Why is it that some children are successful at school while others struggle to learn?

Do you struggle to understand why your bright child seems to find things so difficult at school?

Do you want a way to help them find learning easier?

Isn’t it a mystery that your bright and interested little one finds it hard to engage and learn basic skills at school? I have heard and observed this many times over the years so I have considered why this might be.

There are special reasons why some children find learning difficult, for example dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. These are specialist and not within the limitations of this particular blog. However if you’d like any advice, if you’re concerned, there is lots of information on the internet, or you can give me a call.

So what are the basic skills required for effective learning?

Picture yourself at an adult education class, full of people you don’t really know, about to learn something new. The tutor, whom you’ve never met before, is at the front of the class introducing the new subject matter and explaining to everyone what you should expect from the course. You suddenly realise that you don’t know much about your chosen course and that everyone else in the room looks really keen and seems to understand what’s being said. You’re not at all sure that you’ve chosen the right course.

So you have 2 choices now:

  1. Look out of the window for the rest of that lesson and don’t go back the following week
  2. Take a deep breath, pull up your pants and commit to engaging as fully as you can, knowing that it’s probably going to be tough at times.

These are the choices many children have on a daily basis at school. In fact they have third option; to be disruptive as a distraction to the teacher. As adults we probably don’t do this!

I can think of one particular student that I taught maths to on a 1 to 1 basis. She was generally not very confident and not particularly interested in maths. Every week I would ask her what she had covered in maths lessons that week and we would start on some questions. More often than not I would soon discover she had not taken very much in and when I questioned her it would be because she had lost the thread of the lesson quite early, not felt able to ask a question and so had daydreamed the remainder of the lesson away.

I always encourage children to ask questions if they don’t understand but I also appreciate that it can take quite a bit of courage – it’s risky!

Some of the reasons children don’t ask are:

  • They feel stupid
  • They feel they’re always the one asking a question
  • They can’t formulate a question
  • They feel their question is stupid
  • They think the rest of the class will laugh at them
  • They don’t like the teacher
  • They think they’ll be told off
  • They can’t be bothered
  • They don’t know if they’re allowed to ask a question
  • They feel they should already know
  • They don’t want to stand out
  • They believe there is someone better to ask
  • They don’t realise they don’t understand
  • They have previously had an upsetting experience when asking question

All of these are valid reasons but what it means is that the child leaves that lesson not understanding because all of those reasons mean they would have to have taken a risk. Learning is all about risk taking whether you believe you’ll fail or succeed. By its very nature learning is about acquiring something new that you don’t already know. It’s risky!

What you can do

The Oxford Dictionary defines risk as “a situation involving exposure to danger.” Risk comes in degrees and we all have a tolerance or aversion to risk. Some people would quite happily jump out of an aeroplane. I think that’s pretty risky. Other people feel it’s risky not to have a savings plan. That feels less of a risk to me as I trust that I have enough good friends that would help me out if I asked them.

School is an environment where children are constantly being asked to tackle new things. That’s why we send them. But if they’re not courageous enough to either dive in or ask for help when they need it they’re not going to succeed as well as they could do.

 There are a few simple things you can do while your children are still little.

  1. Encourage them to be interested in what they are doing regardless of the outcome.
  2. Engage them regularly in activities where they are developing their “learning skills”.
  3. Ensure they are experiencing success.
  4. Ensure they are experiencing challenges and small failures.
  5. Praise them for what you see them doing rather than successes.

If you don’t know how to do any of this Caterpillar Learners can help! We have groups throughout the year where you can have fun together and learn together. You can find a group here.