Improving test scores and grades can be a tough task for a child of any age. Use the following tips to find constructive ways to discuss grades and make a plan for boosting your child's performance in school.
Remove the Fear Factor
Most children are already plenty scared or worried when they see a low mark circled in red at the top of their test. Grades are important, but they're not about instilling fear. Instead of focusing on the grade itself — "How could you get a C?!" — talk openly and constructively with your child: "Let's take a look and see what we can learn here." Don't use grades as grounds for punishment, which can damage a child's self-esteem and motivation level. Instead, stay positive about her ability to improve and plan a schedule that includes study time and free time or play time. Removing the "fear factor" from grades will help your child focus on absorbing the material and performing well on future test days — rather than pleasing Mom and Dad.
Review Tests and Quizzes Together
This isn't fun, but it is important: Take the time to sit down and review graded tests or papers together. Start out with the positive, and acknowledge what your child got right or did well. Then review any mistakes and ask your child about what trips him up during tests. See if he struggles with certain types of questions (multiple choice vs. written answers) or is having trouble with the overall subject or a specific topic. A child may understand complex subtraction but be baffled by simple multiplication. Acknowledge that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and commit to helping your child improve in problem areas.
Hone in on Homework Habits
Subjects that are tough for your child will take some extra practice. Use good homework habits to bolster kids' learning. Tackle harder subjects earlier on during homework time when your child's mind is fresh, and make sure each of your children has a quiet homework space that's free of distractions. When extra homework efforts don't help, or you don't know how to guide your child through a topic (which is a very common problem for parents these days!), seek after-school help with the teacher or a tutor. Most students need extra help at some point in their schooling, so there is no reason to feel bad or embarrassed about it.
Use Skill-Builder Worksheets
Skill-builder worksheets are another great tool for improving your child's understanding of tough subjects. Since practice worksheets won't be graded by the teacher, your child might feel more confident working on them — so they make a great warm-up before homework time. In addition to finding free worksheets online, ask your child's teacher for additional practice worksheets on topics your child struggles with.
Connect with the Teacher
The red pen is your friend. Pay attention to specific comments from the teacher on your child's tests, reports, and report cards. She might point out consistent issues your child is having, whether it's messy handwriting or a failure to follow directions. Again, turn to skill-builders and at-home exercises to help your child improve. Also, talk with your child about any issues he is having with the teacher. If your child is a visual learner but the teacher is more of a lecturer, help your child brush up on his listening and note-taking skills. Keep in touch with the teacher throughout the school year. Writing a quick note to acknowledge your child's struggles shows the teacher that you're involved and working on those challenges at home (a teacher's dream!).
Try Fun "Unschooling" Activities
Find fun ways to engage your kids in school subjects outside of school and homework time so that learning becomes a habit they enjoy. "Unschooling" isn't as hard or "nerdy" as it might seem! Check out these fun and easy ways to squeeze in some "everyday" reading, math, and science activities. For example, connecting your child's love of baseball with math and numbers can build his confidence and enthusiasm in school.
Link Learning to the Real World
"Why do I need to learn this?!" your child might grumble while studying tough subjects. Teachers are often so busy squeezing in the curriculum that they don't have the time to connect academics to the real world. Here's where you come in: Try to tie school subject matter to current events, your child's own interests, and glimpses of adult life. If your child loves animals, discuss the ways a veterinarian uses science, math, and communication skills. If it's election season, take your child with you to vote and talk about the electoral process and the branches of government.
Consider Other Factors Affecting Grades
After a series of bad grades, assess whether something bigger is going on in your child's life. A dip in grades could be a symptom of learning difficulties or other things your child is struggling with, such as bullying, puberty, parental separation or divorce, over-scheduling, illness, or sleep troubles. Talk with your child about anything that might be affecting his school performance. Seek the help of a school counselor early on when any serious problems arise.
Have a Healthy Reward System
The days of rewarding kids with money for As on their report cards aren't over. But setting up an ongoing, meaningful reward system throughout the school year can (surprisingly!) be a better motivator than "report card cash" or punishments for low grades. Work out a homework contract and some feasible short-term goals, such as getting four more correct answers on the next spelling quiz or aiming for 10 points higher on the next social studies report, as well as long-term goals like higher report card grades. Allowing kids to choose their own "experience" rewards (think: go-kart racing, a sleepover party, or a camping trip) rather than monetary rewards tends to be a great motivator.