5 surprising home habits that affect your child’s learning

Home habits to boost your child's school performance
What are the very best ways to support your child's learning and help them reach their full potential? In an extract from their handbook, A Parent’s Guide to The Science of Learning, Edward Watson and Bradley Busch suggest practical ways to help your child improve how they think, feel and behave in school, all backed by psychological research.
Login or Register to add to your saved resources

Psychologically speaking, parenting is the most difficult job in the world. It can feel high-stakes and relentless, along with the guilt, self-doubt and second-guessing that accompanies it! Fortunately, a growing body of research has highlighted how simple, fundamental and easy-to-apply strategies can make a real difference to your child's learning.

When you strip back all the psych jargon and look at the key principles behind parenting and education research, we are left with five habits that have been scientifically proven to help improve children’s attainment in the classroom.

1. Always have breakfast

Not eating breakfast can lower a child’s concentration levels, with recent research showing that the odds of an 11-year-old student achieving an above average score in a test are twice as high if they eat breakfast, compared to those who do not.

Research has shown that eating breakfast can improve attention and memory. One particular study found that students who skipped breakfast or only had an energy drink performed worse in attention and memory tasks compared to those who had eaten breakfast.

2. Establish good reading habits

Studies suggest that parents play a vital role in their child’s reading development, but only 2 per cent report reading to their children every day.

Researchers have also found that children who read frequently for pleasure by the age of 10 and more than once a week by the time they were 16 years old performed significantly better academically than those who didn’t read as much.

Better reading comprehension in children has been associated with more empathy, improved cognitive development and greater concentration and academic success.

The habit of reading is heavily linked to parental attitudes towards it. So, it is important to not only read with your child, but for them to see you reading, too. You are your child's best role model, so make sure they know what part reading plays in your life.

3. Agree homework rules

Recent large-scale studies have found that establishing clear rules and guidelines about children doing their homework has a significant effect on their achievement. Explaining why these rules are in place can also help your child make better decisions when they are older and have to manage their workload independently.

Interestingly enough, separate research has found that children who completed their homework with their parents' help actually do worse, as presumably they tend to rely on them and therefore put less effort in themselves.

4. Have high academic expectations

Out of all the things parents can do, having high aspirations and expectations of your child has been found to have the biggest impact on grades.

Parental expectations include how important parents feel school is and their attitude towards teachers and the value of education.

These values are communicated to our children each and every day through the things we say and our behaviours. Children look to their parents for an indicator of a) what they can achieve and b) how important a task is. That’s why regular communication with them about their school life is important.

5. Don't give up on the bedtime routine

Most people aren’t aware of how much sleep their child actually needs (depending on their age it is 9-10 hours even for teenagers). And yet, sleep has been associated with better academic performance, better well-being, enhanced concentration, attention and emotional management.

Having a bedtime routine will help your child get enough sleep. The brain likes consistency and calm before sleep, so having regular bedtimes in a low-stress environment in the build-up to bedtime will help. Furthermore, we strongly recommend severely limiting access to electronics in the build-up to and during bedtime, as evidence suggests this can have a significant impact on both the quantity and quality of children's sleep.

More advice about the science of learning

A Parent’s Guide to The Science of Learning by Edward Watson and Bradley Busch (£18.99, Routledge) translates 77 of the most important and influential studies on student learning into easily digestible overviews, offering hints and strategies to help you use the research findings at home.

Studies about memory, motivation, thinking biases and parental attitudes are explained in simple terms and the results are translated into practical advice. You'll find out how much sleep your child needs, how to best support them with homework, whether family mealtimes are really important, how much screen time is too much and lots more – the dip-in, dip-out format makes it easy to consult the book for research-backed approaches and tips.