How to Make Learning Stick

Want to help your kids remember the information they learned in the long run? Get tips on how to make learning stick and encourage curiosity. 

How to Make Learning StickWe’ve all done our share of cramming for tests, memorizing formulas, and drilling information a few minutes before an exam.

But did we really learn anything?

After all, I can barely remember the details of the American Revolution or the anatomical parts of a frog.

More importantly, are we passing on the same habits to our kids? How much are they actually learning when they read a book, go to school, and run experiments?

In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, the authors gathered data not only on how they learn, but how much they remember.

It turns out that many of the common ways they gather information don’t lend themselves to long-term learning or “stickiness.” That there are more effective ways to make sure your child isn’t learning just to ace an exam or please adults but learning for the sake of it.

How to make learning stick

While my kids aren’t taking college exams yet, I’d still like them to be able to remember what they learned in a positive way. No memorization or superficial understanding. I want them to truly grasp these topics and become even more curious.

Through the book, I found several techniques that helped them retain the information they learned, no matter their learning styles. More importantly, this shift isn’t so much on memorizing data as it is on engagement and nurturing curiosity in the first place.

If you want a sticky learning experience that can help your child remember information in the long term, try these new insights below:

How to Nurture Your Child's Curiosity

1. 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 simple question about the book.

Asking questions about the book encourages him to recall what he just read, remember facts, or form his own theories. Ask for information found in the book (“Who made Brian feel better?”). Have him develop theories (“What could Madison have done better so Brian wouldn’t feel left out?”).

Diving into a story even after he has read it can help him think about it in a new way. He can also ingrain the storyline and the lessons he learned much better than if you simply closed the book at its finish.

Benefits of Reading to Children

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2. Review, quiz, and self-correct

One of the best ways to help kids remember is to review, quiz, and self-correct. Review the material, give a mini quiz, and finally, have them correct the ones they missed.

Let’s say your child is learning how to spell sight words in the classroom. Here’s how you might apply the three steps to make sure she does a good job:

  • Review: Show her the list of words, not only to make sure she can read them but so she can review how they’re spelled.
  • Quiz: Say the word out loud, then have her write the word in a notebook.
  • Self-correct: Show her the words she missed and see if she can correct them. If she doesn’t know how, show her how the word is spelled and have her explain how it differs from her answer.

Get 6 strategies for teaching sight words.

Strategies for Teaching Sight Words

3. Give your child a problem without showing her how to do it

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Sometimes, we think kids should always have the right answers every time, or that mistakes or difficult problems should be avoided.

Instead, the authors of Make It Stick found that kids remember more information if they get the wrong answers at first. It turns out, stumbling and making mistakes encourage them to remember the correct information once they get it:

“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.”

The takeaway? Allow your child to struggle and try new material, and then switch to giving feedback or the correct answer. Here’s an example of how to do that with a math word problem:

  • Give her the problem and have her solve it first, all on her own. Frustration and mistakes might be made, but that’s fine.
  • Then, show her one of the ways to solve the problem (point out that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem!).
  • And finally, give another similar problem (maybe using different numbers) and ask her to solve it. Better yet, ask her to show you one or two different strategies on how to solve it. (Learn how to create a math rich environment at home.)

Not only do mistakes show her how to do things correctly, but they also help her remember the information once she learns it. Not to mention she’s building the resiliency, motivation, and creativity to bounce back after facing challenges.

Math Rich Environment at Home

4. Vary the problems

My twins were learning how to read and write in preschool. So, at home, I’d write a word which they’d then read and write as well.

At first, it made sense to write “bat, cat, fat, rat” to hone in on reading and writing these words. But the most effective way that helped them remember what they learned was to mix the words up.

It’s easy to remember patterns with repetition, but your child might forget them quickly in the long run. But if you give him a variety of different problems, then he’s more likely to remember. The authors call these “desirable difficulties.” It’s challenges like these that can help him truly learn and understand.

So, when I practiced these words with my twins, I didn’t use the same patterns. Instead, I’d write “bat, cup, six, pen.” This pushed them not to get too comfortable with using the same patterns. Instead, they needed to be alert and recall different parts of their memories to answer correctly.

5. Take your child through the writing process

One of the best ways to help your child remember information is to encourage him to write a story. This teaches him new skills in taking all the information he learned and putting it together into one final product.

Let’s say he read a book about how a pumpkin grows. You can go through the entire process with this checklist:

  1. Write an outline. Have him jot key points or a summary about the information he gathered. These can be simple words, drawings, or even props.
  2. Write the first draft. Now he’s ready to begin writing the sentences of his story. Don’t correct misspelled words, information he left out, or incorrect order. Like how it is for most of us, first drafts are an attempt to collect all the notes he gathered in one place.
  3. Edit. Next, help him edit what he wrote. Now he can correct misspellings, rearrange the order, or fix any misinformation.
  4. Finalize. Finally, help him type his story on your computer. He can see his 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 a bonus, have him draw pictures in his book, just like a real one.

Check out these children’s books about writing.

Children's Books about Writing


Effective learning is possible. You can help your child process new ideas and remember what she learns. For instance, ask questions about books you read together instead of simply moving on and closing the cover. Review, quiz, and have her self-correct assignments.

Allow her to work on problems herself at first before stepping in. Give a variety of problems to solve, from different vocabulary words to mathematics. And finally, take her through the writing process, from drafts to a finished product.

I’ve never been a fan of cramming for tests, drills, and memorization where the knowledge disappears soon after. Instead, fun and creative learning activities like those above can help kids gain and retain the information, long after they first learned it.

Learning Activities for 2-3 Year Olds

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  1. Zequek Estrada says:

    Nina, these are some wonderful ideas. It might also help to be aware of any learning difficulties that you child might have. These five methods sound like great ways to find out what your child might specifically be struggling with.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Yes it’s a good idea to check for learning difficulties as well.

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