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In just about every classroom, it’s easy to pick out certain children who are clearly doing great. You might expect them to all look the same, but in fact, these kids come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. Yet together, they radiate similar good feelings about school. Happy and alert, they seem at home with themselves, their classmates, and the teacher.
How does it happen? The question is almost a holy grail for parents, teachers, and researchers. After all, no one wants to see a child fail in school.
Sharon and Craig Ramey, both Ph.D. professors at Georgetown and respected leaders in child development, have some answers, based on over 25 years of research across the United States. In their book, Going to School, they offer “Ten Hallmarks of Children Who Succeed.” Each one, they stress, is a “dynamic process that can be positively influenced by parents.” Do these traits look familiar?
Children who succeed in school:
- Are “eager to learn.” From earliest childhood, parents and community have offered interesting things to explore, and have encouraged curiosity.
- Pursue learning. This means they ask questions, and they seek help. When they get stuck, they know that adults are on hand to help—and that it’s worth asking.
- Put effort into their work. Parents can convey the message that if kids try hard, the results will pay off. These kids are proud of effort, and they don’t give up.
- Use solid emotional and social skills. School is full of emotional and social challenge, as kids handle friends, authority, and group dynamics. Parents can help by supporting kids in making good decisions and being generous friends.
- Have an accurate view of their own knowledge and skills. Parents help when they celebrate their children just as they are, neither less nor more, while still encouraging high hopes and dreams.
- Look to parents as role models for learning. This does not mean that parents must be perfect—it means they must be real, and they must be willing to be learners sometimes too.
- Have homes that “promote learning by natural teaching.” This doesn’t require that Bach be piped into the nursery or abstract mathematics be taught in the sandbox. It means that parents talk, explain, name and count everyday things and experiences, helping kids learn and make meaning.
- Follow helpful family routines. Kids can count on regular meals, baths, and sleep times. When it’s time for school, they’re ready to go.
- Know that rules count. Parents help by setting clear limits and boundaries - “authoritative” rather than too strict or too lax.
- Attend schools with “high expectations,” strong and effective staff development, and good communication about kids’ progress. Whatever the age of the child, parents can help by modeling good communication, and by staying in close touch with teachers and school staff.
Rocket science? No. Easy? Not necessarily! As the Rameys will readily admit, lots of devoted parents may still find themselves stumped by kids who struggle in school. And many students can succeed just fine without having every single hallmark. But if parents can actively promote the items on this list, they promise that everyone in a family benefits, especially your school-age child.