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 8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1)

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8 things you can do to help your child sail though school
8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 20090209.111449_edusail
By Sandra Davie

Making the right choices for your child is never easy - especially when you are a time-poor parent unable to dip into the latest research tomes published on childhood academic development.

Most parents struggle with questions like: How to motivate kids to do better? Should you enrol them in school as early as possible? Is television good or bad for young minds?

Sandra Davie trawls through 40 studies published over the last three decades to search for answers. She finds that the latest research from around the world contains some surprising insights into what parents should - and should not do - in nurturing young minds.

1. Don't fast-track your child
Those born on Jan 1 may not benefit from starting school one year earlier.

MYTH: 'My child needs to start school as soon as he can so that he gets a head start.'

REALITY: Delaying entry may be better - especially for those born late in the year and not ready for school.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 1

HOUSEWIFE and former bank executive Khoo Lay Kim, 42, could not understand why her seven-year old son was lagging behind his peers.

He was ranked 29th among 30 children in his Primary 1 class. At the suggestion of his teachers, she took him to an educational psychologist to assess him for learning difficulties.

Madam Khoo was told that her son had no problems, but that his December birthday could be the reason he was falling behind.

Surprised, she did some research of her own and found out that there was a lot to support the psychologist's claim.

Studies both overseas and in Singapore show that children born earlier in the year perform better than those born later in the year.

What Madam Khoo uncovered is something most Singaporean parents seem unaware of.

This is evident from the fact that parents with babies born on Jan 1 usually take up the option of having them attend primary school a year earlier than their peers born in the same year.

Last year, 80 parents chose to enrol their Jan 1-born children a year earlier, with only 20 opting to delay schooling.

THE Ministry of Education conducted a study in the mid-1990s which showed that babies born in January perform better academically than those born in December. The study compared the year-end results of the 1993 cohort of Primary 4 and 6 pupils against their birth dates.

It found that among Primary 4 pupils, January babies outscored December babies by, on average, four marks in English, five in a second language and six in Maths.

Pupils born in the earlier months of the year were nearly twice as likely to qualify for the EM1 stream, which was for the academically strong pupils. In 1993, 15 per cent of Primary 4 pupils born in January were eligible for EM1, compared to only 8 per cent of those born in December.

Among both top performers and under-performers, early babies scored higher in the Primary School Leaving Examination. But the difference among the bulk of pupils, those born in the middle months, was not significant.

When it came to streaming, 30 per cent of those born in January went to the Normal stream, compared to 35 per cent of those born in December.

Ministry officials said these findings were similar to those overseas. In Western countries where the school term begins in September, summer babies tend to fare worse than those born in winter.

Although the majority of studies show that these birthday-related academic advantages disappear after the first few years, a 2006 study of more than 200,000 children in 19 countries by American labour economists Kelly Bedard and Elizabeth Dhuey provides evidence that these initial differences have long-lasting effects on student performance.

Their data on children from Canada and the United States shows that the youngest members of each cohort are less likely to go to university.

IN THE US and Britain, more parents are delaying their children's entry to school to give them a head start. This practice is known as 'academic red-shirting', after the practice of letting college football stars take a year off so that when they start playing for the university, they are a year older, bigger and stronger. A Harvard University study found that in 1968, 96 per cent of six-year-olds in the US were enrolled in the first grade or above. By 2005, the number had fallen to 84 per cent.

Despite the research evidence suggesting that delayed entry may be advantageous to December-born children, most educational psychologists still advise 'on-time entry' because, they claim, differences level out after a few years.

For their social and emotional growth, it is also said to be better for children to mix with their own-age peers.

Parents with children who are lagging behind to a significant extent should seek professional advice from their preschool teachers or an educational psychologist before they delay their start.

The general advice is that if a child is lagging behind and he has the capacity to catch up, it is better to enrol him in school on time.

2. Choose best school, not top school
Better to be a big fish in a little pond, say experts.

MYTH: 'If my child attends a top-performing school, he will thrive in its challenging environment.'

REALITY: Some children - even those of high ability - perform better in average-ability schools.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 2

IT HAPPENS every year, just before the annual Primary 1 registration exercise begins.

Parents join churches, school alumni clubs and clan associations, or even move home, just to secure a place for their children in a popular school.

The assumption is that their children will automatically do better if they manage to get into a top school. But this is not always the case.

