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How to Help Your Child Learn Study Skills

We live in an increasingly complex society in which getting a good education is no longer an option, but a necessity. Yet many children don't do as well in school as they or their parents would like. The difference between children who do poorly in school and those who do well often relates to what their parents do at home to help.

When parents take the time to help, it can influence school success as much or more than a child's intellectual capacity or the quality of the school he or she attends. Good study skills will provide your child with a basic tool needed to succeed in school. So, what can you do to help?

Help With a Study Schedule

When helping your child arrange a study schedule, keep several points in mind:

  • The time arranged for study should occur at the same time each day.
    Most children, like adults, are creatures of habit. When they get used to doing something at the same time each day, it becomes easier to remember and do rather than if it occurs at different times each day.
  • Work with your child to set aside times for study when he or she is most alert.
    Involve your child in making the schedule. Children are more likely to accept a study schedule that they have been involved in setting up than one that has been imposed upon them. Help your child be realistic in the amount of time scheduled.

Help With Study Goals

Children who have daily study goals are more organized, focused and motivated during study sessions. The reason is that study goals provide something specific to strive for. Encourage your child to:

  • Develop goals based on homework assignments.
    Three or four small goals that your child can attain one by one work better than one large goal. Check off each goal as it is completed. Every time your child checks off a goal, it will give him or her a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This helps provide the incentive to keep going.
  • Promote studying for understanding.
    When children understand what they study, they remember it more easily than if they simply memorize it. Guide your child in these ways. Begin each study session with the assignments that are most difficult to learn and understand. Use the "survey-read-resurvey" procedure. Tell your child first to survey for the main ideas in the chapter. Reading the introduction and summary to the chapter and any study questions that might be listed at the beginning or end of the chapter can do this. Once your child gains an understanding of the main ideas, he or she should carefully read the chapter. Finally, have your child look back through or resurvey the chapter and try to further understand and remember the main ideas and important details.
  • Think about what is being studied and figure out a "point of view."
    For example, when studying weather, or more specifically rain, encourage your child to form an opinion about what causes rain. Once a point of view is determined, your child can then decide what information or evidence supports and does not support that point of view.

Formulate questions

While it may seem time consuming and awkward at first, once your child learns how to make up and seek answers to questions while studying, the task becomes more interesting, fun, and more understandable and meaningful. It is not critical which questions your child asks. But it is essential that he or she ask questions because this will promote an active, involved, and thinking approach to studying.


Outlining is one way of summarizing. The simplest way to outline is to use the textbook headings and subheadings, listing the major points covered underneath each heading.

  • Note taking is another summarizing technique that has been found to be very helpful in fostering understanding and remembering.
    The benefits of note taking are that your child not only summarizes what is studied, but also is involved in translating what is being studied into his or her own words.
  • Underlining or highlighting important key ideas, facts, and details to be remembered also can be helpful.
    Organize important facts and information into categories whenever possible. The process of putting things into categories can help your child recognize, understand, and remember essential information.
  • Take a few minutes at regular intervals to reflect on what was just learned.
    When doing this, your child may want to talk about what was learned or write notes about it. If your child understands what was just studied, he or she will be able to visualize it and talk intelligently about it during reflection time. If not, encourage your child to reread or restudy the material.

Recognize Achievements

A child who receives recognition for academic achievement is much more likely to want to excel in school. Thus, focus on what your child does right - that is, look for achievements. Remember that a major key to improving your child's school success is making him or her feel successful. Train yourself to look for the good things your child does - look for success. Let your child know you like it and encourage it. If you focus on, expect and recognize success, you will get more of it.

While it's important to recognize and pay attention to your child's achievements, you should focus recognition and attention on those accomplishments that are new or challenging to your child. Excessive recognition for everything, no matter how trivial, can result in your recognition losing its worth or value for encouraging your child to learn and try new things.

Two Final Tips

Consider the time you have to help, and pick those techniques you have the time and energy to direct and supervise.

Always save time after each session, at the end of a week or at another scheduled time for you and your child to look at what has been accomplished and take pride in those accomplishments.


Copyright © 1988 William and Susan Stainback. Susan and William Stainback are professors at the College of Education of the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls.
(Excerpted from William and Susan Stainback's "How to Help Your Child Succeed in School," Meadowbrook Press, 18318 Minnetonka Blvd., Deephaven, MN 55391, 800/ 338- 2232.) $5.95. For mail order, add $1.25. National Education Association, Washington, DC 20036-3290, Stock No. 5187-4-00