age.
While their synapses are reforming and hormones surging, secondary age students have exams to look forward to as well as big choices about career paths, college choices and UCAS forms. Throw into the mix relationships with their peers, social media pressure and those pesky parents, and you’ve got a recipe for the ultimate meltdown.
Teenagers will spot any attempt at subtle manipulation a mile off, and may meet even the most well-intentioned parental instructions with pitying looks and rolled eyes. Don’t worry they do it in the classroom to over-keen new teachers too!
Here are a few tips for making life a little easier on everyone, and making sure learning is still on the teenage agenda:
1. Give them choices
Starting secondary school can be overwhelming, and exhausting as children take a range of new subjects and suddenly have an hour or two homework a night, as well as any music, sport and extra-curricular activities to contend with.
Sit down and discuss the pressures on their time with them and decide together if they want to carry on with ballet, rugby, trumpet, cubs and swimming. Research has shown that mastery takes 10,000 hours of practice, so allow your child to focus on their passion, which will perhaps allow time to keep in touch with primary school friends, and visits to relatives.
2. Follow their lead
Parents of boys will often tell me that they stop reading when they start secondary school. The temptation to break the habit once they no longer have to dutifully record pages read in a home school book is strong, particularly for kids who have found reading hard or who would rather be outside.
If reading isn’t their strong point, try to encourage reading in any form – computer game manuals, newspaper sports pages, and comics. You could even encourage an interesting older friend or relative to correspond with them by email, text or instant message.
Tackle teens who aren’t making the effort by enlisting your school librarian’s help (maybe in secret by email!) or ask for a reading list from their English teacher. It might just be that they have read everything by the authors they love and don’t know where to go next. Good readers make great writers!
3. Involve the family
At the start of the GCSE course students will be given information about the topics and texts they will be studying. Consider planning family trips and visits around their set novels or geography texts, or scour Netflix for relevant documentaries you can watch together. Some parents like to read the English Literature books so they can chat to the student about them. The easy option is to watch the film adaptation of course!
The app store has hundreds of useful study aids for GCSE students, often for free, including guides for set texts and maths practice.
4. Handle homework
Homework is the biggest topic of conversation at parent/teacher meetings. Usually parents are worried their children are being set too much or too little!
Some students will anxiously spend hours or days on a project designed to last a weekend, while others will hand in the same assignment clearly completed on the bus. Keep an eye on your child’s homework diary and let the teachers know if they are overwhelmed. I usually ask parents to write me a note if a piece has taken a ridiculous amount of time so that I can plan something different for the student next time.
Remember that learning is supposed to be challenging and children should expect to make mistakes, but do talk to the teacher if it is becoming a source of misery.
5. Make time for other things
A Level and GCSE exam time is brutal for everyone, especially for parents who don’t always know how to help. Support teenagers to plan revision well in advance, ensuring that there are is still time for them to join in family celebrations, blow off steam with their friends, and keep up the hobbies they love.
Having a thick skin, sending them off with breakfast, a fist full of black biros and a clear water bottle will alleviate some of the small stresses.