Academic studies have looked closely into whether high-performing selective schools add value to a student over and above a regular school.

The results have been mixed. Some have found that selective schools do help children perform better. Others have found the reverse and identified a number of negatives - such as the 'Big Fish, Little Pond Effect', referred to as BFLPE for short.

Research done by academics, including that of Professor Herbert W. Marsh at Oxford University, has found that academic self-concept depends not only on your child's academic accomplishments, but also on the relative accomplishments of others in his class.

A key implication of this is that the self-concept of low- or average-ability students is helped if they attend an average- rather than a high-ability school.

These pupils will receive additional motivation from their classmates because their own achievements will appear more significant. They may be motivated to maintain their edge.

On the flip side, parents should note that the negative impact of high-ability peers on self-esteem is not large. Also, there are many students who are not affected by the so-called 'Big Fish, Little Pond Effect'?.

Consider your child's strengths and weaknesses.

How important is it for your child to be top of the heap? How much would he be affected if he slipped from being fifth in class to, say, 38th?

Children who are focused on improvement and are less focused on how they compare to classmates thrive better in selective schools. They also tend to enjoy challenges and deal well with competition. If you opt for a regular school near your home, there are other ways to stretch your child.

Some schools have advanced classes for students who are good in a particular subject, be it maths or the languages. Extra- curricular activities can also help to nurture any aptitude they have.

Many schools send their best maths students to mathematical olympiads and robotics competitions. Those strong in English can benefit from debate or drama competitions. So, in most schools, there is ample opportunity for your child to feel good about himself and shine.

Go to the Education Ministry's website - - for advice on what to consider when choosing a primary school.

Website lists the popular schools that held ballotting for Primary 1 places.
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3. Read stories, play word games
Interacting with your child is key.

MYTH: 'Buying my child plenty of books will get him into the habit of reading.'

REALITY: There is no replacement for spending quality time with your child in front of a book. You must read to - and with - your child.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 3

FOR years now, there has been disagreement on what is the best way to teach children to read. It is one of the most hotly contested areas of education, dubbed by some as The Reading Wars.

At issue are two dramatically different teaching methods. First is the older way, termed phonics. It teaches children to sound out letters so that they can make words. For example, using the letters 'p' and 'h' together make the sound of the letter 'f', as in the word 'graph'.

This approach has been criticised for being a skill and drill method - uninspiring and perhaps even turning children off reading.

Those who support it say it provides a solid learning foundation and helps children develop decoding skills which can be applied to new and unfamiliar words.

Second is the whole-language approach where children read books for the story and construct meaning from what they read.

Proponents of this approach believe that children are readers and writers from the start. It is based on the premise that learning to read is as natural as learning to talk.

But this method, too, has its critics who say its approach of skipping unfamiliar words runs the risk of not learning vital words in the early stages of reading.

The latest thinking is that both these approaches are not incompatible.

Reading experts, such as Harvard Professor Catherine Snow, who led a study of children's reading problems for the United States National Academy of Sciences, recommend that teachers and parents take the best of phonics and whole-language approaches to teach children reading. This has been called 'balanced instruction'.

According to this line of thought, teachers most effective in developing reading skills in their pupils use a combination of both approaches. The practices of good readers bear this out, where they first use rapid and automatic word recognition, then phonics for words that they do not know. Finally, they use the context to figure out the words that they cannot get from the first two steps.

Read to, and with, your child.

Being read to develops language and vocabulary and also develops children's ability for storytelling and re-telling. But as reading expert Susan Harris- Sharples of Wheelock College points out, reading sessions must be interactive.

For younger children, this means developing their phonemic awareness (the sounds in words) through books such as Dr Seuss. For older children, stop halfway through the story and ask them to predict what might happen.

Professor Harris-Sharples suggests a game where parent and child can alternate reading the sentences.

In the early stages of reading, parents should not get 'too hung up on accuracy'. Instil the joy of reading first, then gradually build up the technical side. In selecting books, choose books that have an appropriate level of difficulty.

Experts suggest the 'Five-Finger Rule'. Have your child open the book to any page and read it. Each time she comes to a word she does not know, she should hold up one finger. If she gets to five fingers before finishing the page, the book is too hard. If she does not hold up any fingers, it is too easy. If she holds up two or three fingers, the book is likely to be a good fit.

The books should also have high phonemic capacity and play with a diversity of sounds that help develop a child's phonemic awareness.

