Learning

Your biggest school questions - sorted

If your child started school recently, or is about to do so, you probably have issues you’d like to raise. But perhaps you feel hesitant – because you don’t want to seem like an over-anxious parent, or worse, a troublemaker! We asked around to find out what questions parents would most like to ask, and here they are – complete with some expert answers!

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My child finds it hard to sit still for any length of time and is easily distracted. I just can’t imagine how he’s going to manage to sit still in the classroom. How can I help?

This is common, especially with children who are in their first term at school. Try to build your child’s concentration at home. Make it fun – with a reward at the end of it! Ask your child to sit next to you while you read to him, or share a book looking at the pictures. Explain that you’d rather he didn’t get up and walk around, or play, until you tell him it’s okay to do so. Start with an achievable target: 10 minutes sitting down – and build up to 20 or more. If your child’s attention begins to wander, gently bring him back to what you are doing. Explain that the teacher will expect him to sit quietly and listen, just like he’s doing at home with you.

Enthusiasm is catching, so the more enthusiastic you can be, the more your child will be too.

My child brings home reading books but she has no interest and hates having to sit down and read. What should I do?

Enthusiasm is catching, so the more enthusiastic you can be, the more your child will be too. Try to read together when you aren’t rushed and they aren’t tired. Reading should be fun and relaxing! Routine helps – choose a time of day to read and stick to it. Make it your special time together when brothers or sisters are not allowed to interrupt.

If your child really hates the books she brings home, it’s worth mentioning it to her teacher because there may be other books they can supply. Or try trips to the library where your child can choose her own.

There is a child joining my child’s class who is a real handful with behaviour problems: she was with my child at nursery. Should I be concerned and should I voice my opinions to the school?

It’s usually better to leave it to the school to deal with behavioural issues. They will have reports from the nursery about all the children. The most you should do is keep an eye on whether this child distracts your child – if they sit close by, for example, this might be a problem. It would be a mistake to make too much of this, unless there is real evidence that this child is holding your child back.

There’s always the possibility that the child’s behaviour may improve in a new school. If you do discover that this child’s behaviour affects your child’s learning or behaviour in some way, make an appointment to discuss it with the teacher.

I’m worried my child may be dyslexic. How can I tell and what should I do?

Dyslexia is diagnosed by an educational psychologist and most children are assessed when they are seven or over. If your child is very slow in learning to read and spell, it’s worth considering an assessment. Dyslexia tends to run in families, so if anyone in your family has similar problems it makes it more likely. It’s worth talking to your child’s teacher about your concerns, but most schools won’t rush into arranging an assessment, preferring to wait and see if a child catches up.

However, the sooner dyslexia is diagnosed the better, because then your child has the chance to catch up before losing too much confidence. A private assessment can be arranged with an educational psychologist through Dyslexia Action.

Once you have a diagnosis you can decide on the best course of action. Your child’s school may be able to offer specialist teaching, though few state schools can, and many parents find that specialist tuition after school for a few terms can be very helpful.

My child gets very tired during the school day and sometimes falls asleep when she comes home. I am worried she isn’t concentrating in the afternoons and could fall behind.

The transition from nursery to full-time school can be tiring for some children. Do consider your child’s diet which can have an impact on concentration. All children need a good breakfast, but some foods are better than others. Protein for breakfast – eggs, baked beans, cheese, yogurt – will provide more energy for longer than sugary cereals. Many popular cereals have a very high sugar content, which gives children a quick energy boost followed by a slump, and they feel sleepy.

Avoid biscuits, crisps and white bread in packed lunches and substitute wholemeal bread, protein, fruit and low sugar yogurts. You can also pack some nutritious snacks to eat at playtime if this is allowed. Some children need an earlier bedtime once they are at school full-time, so try moving bedtimes an hour earlier to see if this helps.

Settling down to homework as soon as they come home, after a short break, works better than leaving it later in the evening.

My child is starting to be given homework and finds it hard to settle down to it, resulting in arguments and tears. Ho can we avoid this?

Try not to make homework into a battleground. Most children respond to a routine. Settling down to homework as soon as they come home, after a short break, works better than leaving it later in the evening. Create a quiet space to do homework in. This doesn’t have to be your child’s bedroom – the kitchen table is fine – so you are close by to help if needed.

Many parents find that getting everyone to do their homework at the same time works well – so turn the TV off and get everyone to concentrate at the same time. Try to make homework fun by having a positive attitude to it yourself, rather than seeing it as a chore. If homework is consistently too hard or takes too long, it’s time to have a discussion with the teacher.

My son is young for his school year. How can I make sure he doesn’t fall behind?

There’s some evidence that summer-born babies do less well at school. Remember that your son may find the school day more tiring than children who are almost a year older, so he may need earlier bedtimes than his friends.

Helping your child at home as much as possible by reading with him, doing ‘stealth learning’ – practising number work when out shopping, reading street signs, menus in cafes and so on – will all help his learning. Talk to his teacher if you are worried and the school may suggest other things to do at home to help.

Some of my daughter’s friends are already being tutored so they ‘keep up’ at school. I feel they are very young for this but I am concerned that I should be doing the same for my child.

Tutoring has become very popular, and some families feel it’s something that all children should do. If your daughter is doing well and school has no concerns then she doesn’t need a tutor. Children can feel under pressure at an early age if parents create anxiety over levels and achievements.

The only exception to this is if your child might in the future take an entrance exam for a selective school, in which case she might benefit from some tutoring, but otherwise it’s not necessary unless a child has fallen behind.

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