Research studies show that students need to practice a skill 24 times to reach 80% competency. Think about learning to tie your shoe, hit a golf ball or a backhand in tennis, play the piano, paint, or play video games. Whatever we are learning, our first attempt is just a start. It takes a lot of practice to get good at anything.
I believe that children should have free play whether it’s digging in the dirt, fishing at the creek if you’re lucky enough to have a creek, or playing ball. Even so we can still be aware of the value of practice. It comes naturally with counting. We teach our children to count and then we count everything: the stairs, pennies, stars in the sky, apples, and fingers and toes. They learn to read, then we read with them and to them at every opportunity.
Many children have their first struggles in school with mathematics or reading. If this happens for your child just remember that they still need the same level of practice they did learning to tie their shoe. Most don’t get it. How can you help with learning problems? Remember this study. Talk to them about how much they practice the things they like and how good they are at them. Good little soccer players spend hours playing. The same is true for any activity a child really loves. But when it is something we don’t love, don’t like, or downright detest, 5 minutes feels like an hour. We surely don’t willingly practice and practice doing that which we don’t like.
Find creative and playful ways to improve learning skills without it seeming like a chore. I remember the old Summer Reading Club and how I looked forward to it every summer. It wasn’t so much looking forward to the books as I was looking for to being in the club. I loved getting the official paper from the library to record the books I read. I loved turning it back in at the end of the summer just to get a big smile from the librarian.
Children love to win. They love contests. Who can do the most problems in a Mad Minute? Who draw the funniest picture out of an 8? Who can make up the silliest math joke? Who can say their 7 times table and not miss a one?
Helping your child learn is not about constantly instructing them or turning every single minute into a teachable moment. It is about giving them the tools to become independent learners. One of these age-old tools, now supported by research, is just plain old-fashioned practice.
Combat the proverbial “summer slide” now that school is out for the summer. Keep learning on the forefront. It’s so easy to expose your child to new places and things, to go on vacation, eat new foods, and make new friends. All that comes as natural as breathing. Reading and math? Maybe not so much. These are the skills they need to be successful in school. Find fun ways for them to practice. Here are 5 out of the box things to get you started. Even the reluctant learner might have fun with one of these.
- First person to put on one red sock, hop up and down 20 times, and write their “7 time tables” gets a sticker.
- Find your favorite book, count the number of words on page 6, multiply that number by 8, and put your answer on a sticky not on the frig.
- Add together: the number in your family, the number of people who live next door, the number of times you have been to the hospital, the grade you just finished. Now multiply that by your age. Count out that many blueberries and eat them!
- Go outside. Run around the house two times. Then count the number of windows in your house. Run around the house again. Count the number of doors. Multiply together. Walk backward that many steps.
You get the idea. Have fun! It’s summer vacation for a few more weeks!