An engaging story that arouses curiosity and stimulates the imagination of the child helps.

Of course, there are differences between boys and girls in the types of books they prefer. Boys prefer action, fantasy, adventure and books that provide information on a variety of subjects. Girls, on the other hand, enjoy books that deal with relationships.

Reading with your child will also help you spot any reading difficulties, such as reversing letters or words frequently. Lastly, bear in mind poor reading can be due to a host of other reasons such as poor eyesight or hearing problems.

There are several websites that give tips on how to get your child to read including and which lists the 100 best books for children.

4. Focus on effort, not grades
The right motivation can encourage positive self-belief.

MYTH: 'The best way to motivate my child is to praise or reward him when he scores high marks.'

REALITY: Tying your praise to high scores runs the risk of linking your children's self-worth to how well they do in examinations. Praise their effort instead.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 4

MOTIVATION is critical to a child's enjoyment of school and achievement. It can make the difference between a student who enjoys school and sails through lessons and one who cannot wait for it to be all over.

Much research has been done in the area of child motivation over the last 30 to 40 years. Sydney University Associate Professor Andrew Martin, an expert on child motivation, distils the key findings.

First, he said, motivation is multifaceted. 'It's not the one thing. There are many aspects to it, from whether a child enjoys learning to how the child handles failure. And the majority of children, even those seen to be lacking in motivation, do well in some ways and not in others.'

Second, motivation levels are changeable - which means that parents should never give up on their children. They can always do something about it. Figure out why the child is unmotivated and, if the issue is dealt with, over time the child will respond.

But he adds that these strategies will work better when a parent and child have a good relationship.

'When parents have a good relationship with their children, they are in 'their world', not their friends, not the TV or Internet. And they can influence their children.'

Some of the latest research shows that academic resilience, which refers to a child's ability to deal with academic setbacks, plays a big part in whether a child remains motivated.

Lecturing children to be more motivated, or even telling them to improve their attitude or behaviour, is not really helpful.

Instead, it is vital to give children very specific information, advice, encouragement, direction and support. Children who have positive self-belief tend to get better results, do difficult schoolwork confidently, feel optimistic, try hard and enjoy school.

To build up your child's self-confidence, Prof Martin suggests challenging negative thinking traps. For example, a child who gets an 'A' may think it was luck. Parents should encourage him to recognise and take credit for his success.

He also recommends 'chunking' - where schoolwork is divided into bite-size pieces. The completion of each piece is seen as a success.

For example, in an essay, a student can succeed in many ways, including: fully understanding the question; breaking the question into parts; doing a search for information at the library or on the Internet; summarising the information he reads; organising the information under sub-headings, and so on.

Not only does this strategy provide multiple success experiences, it is also a very effective way of building motivation. The student is being rewarded with success throughout the essay, which sustains interest and persistence.

'When children do this, they immediately build more success into their life, which in turn leads them to think more positively about themselves.'

Prof Martin, who has given talks at the National Institute of Education here, said parents should avoid comparing their child's grades with those of their classmates. Instead, they should focus on the child's personal best, in the same way that athletes try to better their running times.

'This way, they become academic athletes racing against themselves. Instead of looking around at everyone else's marks and how they compare, they are focused on their own game and try and improve for personal rather than competitive reasons.'

Praise is important but it should be tied to a child's effort, behaviour or attitude, rather than his results.

When a child comes back with an 'A', instead of saying 'You are a wonderful child to get an 'A', the parent should say 'I know you worked hard on this exam. Good on you'.

This way the child does not end up thinking that his worth is based on the marks he gets. If he does, he may start to fear failure, because his parents' love is at stake. Last but not least, Prof Martin reminds parents that the expectations they hold for their children are very powerful.

'They tell our children what we think of them and what they are capable of. Positive expectations that are achievable are the most optimal types of expectations. They tell a child we believe in them and they tell a child what to aim for.'

How To Motivate Your Child For School And Beyond by Andrew Martin.

Visit for student motivation assessment, products and services.

5. Use tuition intelligently
Private lessons are often worth the expense.

MYTH: 'My child has to have a private tutor - tuition is a necessity these days.'

REALITY: It works for most children, and the best results can be achieved in subjects like Mathematics.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 5

NOT for nothing is Singapore called a 'tuition nation'. A Sunday Times poll last year of 100 primary, secondary and junior college students found that only three had no tuition at all.

