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What worked: Creative learning tips for second through fifth grade

GreatSchools parents share their stories about the unique, sometimes unexpected ways they boost their children's learning.

By GreatSchools Staff

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. One mom recommends letting children do a fun activity before starting homework, while another noticed a link between her daughter’s concentration and jump-roping activity. Read on for more tricks for your elementary school child.

Reinventing homework

Do you dread homework as much as your child? With a little imagination, these parents transformed the sometimes haunted hour by injecting playful projects and breaks into their children’s mental calisthenics and thus bringing some balance to their at-home learning:

Immediately after school, have a snack or light meal prepared. Allow your child to have a fun activity either at home or at the park for about 15 or 30 minutes Then jump into your usual homework routine. Depending on how much homework your child has, you may want to allow 15- to 20-minute breaks in between, so as not to wear the child out. — by MrsDME

The breaks between homework assignments are especially helpful for my guy. I often encourage him to get up, run around, and do jumping jacks. Movement restarts the brain and helps kids concentrate and perform better. I also make sure my son is working in a quiet area and has access to resources. If he has everything he needs within arm’s reach, he is more likely to use strategies rather than just wing it. — by Michellea

My daughter was about to start the third grade and really needed to practice her writing. We'd taken a few short trips this summer, and any chance we had, we would buy a few postcards. Every day she was asked to write to a different grandparent or cousin and tell them about our day. She never thought of it as writing practice at all! — by suzanny

Focus through physical activity

Research has found that exercise helps kids succeed in school by improving their concentration levels. Check out these parent-approved experiments that combine brainpower and brawn:

This may sound weird, but I've figured out that intense physical activity changes my daughter's math abilities. Recently, the family got into jump-roping for exercise, and my 8-year-old daughter started to join in, doing intense little workouts before school.

She'd been having trouble in math — both in terms of doing the work accurately and keeping up with the in-class assignments. She said she never had enough time to finish. But that week she said something weird happened: For the first time, she was the first to finish her in-class math work. Plus her accuracy shot up.

It didn't surprise me that being physically active could help you focus. But the results were so extreme that it still seems amazing. Since then, we've been pretty good about emphasizing her athleticism — but I think it only works if she exerts herself within a few hours of doing the academic work. — by Carol Lloyd

My mother, who was a teacher, used to make us run around the block or the perimeter of the house a couple OF times before we sat down to do our homework. There's nothing like a little physical activity to help your child sit down and focus. — by tjlove

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

07/19/2010:
"Help with learning multiplication facts easy and quick. It is called Times Tales. My LD son had fun learning this way. It makes the numbers into pictures and and they remember stories with the pictures. It seems harder but it is so easy."
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