Here experts tell you how to help your child do better in school
Most thoughtful Canadians are deeply concerned about current education standards. Yet many are doing the wrong things —or nothing at all—about the prime problem of homework.
The wrong way
If her family were trying to keep this girl from her homework, they could hardly do a more thorough job.
With Mother tuning the TV, Dad droning away on the phone and younger children playing noisily, the girl gives up and turns on her radio
The right way
The quiet of her own room would be ideal (if they had the space) but now the rest of the family is giving her a break by keeping distractions to a minimum. Showing an interest in reading will also encourage her to learn, experts say.
After a Canadian child is five or six years old. his parents usually see that he gets to school five mornings a week, rested, clothed, fed, equipped and on time. So well do they manage this that 3,750,000 pupils, or seventy-five percent of the total population between the ages of five and nineteen, attend elementary or secondary schools. Only sixty-five percent of the same age group were in school a dozen years ago, so children are demonstrably getting more education today —or at least they're staying in school longer.
But what their parents do to help children capitalize on the added classroom years still ranges from nothing at all to all the wrong things, according to authorities on education.
Too many students are still dropping out of school too soon. Of the impressive total enrollment, three million youngsters are in elementary school and only 750,000 are in high school, mostly in the lower grades. Dr. Frederick Whitworth, of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, estimates roughly that, of every hundred grade-one beginners. an average of perhaps twenty-five will finish high school and about six will get university degrees. Others find even this too optimistic. The Department of Education in Ontario currently expects only four university graduates for every hundred pupils starting school. This worries not
only the educators but millions of parents who wonder whether they are partly to blame and how they can prevent their children from joining the vast majority who quit school without even a highschool diploma.
When the vice - principals of Toronto high schools conducted a study to find the chief reasons why their students leave school, they found lack of money was a poor third to lack of desire and lack of ability to learn. One vice-principal. Hiles Carter, of Forest Hill Collegiate, says, "Schools share the responsibility for this, but they see the child for about twenty-five hours a week and much depends on what happens to him in the other hundred and forty-three hours.’’
Recently. I asked educators, researchers in education methods, guidance counselors and officers of the Canadian Home and School and ParentTeacher Federation about those hundred and forty-three hours. How can parents create desire to learn in their children? Help them pass the exams this spring? Help them with their homework.’ Interest them in reading? If a bright child is languishing in an average-paced class, can his parents take up the slack in his talent and ability? Do parents try to do too little or too much?
I he last of these questions was answered first by Professor Wayne Hall, of the Institute of Educa-
tion at McGill University in Montreal, "because it's the key to several others.” His answer is "both.” Far from feeling put-upon by parents' visits, teachers welcome them. But sometimes the child who needs help most has parents who can't be bothered seeing the teacher or helping the child because they themselves don't really care about education.
“A working class couple,” Hall says, "may feel the whole subject of education is beyond their control or comprehension. But plenty of other pupils, not doing as well as they could, have been pressed into over-anxiety by educated professional-class parents. These parents care all right but they want the impossible from their youngsters."
Vernon Trott, a guidance counselor at Forest Hill Collegiate in Toronto, adds, "The too-demanding parent may also be a man who has climbed from humble beginnings to financial success without much education. Now he's reaching for status vicariously by trying to drive his children into university."
Harold M. Nason, director of elementary and secondary education in Nova Scotia, observes that children who have been "whipped up to get top marks in high school for the sake of Mom and Dad " often Hop miserably as university students.
This doesn't mean par-
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How to help your child do better in school
continued trom page 17
“Find out the teacher’s method and coach your child the same way”
cuts shouldn't to anything. But helping a child through school is a continuous fence-walking performance between several sets of extremes. Trott says. "A little girl may complain that she can’t do arithmetic. Her mother, anxious to avoid pres-
suring her too much, may say, ‘Never mind. I never could do it either.’ This is like telling the girl you don’t care whether she passes or fails. I suggest saying that you had trouble with the subject yourself but you finally licked
it. The child will want to imitate you by licking it too."
He and most other educators warn against trying to teach the details of a particular subject from a parent’s unaided memory. A lawyer or a salesman retains
only half-remembered tatters of high school physics. Also, teaching techniques have changed. Professor B. C. Diltz. dean of the Ontario College of Education, who has written textbooks on English composition, recalls that he wouldn't teach the subject to his own son at home, because even the names for the parts of speech had changed since Diltz taught English in high school. Dr. R. W. B. Jackson, a colleague of Diltz, points out a possible pitfall in the amateur’s teaching of arithmetic. "If the pupil can’t add. but the parent doesn't know why he can't, then drilling the child just makes him practise his mistakes. It takes special training to discover what the youngster is doing wrong."