Of the other 97 students, 49 had private tutors, while 32 attended classes at tuition centres. The other 16 had both types of coaching.

The most popular subjects are Mathematics and English, and a typical session lasts two hours, and is either held at home or at a centre.

The poll found that students at tuition centres were getting younger, with the parents of kindergarten and nursery-level children asking for tuition in phonics and conversational English.

The market rate for private one-toone home tuition is between $20 and $150 an hour, depending on the student's level and the tutor's qualifications.

Group tuition classes cost between $60 and $350 monthly.

Studies show that private tuition does help children do better in school. Individual one-to-one tutoring benefits students lagging behind or those with learning disabilities.

Students can be coached by a range of people, including retired schoolteachers or their own parents.

Many schools have peer tutoring where children who are strong in certain subjects tutor the weak.

Some research shows that student tutors provide the most emotional and personal support to students, but professional tutors provide better academic outcomes.

Other studies show that parents make effective tutors for their own children, especially in their early years. This helps parents understand what their children are learning in school and also helps build a better relationship between them and their young ones.

Academics have looked at whether tuition is better for certain subjects. Results show that it is best for Mathematics, largely because the subject is easier to teach.

Tuition is also more beneficial when the tutor uses the same textbooks and supplementary materials as those used in class.

Experts say the computer-based tutoring programs many parents are increasingly using, although inferior to face-to-face tutoring, can be beneficial.

But they warn that a lot of software can be sub-standard and a waste of time and money.

Good educational programs are interactive, interesting and motivate students to want to learn more, and are closely linked to what is being taught in school. They also encourage independent thinking and help develop problem- solving, research and analytical skills.

Consider the type of tuition that best suits your child - group tuition or one-to-one.

A popular misconception is that one-to-one coaching always gives the best results. A child involved in such coaching can become anxious, as the scrutiny of the teacher is fully focused on him for the whole lesson.

But if you decide to send your child to group tuition, ensure that it offers a plan specifically tailored to your child's school curriculum.

When hiring a tutor, ask for referrals from other students' parents to find out more about their teaching methods. When hiring a tutor from a tuition agency, be sure to read and understand the terms of the contract. If they claim to have certain qualifications, whether it is a degree or teaching diploma, ask to see the certificates.

In Singapore, there are cases of tutors claiming to be 'registered with the Ministry of Education'. The ministry has no such scheme. But it does require tuition schools to be registered as private schools.
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6. Get involved at school
Kids do better if parents take an interest in their school.

MYTH: 'My child's success at school all comes down to him working hard, not my attendance at parents' events.'

REALITY: Behind every successful child is a super-involved parent.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 6

MANY parents who volunteer at schools to get ahead of others in the Primary 1 registration queue often stop getting involved once their children secure a place.

But education researchers say that parents should, ideally, continue to be closely involved in their children's schooling all the way through their education. There are many benefits to be reaped from this.

Three decades of research overseas and locally have shown that the more parents are involved in their children's education, the better their children perform in school.

Children with more involved parents enjoy school more and have better school attendance. They are also more emotionally and socially well-adjusted and better able to handle stress. A National Institute of Education (NIE) study here of 150 high-income couples published in 2001 found that it is not money, but active engagement in their children's education, that made a difference in how well their children performed in school.

NIE Assistant Professor Lana Khong Yiu Lan found that children of parents who do not leave everything to tutors, or who give up their jobs for their offspring's sake, often do well in examinations.

Such parents are often seen in or around school, trying to keep informed about the latest developments in education from the principal and other parents.

At home, they chat up neighbours whose children have good grades, seeking their advice on tutors and what enrichment programmes their children should take.

By comparison, the children of parents who are focused on their careers and who rely on tutors, family members or even maids to help their children cope with school, do less well.

Prof Khong chose to study high-income families because she wanted to see how well-educated parents in the top 20 per cent of earners allocate resources and time to their children's education. Her aim was to find out whether the way they help their children could be applied to the less well-off.

She concluded that the most important ingredients for good school performance are family involvement, sacrifice and awareness of educational matters, and that the less well-off who put in the same effort should not feel deprived in any way.

Parents can use community libraries and subsidised tuition programmes run by community self-help groups to give their children that extra edge.

All parents should also invest in spending quality and quantity time with their children, building good relationships with them. This will go a long way in helping their children.

