The question my student voiced was valid: How can I help my kids with their English homework? They just don’t seem to retain the words I teach them.
This father was echoing the very same concern I heard over and over again when I taught at a local elementary and high school.
If you are a parent, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. You know how important it is; you use English at work, as soon as you do a search on the Internet or when meeting clients from the US or elsewhere in Canada. You know that these days, you can’t get by without it.
And to bring things home, Secondary 5 students in Québec can’t get their high school diploma without demonstrating mastery in English oral and written skills.
So, how can you help your child? Neuroscience tells us that to develop the pathways (learning), it takes repetition and constantly having to retrieve the information at varying times and in varying contexts.
Here are my 5 top tips to keep your kids on their toes.
- Surprise them – Sing to the songs the radio station plays in English on the way to school or dance lessons. Switch up the program on Saturday morning, and choose an English show instead. Use an English-language family event calendar on the fridge.
- Play with them – Challenge them to play online games and apps in English for a set time before being allowed to game with friends in French. Even bath-time can be an opportunity to identify objects, colors, shapes, textures functions of basic, everyday objects. Why not? Get on the floor and play Lego’s in English.
- Model for them – Once a week, speak in English at dinner time, or while having a snack. When I was doing a practicum in teaching in a grade 5 class, we had Star Time, in which the students could only speak English. They would earn stars for their efforts. If they spoke in French, they didn’t get their star. A chart on the fridge could keep track (just an idea!) The idea is to show that English is used outside the classroom walls, and that the words they are learning in class are useful at home, too!
- Read to them – Reading a book to your child before going to sleep is an excellent way to feed vocabulary into your child’s brain so that it processes during the night. Once a week isn’t a chore, and your child will come to associate English with a quality time with Mom or Dad. Emotions are key to learning, and snuggling up for a read is sure to give an endorphin boost that will lower the day’s stress levels, and help you both sleep better!
- Be a fan – One last thing, that I just have to mention here. Keep the tone positive when talking about or to your child’s English teacher. Teaching thirty-some children, all at different language levels, with different learning styles and needs, once or twice (maximum!) a week, to speak a foreign language is no easy feat. You are your child’s hero, and if you think your kid’s teacher is awesome, then chances are they’ll think so, too. Personally, I remember the students whose parents had a super-positive attitude towards me and the work I was doing with their child. The child always made more effort to do the homework and made greater progress when the teacher-speak at home was positive.
You know, when you make the effort to speak English, even if you make mistakes, your child is impressed (even if they laugh at first!) They see that making mistakes is no big deal, not the end of the world, but the beginning of an adventure. What’s more, they’ll be much more likely to take the risk of raising their hand to answer in class because they understand that taking risks can mean making mistakes, but more importantly, it means learning.
And that’s when your child will start retaining and speaking in English. You, as parent, are the one that can give them that essential boost. What are you waiting for?
Have fun! – Claire :o)
[Photo: Shutterstock/Dmytro Zinkevych)