Want to help your kids remember the information they learned for the long run? Get tips on how to make learning stick and encourage real learning.
I’ve done my share of cramming for tests, memorizing formulas and drilling information a few minutes before an exam. But did I really learn anything? After all, I can barely remember the details of the American Revolution or the anatomical parts of a frog (shudder).
This is the topic of a recent book I read, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel (affiliate link). The authors gathered data on how kids not only learn but remember that knowledge long after they first learned it.
And it turns out that many of the common ways kids gather information don’t lend themselves to long-term learning. That there are more effective ways to make sure your child isn’t just learning for an exam, but learning for the sake of it.
I found several techniques I tried with my young kids (three- and seven-years-old). I’ve since been applying these tips and have seen not just fantastic new ways to learn, but effective ones as well.
How to make learning stick
If you want real techniques to help your child get ahead and remember information for the long run, try these strategies:
Ask questions about a book you just read
Reading with your child (and encouraging him to do so on his own) has so many benefits. But if you want to take it up a notch, finish a reading session with a question about the book.
Asking questions about the book forces your child to recall what she just read. She has to remember facts or form her own theories. You can ask for information found in the book (“Who made Brian feel better?”) or even her own theories (“What could Madison have done better so Brian wouldn’t feel left out?”).
Review, quiz and self-correct
My first-grader, like many kids, is learning sight words in school. Not only does he have to know how to read the words, he also has to spell them. So, the days when he comes home with sight words become spelling sessions for us.
But according to the book, one of the best ways to help kids remember what they’ve learned is to review, quiz and self-correct. Here’s how we apply it to our spelling sessions:
- First, I first show him the list of words, not only to make sure he can read them, but so he can review how they’re spelled.
- Then, I quiz him on the words—I say a word and he writes it in a notebook.
- And finally, I ask him to self-correct the words he missed. I simply show him the correct word next to the one he wrote and have him explain or write how his is different.
Give a problem without showing your child how to do it first
Sometimes we have the wrong goal in mind. We think kids should always have the right answers every time, or that mistakes or difficult problems should be avoided.
Instead, the authors found that kids remember more information even if they get the wrong answers at first. Turns out struggle and having to try forces kids to remember the correct information once they get it.
Allow your child to struggle and try, and then give feedback or the correct answer.
Here’s an example of how to do that with a math word problem:
- Give your child the problem and have him solve it first, all on his own. He’ll likely make mistakes on the problem, but that’s fine.
- Then, show him one of the ways to solve the problem (there’s always more than one way to solve a problem!).
- And finally, give another similar problem (maybe using different numbers) and ask him to solve it. Better yet, ask him to show you two or more different strategies on how to solve it.
Like the authors say in Make It Stick:
“Even strategies that are highly likely to result in errors, like asking someone to try to solve a problem before being shown how to do it, produce stronger learning and retention of the correct information than more passive learning strategies, provided there is corrective feedback. Moreover, people who are taught that learning is a struggle that often involves making errors will go on to exhibit a greater propensity to tackle tough challenges and will tend to see mistakes not as failures but as lessons and turning points along the path to mastery.”
Not only do mistakes show us how to do things correctly, they also help us remember the information once we learn it.
Vary the problems
My twins are learning how to read and write in preschool. So at home, I’ll write a word which they then read and write as well.
At first, it might make sense to write “bat, cat, fat, rat” to hone in on reading and writing these words. But the technique that will actually help them remember what they learned is to mix things up.
It’s easy to remember patterns, but we’ll likely forget them quickly in the long run. But if we give ourselves a variety of different problems, then we’re more likely to remember. The authors call this “desirable difficulties.” It’s challenges like these that will help kids truly learn and understand.
So now when I write these words with my kids, I don’t use the same patterns. Instead, I might write “bat, cup, six, pen.” This pushes them not to get too comfortable with using the same patterns. Instead, they need to be alert and recall different parts of their memory to answer correctly.
Take your child through the writing process
One of the best ways to help your child remember information is to encourage her to write a story. This teaches her how to take all that information she learned and put it together into one final product.
I did this exercise recently with my seven-year-old. He picked a topic—how a pumpkin grows—after a reading a book about it. We then began a writing process that included four steps:
- Write an outline. Have your child jot quick notes about the information she gathered. This can be simple words, drawings or even props.
- Write the first draft. Now your child is ready to begin writing the sentences of her story. Don’t correct misspelled words, information she left out or an incorrect order. Like how it is for most of us, first drafts are her attempt to collect all the notes she gathered in one place first.
- Edit. Next, help your child edit what she wrote. Now she can correct misspellings, rearrange the order, or fix any misinformation.
- Finalize. Finally, help your child type her story on your computer. She’ll enjoy using your computer and seeing her scribbles turned into a “real” story. You can even set up your Word document in a book format and print it once it’s done. As an added bonus, have her draw pictures in her book, just like a real one.
I created a template for your child to write simple essays. The first few lines are for the essay topic, followed with pictures. Then finally, below are several lines to fill in with the information he has learned. Download it below, FREE!
I love learning about how kids process information and anything about education. I especially like trying new techniques to help my kids not only learn but do so in effective ways. I’ve never been a fan of cramming for tests, drills and memorization where the knowledge disappears soon after.
Instead, I prefer fun and creative activities like those above, where kids can gain and retain the information, long after they first learned it.
Get more tips:
- Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning
- 6 Traits You Can Teach to Guide Kids to Success
- No Excuses: Why We Need to Read with Our Kids Every Day
- 6 Techniques to Teach Your Child to Love Math
- 9 Strategies to Help Beginner Readers Build Strong Reading Habits
Tell me in the comments: Which of these activities would you try with your kids? Where does your child struggle the most with remembering information?
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