'In the end, doing well in school and in life is not about money,' she said. Much research has also been done on the importance of the role of fathers. Again, research has shown that children with involved fathers are better academic achievers. They are more likely to get As, and have better numeracy and verbal skills.

There are many simple, everyday things that parents can do to become more engaged in their children's learning, according to Prof Khong.

For starters, parents can ask their children about their day in school.

'It signals the fact that you are interested in his schooling and think it is important,' she explained. 'Unfortunately, the only thing that some parents inquire about is their child's marks in school tests or exams.'

At home, parents can provide an environment that encourages learning and school activities. They should ensure there is some quiet time spent without the TV and other distractions when homework can be completed.

Parents are also advised to visit the school early in the year to meet the teachers and principal so that they can establish a mutual relationship of respect and trust.

Unfortunately, said Prof Khong, many parents turn up to meet their children's teachers only when their children perform poorly or misbehave. She also advised parents to make friends with other parents. The parental grapevine is very useful for sharing information and ideas.

And one of the best things any parent can do is to become a volunteer in school.

A mother's or father's presence in school conveys an important message to the child about the value placed on schooling.

It also gives parents a good understanding of what the school community is like, the specific context that their child operates in every day, and the challenges teachers face.

But, if that is not possible because of work or commitments, look for other ways to help out at home.

For example, parents can make phone calls to other parents to help arrange school-related activities or assist in editing the school newsletter.

7. Switch off the television set
The box can stunt your child's development, so use it sparingly.

MYTH: 'Watching educational and children's shows is good for my child and helps build his intelligence.'

REALITY: TV can restrict your child's development.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 7

ADVERTISING executive Kelly Tan, 30, used to plonk her two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son in front of the television set whenever she needed to snatch some time for herself.

At weekends, her children used to watch up to 10 hours of mostly educational DVDs or children's programmes. That was until her son's kindergarten teachers complained of his hyperactivity in class.

The child psychologist she consulted warned her that TV could be a key factor contributing to his condition and that she should restrict her children's viewing. What she did not realise was that extensive research has been conducted on the effects of TV on children and that it shows it often does more harm than good.

One of the leading academics in this area, Professor Dimitri Christakis from Seattle Children's Research Institute and the University of Washington, has conducted an extensive review of 78 studies published over the last 25 years.

His key finding is that the studies indicate that watching TV programmes or DVDs designed for infants actually delays language development.

For example, a 2008 Thai study published in the journal Acta Paediatrica found that if children under 12 months watched TV for more than two hours a day, they were six times more likely to have delayed language skills. Another study found that children between seven and 16 months who watched baby programmes on DVDs knew fewer words than children who did not.

Infants as young as 14 months will imitate what they see on a TV screen, but they learn better from live presentations. For example, one investigation found that children learnt Chinese better from a native speaker than they did from a video of the same speaker. Excessive TV can be a factor in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A study of 1,300 children conducted by Prof Christakis in 2004 found that the amount of TV a child is exposed to between ages one and three has a direct effect upon later attention problems. Watching TV, in other words, can shorten attention spans.

The study found that a child who watched two hours of TV a day before age three would be 20 per cent more likely to have attention problems by age seven.

Why does TV have such a negative effect on children?

Prof Christakis explains that it exposes children to flashing lights, scene changes, quick edits and auditory cuts which may overstimulate developing brains.

Things happen fast on the TV screen, so children's brains may come to expect this pace, making it harder to concentrate if there is less stimulation.

In other research, he and his colleagues looked at the impact of early TV viewing on the cognitive development of those at school age. They found that children who had watched a lot of TV in their early years did not perform as well when they underwent tests to check reading and memory skills.

A separate New Zealand study discovered that those who watched the most TV were the least likely to go to university and get a degree.

It monitored the TV habits of 1,037 children aged between five and 15 in 1972 and 1973. When it was finally published in 2005, it tracked the educational achievements of the same children. The study found that the 7 per cent of children who watched the box for under one hour a day were the most qualified by the time they were 26.

But shockingly, the over 20 per cent who sat in front of the TV for more than three hours each school day ended up doing the worst at all academic levels. Most failed to get high school certificates, trade diplomas or degrees.

The researchers also discovered that although excessive teenage TV viewing was strongly linked to leaving school without any qualifications, earlier childhood viewing had the greatest impact on getting a degree.

At this stage, even bright children and those from well-off families who watch a lot of TV are less likely to go on and get a degree.

