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Top Berkshire Prep School Headmaster Shares Seven Tips for Parents

It’s 7pm, you’ve just walked in from a long day at work topped off with a traffic-laden commute – dinner needs to be made and your child has a pile of homework to be done. Knowing how to help them and how to unpack/ discuss their school day is another pressure.

Many parents feel overwhelmed by the volume of tasks on their to-do list – which is why it is so important that they have the right tools to support their children effectively when it comes to their learning habits.

To help with this busy-parent dilemma, Rob Stewart, Headmaster of leading Berkshire preparatory school, Horris Hill, has shared his seven top tips to support learning outside of school.

Rob said: “When we consider how education has changed in recent years, there are certain key patterns that emerge. A good education is a holistic one, where character and skills are as important as academic performance and usually complement it. We are more interested in the long-term value of education for society and teachers see the vital link between the parent, the child and the school.”

With these three factors in mind, what are the seven things that all parents should try to ensure are a part of their child’s development?

  1. Work habits – doing things well not quickly

Children always think that getting work done, or getting the right answer is the most important thing with their own work. However, understanding an idea or method or really considering how what they are studying relates to the main principles of their subject or the world they live in, is a far more important aim. That might mean that they only do a part of their homework or they only start an answer in class, but if they understand it better and more deeply then they will improve.

  1. Being realistic with homework

There are two key points here. If you want to improve then you have to work hard; if a child spends longer on their homework, then it will help them learn more. However, you would not run a marathon on the first day of training. Children need to build their capacity, and this should be done in a steady and progressive way. Crucially, consistency is key here. Children should do something every day, even if it is just reading. At Horris Hill, we are able to tailor the school day to allow children to have the time they need within school hours.

  1. Building working memory

If you read ‘Invisible Learning’ by John Hattie you will understand the importance of this aspect of a child’s development. Working memory is there when we don’t have to think to recall knowledge. An example might be the answer to 2 + 2, which we all know without having to calculate. We learn successfully when we build these blocks in our minds. Recently schools have looked at ‘retrieval practice’ as a way of building strong working memory, where actions of learning and recall help to lock ideas and concepts into our long-term memory. This is important and can be a part of that regular homework which helps us learn more effectively and productively.

  1. A Range of activities

Evidence shows that children who do a range of activities become more resourceful, adaptable and able to pick up new things. It is about balance and organisation, but if a child has access to a range of physical and mental challenges then they will grow and develop as an individual as well as build their skill set. This is explored by David Epstein in his book entitled ‘Range’. Try to build as many activities as possible into your child’s life. This is an area where the family and community have a responsibility in addition to the school.

  1. Grit – doing two things really well

I would recommend that you read Angela Duckworth’s book on this subject, which was a ground-breaking study of why some people are more successful than others. The key message of that book is that children build up resilience and determination when they work hard at something over a long period of time. This could be anything from skills in table tennis or running, to playing an instrument or memorising poetry. The key point is that once a child knows how to dedicate time to improve, they can then transfer that knowledge to any area of their life. Duckworth suggests children do this in two areas to grow their awareness of this aspect of good performance.

  1. Be creative

The work of the late Sir Ken Robinson is all about the importance of creativity in learning and developing. His argument was that small children are intrinsically creative, but that education beats it out of them with its focus on measurable success and examinations. Schools are finding more ways to support creativity, but children and parents should do their bit too at home. There are an infinite number of ways that children can express creativity from writing to drawing, painting and building. These are just the start; parents should find ways to recognise and praise creativity whenever they see it. Society needs innovative and creative people.

  1. Building social skills

We all remember how awkward and embarrassing it is when we find ourselves in social situations where we are out of our comfort zone. However, these are learning environments where we adapt and grow as individuals. We don’t want our children to be anxious, but building social confidence through exposure to a range of communities and environments is important and healthy. We want our children to be able to get on with and work with a range of people in their lives, as well as negotiate their personal relationships successfully.

Building your child’s working skills, interests, character and social confidence should be the aim of all families. As a Head, it is my responsibility to review these regularly and check the extent to which all children at my school have access to these opportunities. Schools are much more alive to this task and parents are keen to support us and their communities in helping children grow and develop. It may not be possible to adopt all of these approaches, but the more you can the better will be the results.