Harold Nason, the education director in Nova Scotia, feels, however, that parents who want to coach grade-school children in simple subjects can do so fruitfully if they ask the teacher which wax they're being taught in school and then use the same methods. Hiles Carter, the vice-principal at Forest Hill, is a biologist who has also done years of research on students' study habits. He suggests parents can also help high-school pupils without stepping on the teacher's toes.
In history, the child can show you a section he's just read. If you ask systematic questions xvith the book in front of you, he'll learn to make systematicnotes in order to answer them. Ask him what happened. To whom? Where? When? Similarly, a girl can dry dishes while her mother, xvith a French textbook propped above the sink, washes the dishes and hears her vocabulary, ibis works as well with spelling or any other subject that can be studied orally.
Carter says too many students appear to be doing plenty of homework but getting nothing from it. Parents are almost the only people who can correct this. b\ eliminating the causes — sloppy organization of time, daydreaming and the various distractions at home. First, he advises. encourage a routine the child can follow every night — especially if he seems to pul in hours of "study" that are actually spent sharpening pencils, looking for dictionaries and otherwise procrastinating. Have him start his homework at the same time in the same place every evening. He should come to associate that hour and that desk with getting to work. Try to avoid family squabbles or other emotional strain at that time.
A fexv children work better in the library right after school, with other industrious students for inspiration, but generally a quiet room at home is best, properly heated, lighted and ventilated and supplied beforehand with sharpened pencils and a dictionary.
In a letter to parents on this subject. Rev. Matthew Sheedy. principal of St. Michael's College School in Toronto, advises: "Remove letters, knickknacks and friends." If a room can’t be set aside, gixe him the dining-room table and keep younger children and pets away and quiet. Some children insist they work better with a radio or a stack of records playing. Forest Hill has experimented xvith a class doing homework in silence and then doing similar work to music. They could do mechanical chores — copying notes or coloring maps — just as well while listening to the music, but their efficiency at real studying, learning something nexx. fell off badly. Television, of course, is a complete distraction and is definitely out during study.
Authorities agree children should not plug at the same subject for more than half an hour. Nor should they begin xxitli subjects they like and are good at. leaving the hardest until they’re almost asleep.
Try to make them attack the troublesome subjects when they’re fresh. (But they should be careful not to carry this technique into exams. Writing exams, they should answer, .and get the marks for, e\erything they know cold. Then they ctn salvage as many marks as possible from the difficult questions.)
A child learns things more thoroughly if he keeps reviewing his lessons. Carter says experiments with hundreds of highschool students show that if a pupil hears a lesson only once, he remembers about one quarter of it four weeks later; if he reviews at the end of the first week, he remembers half of it four weeks after the first exposure; if he reviews again at the end of the third week, he then remembers nearly seventy percent at the end of the fourth week. Therefore, if he reviews regularly and lakes one more good look just before the exam, he should retain nearly the whole lesson. In a small book called How to Study, Prof. Arthur kornhauser, of the University of Chicago. called this "cramming that is good,” ac opposed to the conventional kind, "feve-ish last - minute efforts to memorize masses of material which should have heen learned during the course."
Some parents, according to C arter, are a ready aw are of these methods of helping but forget the more obvious. "To let a child escape from the house without breakfast," he says, "is just asking for lassitude and inattention during the morning."
Also, he says, many youngsters are so overloaded with outside activities that they have no time left for homework. He recalls one mother who couldn't see why lier daughter didn’t do better, although l.íe girl had — in addition to the usual complement of boyfriends — dancing lessons. music lessons and special Hebrew lessons that wiped out three nights a week. He advised: pare down the extracurricular doings.
Another survey Carter made ol homestudy habits showed four of the five most frequent reasons for wasted time involved poor organization or daydreaming, but the most frequent of all was unsatisfactory reading skills. On a questionnaire, eighty-five percent of pupils wrote "usually” or "always" beside this statement: T have to reread text material several times. 1 don’t get the ideas straight the first time I read it."
There are children who read all the time for recreation, develop speed, and still read badly. Carter finds. "They need speed, plus comprehension, plus a vocabulary that lets them read without looking up a word every minute. They also need to know how to skim the outline and how to read intensively for detail.
Children learn this only through practice. Dr. Harry Barrett, head of the guidance department at North Toronto Collegiate. says. "I'd rather my children read trash than nothing. At least there’s a chance their taste will improve."