The researchers concluded that excessive TV viewing leads to poor educational achievement. It displaces homework and revision and takes up time, which would be better spent in more educational pursuits, such as reading.

If your child is under two, do not let him or her watch any TV at all, recommends the American Academy of Paediatrics. For older children, some TV is beneficial but parents should be selective and limit viewing time to no more than two hours a day. It is important for parents to familiarise themselves with the media ratings systems, so as to make good viewing choices for and with their children. Compare products, read reviews, and choose wisely.

Check the age-appropriate level to see if a show contains violence, sexual themes and profanity.

Studies have shown that consuming media violence may desensitise children when it comes to real violence. Glamorised body images in the media create expectations about attractiveness, and some depictions of sex or substance use run the risk of normalising risky behaviour or illegal activities.

Do not hesitate to turn off the TV set or leave the cinema.

Where possible, parents should watch programmes with their children and talk about them.

Teach your children to deconstruct a movie by analysing it and taking it apart so that they can look carefully at its components. This helps to empower them and ensure that they control the media rather than let the media control them.

Book - Elephant In The Living Room: Make Television Work For Your Kids by Dimitri A. Christakis, Frederick J. Zimmerman

8. Get them involved in sports
Research shows that being physically active helps kids do better in their studies.

MYTH: 'Too much sports and ECA will distract my child from his studies.'

REALITY: Sports and extracurricular activities enhance academic performance.

8 things you can do to help your child sail though school (Part 1) 8

MOST parents think extra-curricular activities (ECAs), especially sports, are a waste of time and an unnecessary distraction for their children - especially in the lower primary levels.

Older children actively involved in sports or school clubs are often told by their parents to drop these activities months or even a year before major examinations. But parents should pay heed to research showing that children involved in sports tend to do better in their studies.

It is well documented that regular physical activity in childhood and adolescence assists in socialisation, school engagement, psychosocial development and academic motivation. It also reduces problem behaviour.

Many studies link sports activity with higher academic achievement. It has been noted that young athletes- school performance markedly improves during the sporting season, and falls away during off-season.

The latest cognitive neuroscience research demonstrates that physical activity actually contributes to important brain development in young children.

For example, a 2005 study on overweight kids at the Medical College of Georgia in the United States found that 40 minutes a day of aerobic exercise improved 'executive function' - the aspect of intelligence that helps us pay attention, plan and resist distractions.

Yet another experiment showed that the brains of physically fit children showed evidence of more extensive processing during each task.

Compared to sedentary kids, fit children had faster reaction times. In a 2002 study by the California Department of Education, reading and mathematics scores were matched with fitness scores of over 900,000 students, aged 11, 13 and 15.

It found that higher achievement was associated with increased levels of fitness for every age group studied. The relationship between academic achievement and fitness was greater in mathematics than in reading, particularly in the fittest individuals.

Students who met minimum fitness levels in three or more physical areas showed the greatest gains in academic achievement at all three ages.

Other research has found that ECAs enhance educational outcomes up to a point, especially if sustained over time.

It is not the ECA participation per se that enhances educational outcomes. It is the fact that the activity provides skills, strengths, networks and support, plus social and personal rewards. This has the effect of increasing a student's identification with the school and aligns him with its values.

Some activities also develop academic skills, or the skills related to motivation or engagement.

For example, getting involved in the school newsletter helps develop planning, time-management, thinking and decision-making skills and also reading and writing proficiency. The robotics club teaches teamwork and maths skills.

Challenging ECAs such as maths clubs can encourage a child to stretch and improve himself. When challenges are met, the child's confidence surges.

Parents should first consider the child's interests and enrol him in activities that they are sure he will enjoy.

If your child is interested in a particular sport, check if it is available at his school or at community centres or sports organisations. Make sure the child has the proper sports equipment, that it fits properly and that it has all the appropriate safety features.

Keep in mind, however, that enrolling your child in an organised sport or ECA involves a commitment on your part. Your child will need appropriate equipment, transportation and support.

Parents should note, however, that if the time put into the ECA by the child is so great that it leaves little time for homework, or the activity is so draining that the child has no energy left for school, this will interfere with his progress.

Obviously, there are exceptions. For example, if your child shows promise of becoming an Olympic athlete, you may want to choose sports over his academics.

This article was first published in The Straits Times on February 07, 2009.
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