Helping your child through secondary school
I look back on primary school and think blimey that was a doddle. I knew exactly what my son was doing in his lessons, understood all his homework and could help him whatever. Not so now, other than English much of what he does, particularly science and maths, is beyond my capabilities.
GCSEs have to be the most challenging phase of our children’s academic life at a time when we as parents seem to have the least insight into what they are doing at school.
I have spoken to English teacher and owner of Word Academy, Michelle Mapstone, about how as parents we can support them during this testing time.
According to Michelle, there are ways we can help our children get the best out of school and hopefully make the dreaded GCSE year that bit easier.
Good vocabulary is essential for children’s academic life so anything you can do to help this will be of benefit.
One great way to improve vocabulary is to encourage your child to debate. Tell your teen you want to talk to them about politics and they’ll run a mile. Ask them open questions about what they think of homelessness, animal cruelty or women’s rights and it is likely to spark a conversation.
Not only does this help them form opinions but it helps to improve their thinking and thought process.
There was a time when I very much protected Harry from watching the news but at 14 he is capable of rationalising what is happening in the world. Although he might not understand it (does anyone) it can be a basis for conversations.
Much like debating, skills such as understanding, rationalising, forming opinions and holding discussion are hugely important when it comes to learning.
We all want our children to read more but it’s not always easy to get them to sit down with a book when their social lives are busy and there are so many distractions.
Michelle has written a great blog on inspiring children to read here. Great ideas include avoiding pushing them into reading something they don’t want to. Harry is currently reading a lot of war-themed books. I’m not thrilled about it but it is getting him to read.
Some children and I’m going to over-generalize here and say, boys, maybe more comfortable with different types of reading, graphic novels for example or non-fiction books. It all helps in getting them into the habit of reading.
If you do want to encourage your children to read, don’t push them too far. Something a tiny bit harder is great but maybe park the Shakespeare for now, unless of course, they want to read Shakespeare.
Some of the GCSE curriculum will be pre-1900s literature with challenging language, it is helpful to get them familiar with this type of language if they show willing, maybe in small doses.
Talk about school work
Having school work as a subject of conversation can be really helpful. It doesn’t have to be the intricacies of advanced maths it could be what is happening in their favourite subject, what are they reading at school.
Michelle advocates getting children curious and talking about words and discussing what they mean and where they come from. Challenging I know when you have teens but definitely worth a try.
Confidence in your parenting
It came as a huge relief when I realised I didn’t actually have to understand everything Harry was doing at school to be able to help him.
Telling your teen you don’t understand a particular subject is not admitting failure on your part. I have difficulty remembering what I had for breakfast sometimes, never mind curriculum I studied almost 30 years ago.
What you can do is provide them with the tools to better understand their subjects if they are struggling. Speak to their teachers, research helpful books; just don’t leave them to struggle in silence.
So there you go, some easy-win ways to help our teens and make that challenging time hopefully a bit easier for everyone.
Michelle Mapstone spent 10 years teaching in mainstream education before developing Word Academy based in Oxenhope, West Yorkshire.
Word Academy offers face to face and online tutoring for Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, GCSE and A Level.
For more information about Word Academy see here.