There’s a time and place for expert opinion, but sometimes the best practical wisdom springs straight from real life. GreatSchools is proud to introduce “What Worked,” a new series featuring tips and tales tapped directly from the source: fellow moms and dads. From facing down mean girls (and boys) to helping with homework horrors, GreatSchools members recount their child-rearing adventures in the hopes that what worked for them just might work for you. At the very least, we hope these short takes will inspire you to try new, creative tactics tailored to your child’s needs.

For our first edition, we asked parents to share ideas for boosting kids’ learning. Hard work, diligence, and commitment — we all want to teach our kids these elusive strengths, but convincing middle-schoolers to venture outside their comfort zone is easier said than done. These parents reveal their tricks for getting tweens to apply themselves.

Real-world wisdom

I’ve recently gone back to school and had to complete tons of work. Oftentimes my son would ask me to play, and I would tell him no and explain why. Now he understands what type of commitment school requires from him because I modeled that. — by jafinkley

I am a real estate broker. My son, who is 13, went on showing appointments with me this summer. He learned about business etiquette and social skills by watching how I work with clients. He observed how I greet and introduce people, how I talk about features and benefits of the houses I have for sale, and how I efficiently map out gas-saving routes to my showings. He saw how I use marketing brochures in my presentations and the convenience of having business cards. Importantly, my son learned about what it means to be self-employed and how I make a living.

My son enjoyed the opportunity to experience learning in a very different environment from his traditional classroom. I enjoyed his intelligent questions; his enthusiasm for meeting new people; and his break from the computer, TV, and video games. — by Elizabeth Johnson

Strategies for success

Our son struggles with reading and writing. He wants to give only the shortest answer possible. Last year, for language arts/spelling and history, we had him try using an outline method to help him get his thoughts together and down on paper. It was hard at first, but the process became easier as the school year continued.

For our son to have to start with a blank page and fill it up with information was a daunting task. But having an outline gave him a way to get all his ideas on paper. He then was able to prioritize and add or delete as necessary. Once he had the road map, he was able to expand on the topics he needed to cover. Writing is still a bit of a struggle, but we believe that using the outline method has really helped our son in his understanding of a subject and then being able to explain his understanding. — by MSMomm

Projects are very popular in education right now, and teachers can assign projects left and right — in addition to nightly homework. Many teachers will encourage students to tackle the projects 15 minutes every night, a practice I find unworkable. Fifteen or even 30 minutes every night doesn’t get a project done well or sometimes doesn’t even get it done. And it’s hard to finish any project in bits and pieces — the ball doesn’t get rolling, and you spend time figuring out where you left off the night before. And what if you have several projects?

We knocked the projects out on a weekend — two if necessary, but we did homework at night and left the projects for the weekend. We might let the weekend homework go until Sunday night even and spent what time we could on Saturday and Sunday finishing the project in one fell swoop if we could.  — by TeacherParent

Memorizing through movement

Studying doesn’t have to take place at the table. This mom found out that movement helps her daughter memorize:

My daughter hates spelling because she has a hard time learning the words. Through the years I have tried several methods, but the following are the ones that helped her most. We break each word into syllables to help with the pronunciation, then she writes the word dropping one letter at a time. For example, she writes “learn,” then “lear,” then “lea,” etc. Dividing the word list into smaller groups with similar spellings helps her to not feel overwhelmed.

Because she is a kinetic learner, it helps with some subjects to use real objects, so studying doesn’t mean sitting at the table all the time. I let her play with a ball, with her hands, or stand and walk around while she is memorizing something. — by shspublicity

In the cards

When my son writes something on paper, he learns the order more [easily] than the concepts. With flash cards you can shuffle them and continuously switch the order, and you can also flip the cards over. So if [my son] has gotten good at knowing the definition, formula, etc., when I say the concept, I flip the cards over and see if he can get the concept based on the definition, formula, etc.

Flash cards have worked wonders for my son. Every day when doing homework, my son makes flash cards, and every weekend he goes over all the flash cards in that particular subject area. — by ad7706

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