A survey by the Committee on Children's Recreational Reading in Ontario says the average child only reads for recreation three hours a week. It adds: "Children reflect the attitude of their homes, and if the parents don t believe in. or have never learned, the importance of books, the school’s work is made doubly difficult."
Joyce Cornish-Bowden. principal of the elementary school at the University of Toronto's Institute of Child Study, advises: "Children attach importance to
what their parents think is important and they do it early. You can read to a child and let him turn the pages when he s eighteen months old. But you can t suddenly buy a seven-year-old a pile of ill-
assorted books and say, 'Run along, now. and read’ — while you watch television or play bridge every evening. If you don't care enough to read yourself, nor to choose the books carefully, nor to hear the child read, the child can’t be expected to care either."
R. W. Lightly, chief inspector of schools for Manitoba, observes that a parent’s interest in something besides television and games is more important than ever today, because so many distractions compete for children’s free time — television, radio, movies, organized sports and many
different kinds of youth groups. Barrett, the North Toronto guidance counselor, suggests you might be able to capitalize on the interests of a non-reader by getting him a book on whatever he likes best — hockey or boats, or. for a girl, dancing or sewing. “The great thing." he says, "is to expose them to books. I started taking my two children to the library when they were three."
Just as your child’s reading depends mostly on your own attitude to books, rather than on anything specific you can do. authorities believe that any child’s
desire to learn depends on his parents’ respect for intellect, and not on any shortterm bribe like a watch or a pair of skis for passing exams. All were opposed — some vehemently — to motivating a child with a material reward.
Dr. C. E. Smith, professor of education at the University of British Columbia, recalls that, when he taught in one city on the prairies where pupils' families had widely differing incomes, some children won expensive rewards for merely average performance. Meanwhile, bright children from poor families did far better and
got nothing at all. “So l called a meeting of fathers." Smith says, "and asked for a limit to the size of rewards. Immediately, several were on their feet saying. ‘No one tells me what I can give my son.' Sometimes a father is too busy to find time for the child but he feels guilty about it. So he pays off in money."
The experts are even more severe in criticizing the practice of urging a child to get better results than some other specific child. "Let him compete with himself." Smith advises. “Praise him for improving on his own performance."
Nason, the Nova Scotia education director, says, “No child should ever be given a prize because he beat little Willie next door."
The schools themselves are de-emphasizing competition. Few of them report any pupil's relative standing in a class any more, and Harold Whitley, an elementary-school principal in Toronto, says this is a good trend. "Children compete enough without being told who’s better than whom; and theirs is a cruel world, more dog-eat-dog than ours."
One dissenter, however, is Dr. Claude
T. Bissell. president of the University of Toronto, who believes our “under-emphasis on competition is a result of our democratic hesitancy to acknowledge that some people are brighter than others." He adds: "But scholarship is not the whole of life; a child who isn't at the top of his class may have the consolation of being its best musician or its best watercolor painter.”
Harry Barrett, of North Toronto Collegiate. who specializes in research on bright children, thinks parents can help such children "enrich" their learning, but
they should never tell a child this is being done "because you have an IQ of a hundred and fifty." Even if the school will tell you your child’s IQ. you shouldn’t mention such a meaningless figure to the child, since even the experts disagree on what it means.
Anything that stretches a gifted child’s mind is valuable — trips to concerts, libraries, museums and art galleries — but authorities warn that this is for the child who has his regular schoolwork well under control. One group of fathers in Winnipeg is giving night classes in German and music to fifty above-average children. Such projects are unlikely to be widespread, but there is at least one organization in nearly every community that can and sometimes does help you to help your child — the home-and-school or parent-teacher association. Its biggest value is in providing a meeting ground for parents and teachers.
Mrs. Helen Hewson. of Toronto, a vice-president of the Canadian Home and School and Parent-Teacher Federation, has been a member for twenty - seven years, although she nearly quit a few weeks after she joined. "The meetings at that time consisted of tea and cakes and musical guessing games," she recalls, "but I’m glad I stayed with it. We now get some useful work done."
Wayne Hall, of McGill, concurs with most of the educators interviewed when he says, "A handful of these associations are disastrous things — just social clubs that become mines of aggressive and illinformed opinion — but the vast majority are excellent.”
To pay. at the most, a dollar a year to belong to the home and school at least shows your child you're interested. And the most important effect of any specific thing you do about your child’s education, is his knowledge that you're watching, that you care, says Miss Cornish-Bowden. of Toronto’s Institute of Child Study. She reports: "I don't have to meet a little girl’s parents to know if they're interested in educating her or are just sending her to school because it’s done. It shows in all her work."