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The best way parents can foster high achievement in school is to value learning at home, research shows

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Sleep on it Sleep is brain fuel, especially when it comes to mastering complex problems. Kevin Peters, a psychologist at Trent University, explains that getting a good night's rest after learning helps consolidate memories. Sleep has also been shown to aid procedural memory, which trains the brain in cognitive and motor skills. In an experiment conducted at Trent University, released last summer, two groups of university students were brought into the lab to learn a song on the video game Guitar Player. The first group came in at 9 p.m., learned the song, and was sent home with instructions to come in at 9 a.m. and perform it. The second group learned at 9 a.m. and returned to the lab at 9 p.m. The results: The sleep group improved significantly more than the group that stayed awake.

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Get their hearts pumping There's more to skating to the net than working up a healthy sweat: It also makes you smarter. Students who are physically fit, research suggests, get better marks in school. One U.S. study tracked the fitness of fifth-grade students for two years and compared it with their academic performance: The students in the best shape also had the best average scores in standardized tests in reading, math and science. (Students whose physical fitness improved in the two years of the study, also saw their marks rise.) In fact, schools are now experimenting with morning exercises as a way to boost concentration and improve test scores.


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Serve news with supper: There's a perk to discussing the BP oil spill or taxes at the family dinner table. A University of Buffalo study published last July collected more than 100,000 science test scores from 15-year-olds in 41 countries, including a questionnaire that asked students about their conversations at home. It found that family discussions were even more important in wealthier countries, where students have notebooks and rulers but may spend less time with their parents. Ming Ming Chiu, a professor in the department of learning and instruction at the university, suggests chatting with your kids about political and social events, especially when there's math involved. But don't lecture: Ask for their solutions to plugging that leaking well.


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Memory games: Too many students study by reading texts repeatedly. Research shows that the brain retains information better when it's forced to retrieve it – using flashcards, for instance. A 2009 experiment also found that university students who continued testing themselves on questions they believed they'd already learned retained those answers longer, and improved their memory on the subject over all. Other tricks to try: breaking down large problems into simpler steps and practising memorization with different techniques, such as talking through the problem or drawing a diagram. In math, research shows it's better to study different kinds of problems together (rather than a whole sheet of one kind of calculation), forcing the brain to work harder to solve them.

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A really is for effort Motivation matters. Studies show that children who are told they are talented or gifted often underperform students who are congratulated on their effort. Believing that intelligence is something you are born with – what research calls the “fixed mindset” – makes students more discouraged when they fail, and less likely to tackle harder problems. Students who believe effort is required to learn – the “growth mindset” – are more likely to take on harder problems and be less concerned with marks, and are more likely to persist when they get things wrong. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck says one study showed that even teaching students the brain is “a muscle that gets stronger with use” made a difference in test scores. Take-home message for parents: Don't praise your children on their smarts. Congratulate them on their hard work and determination.

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Sell the practical benefits Students respond when they see a clear connection between school and the wider world. A recent University of Michigan study explored how 600 middle-school students handled their homework when asked first to consider what they wanted to do in the future. The students who saw a college education as part of their adult lives – and linked to their future earnings – were far more likely to do their homework that night.

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Mom and Dad? Present! Parental involvement is consistently linked to school success, even in higher grades. A study published in the May/June 2010 issue of the journal Child Development tracked 1,300 children in 10 U.S. cities from birth to fifth grade, and found that students with parents who visited the school regularly and encouraged education at home had higher social skills and lower rates of problems such as anxiety and depression

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