Want to help your kids remember the information they learned for the long run? Get tips on how to make learning stick and encourage learning. Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase.
We’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 (shudder).
More importantly, are we passing on the same habits to our kids? How much are they really 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.
And it turns out that many of the common ways they gather information don’t lend themselves to long-term learning. 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 take college exams just 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 what these topics and become even more curious about learning more.
Through the book, I found several techniques that help them retain the information they’ve learned. More importantly, the emphasis isn’t so much on memorizing data as it is nurturing a curiosity in the first place.
If you want real techniques to help your child get ahead and remember information in the long run, try these strategies:
1. Ask questions about a book you just read
Reading with your child (and encouraging her to do so on her 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 encourages her to recall what she just read, remember facts, or form her own theories. Ask for information found in the book (“Who made Brian feel better?”). Have her develop her own theories (“What could Madison have done better so Brian wouldn’t feel left out?”).
Diving into a story even after she has read it will help her think about it in a new way. She’ll also ingrain the story line and the lessons she learned much better than if you simply closed the book at its finish.
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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 them 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 school. Here’s how you might apply the three steps to making 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 it herself. If she doesn’t know how, show her how the word is really spelled and have her explain how it differs from her answer.
3. Give your child problem without showing her how to do it
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 lesson? 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:
- Let him solve it on his own: Give him the problem and have him solve it first, all on his own. He might make mistakes on the problem, but that’s fine.
- Show him one way to solve it: Then, show him one of the ways to solve the problem (point out that there’s always more than one way to solve a problem!).
- Give another similar problem: And finally, give another similar problem (maybe using different numbers) and ask him to solve it. Better yet, ask him to show you one or two different strategies on how to solve it.
Not only do mistakes show him how to do things correctly, they also help him remember the information once he learns it.
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 technique that actually helped them remember what they learned was to mix things up.
It’s easy to remember patterns, but your child will likely forget them quickly in the long run. But if you give her a variety of different problems, then she’s more likely to remember. The authors call this “desirable difficulties.” It’s challenges like these that will help her 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 memory 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 her to write a story. This teaches her how to take all that information she learned and put it together into one final product.
Let’s say she read a book about how a pumpkin grows. You can begin a writing process that include these four steps:
- Write an outline. Have her jot quick notes about the information she gathered. This can be simple words, drawings or even props.
- Write the first draft. Now she’s 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.
- Edit. Next, help her edit what she wrote. Now she can correct misspellings, rearrange the order, or fix any misinformation.
- Finalize. Finally, help her 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.
Helping your child process information and remember what she learns is possible. 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 her a variety of problems to solve, from different vocabulary words to random math problems. 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 activities like those above help kids gain and retain the information, long after they first learned it.
Get more tips:
- How to Raise Kids Who Love to Learn
- 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
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