What helps kids best learn information when they study for school? The answer might be different than you think. A recent article in the New York Times reviewed research literature on what kinds of study habits help our brains retain most of the information we are learning. This is the fourth installment in a series of blogs I am writing about things that help kids be successful in school. In previous posts I have discussed the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, good sleep habits, and a positive, supportive relationship with your child. Today, I am going to share some of the information with you I have recently learned about successful study habits.
Traditionally, parents are often advised to have a particular study area in their home for their child’s homework, stick to a specific schedule, and do one task at a time. Recent research on what helps our brains retain information is turning all that advice upside down. It turns out that what helps our brains retain information is being able to generalize what we learn in one context to other situations and contexts.
Research shows, for example, that studying the same materials in different environments helps the brain retain information better than only studying the material in the same place. The theory is that because of the differences in sensory input in different environments, the brain makes more diverse connections around the same material, making it easier to recall it later.
Another recent research finding shows that varying study activities of a related subject, so called “interleaving”, also makes it easier to recall information that just focusing on one activity. An example of interleaving is practicing different kinds of math problems, like algorithm problems, story problems, and geometry problems, all mixed together. It is thought that by varying the types of math problems you are working on, it helps the brain switch between different types of problem solving, again allowing it to make more diverse connections. For language arts or studying a foreign language it would help to learn some vocabulary words, do some reading comprehension tasks (reading a text and answering questions about it), and writing a short paragraph or sentence. Researchers have found that interleaving works for all kinds of subjects, also for the arts.
In summary, you can help your child by encouraging him or her to:
- Study in different rooms of the house or inside and outside in the backyard.
- Switch between different types of activities of the same subject. So if your child comes home with a worksheet with algorithm problems and word problems, encourage him or her to first do one algorithm problem, then one word problem, and keep switching back and forth until the worksheet is done.