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Updated on Jan 28, 2008

About the second week of fourth grade, my son Jeff greeted me by proclaiming, “I can never learn my times tables! Never!” But as frustrating as this can be for a child, it may be more so for his concerned parents.

As both an educator and a parent, I can tell you that teaching is much easier than parenting. So don't sell yourself short. If your child is in a homework rut, frustrated with the concepts he's trying to learn, and convinced he'll never master his times tables, or memorize his history facts, it may be time to intervene.

Here are some tried and true pointers for parents:

  • Trade Places. Turn your child into a teacher! Asking kids to explain a concept in their own words helps them recognize how much or how little they understand it. It's natural for a parent to take on the teacher role, but once you've covered a set of material, make sure you turn the tables. Ask your children to repeat what they've learned. Remove some of the pressure by allowing them to “think as they talk.” They'll either fix their own mistakes or point out their confusion so you know how to help.
  • Chunk It. Children may spend hours studying, but most of their time is spent reviewing what they already know. Work with your child to divide the material they're trying to learn into two stacks: one containing what they already understand, and the other what they need to study. Make sure that the first pile doesn't take up all the homework time! Spend five to fifteen minutes each day on what they don't know yet. Wait two to twenty-four hours, mix the material up, and divide it again. You'll find they've forgotten some old items and learned some new material. They now have new items to study for the next five-to-fifteen minutes.
  • Do It Twice. If we only read information to ourselves, we're likely to forget 90 percent of it. But studies show that when people read aloud, and add speech and hearing to the mix, they remember at least 30 percent with the same investment of time. See how many ways your child can feel, taste, smell, hear, and see what she's trying to learn. For every concept or problem, have her answer both out loud and in another format such as drawing, dancing, singing, rhyming, or rapping. This way, she has both versions placed it in her memory bank, which will help with recall later.

These approaches are a great way to empower children to acquire and retain information. But more importantly, the techniques help stimulate a child's imagination to try new approaches to learning.

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