I have spent the last month at our offices in Son Quint, setting up for the return of normality and business as usual. During that time we have been delighted to welcome back many students from our pre COVID days. I have also had numerous conversations with worried parents, who are concerned about the transition back to school.

We have been asked as unbiased professionals what can be done to help bridge the gap in learning due to the last few months, to allay any fears of returning to the school environment and to make sure that if lockdown happens again there is the certainty of a contingency plan to ensure that any further interruptions are minimised.

Over this period I have found that it is not only outside support that makes a difference but that of the relationship between parent and student. I found that parents sometimes underestimate the role that they play in the overall success of the educational journey of their children, especially nowadays.

The way in which a parent supports a child is a vital part of their development.

Parents matter; a point made clear over many years of studies. Key research concluded that a major part of academic advantage is held by children from affluent families, compared with the less involved parenting more common in working class families. Further research also reveals something else; that parents, of all backgrounds, don’t need to buy expensive educational toys or digital devices for their kids in order to give them an edge. They don’t need to just throw money at enrichment classes and extracurricular activities. What they need to do with their children is much simpler: talk.

This is a controversial point and many parents may be affronted by this news.

From my point of view it really does not matter what background you come from, having met parents from all walks of life, we can all offer effective and developmental support for our growing offspring. Trying to understand how your child is feeling and look to offer solutions or guidance throughout their educational journey, challenges and worries. If you can’t, there is always someone who may be able to help; other family members, teachers or experienced tutors.

As a parent of a 20 year old university student, I realise now that support doesn’t stop! I also know it can be sometimes challenging and I for one have had many stressful 1st and 2nd year conversations about her worries and concerns. All that said patience and perseverance is the order of the day!

It is of course not just talk, it is the kind of talk which fosters children’s success at school.

Two way adult child conversations are six times as potent in promoting language development as those ‘discussions’ where the adult does most of the talking. We adults need to learn the art of open questions: ‘what, when, why, how and who’, together encouraging the ‘tell me more’ statement. Engaging in a reciprocal back-and-forth interaction gives children a chance to try out language for themselves, and also gives them the sense that their thoughts and opinions matter. As children grow older, this feeling helps them develop into assertive advocates for their own interests.

Parents influence matters at different levels

Whether or not parents invest in early childhood educational material matters hugely for cognitive and non-cognitive skills. The basis of practising reading and writing with your child, playtime and activities around the house all matter.

Children who hear talk about counting and numbers at home start school with much more extensive mathematical knowledge. Psychologist Susan Levine, who led an extensive study on number words, has also found that the amount of talk young children hear about the spatial properties of the physical world — how big or small or round or sharp objects are — predicts a child’s problem-solving abilities as they prepare to enter kindergarten.

For older children, it’s about setting expectations and making connections between current behaviour and future goals (going to university, getting a good job).

Whilst parental involvement at school is important, actually engaging in these sorts of conversations, has a greater impact on educational accomplishment than volunteering at a child’s school or going to PTA meetings, or even taking children to libraries and museums. When it comes to fostering students’ success, it seems, it’s not so much what parents do as what they say.

Even at university level my daughter often talks through her assignments and asks my opinion. I am not full and overly versed in all the subject matter but it is really interesting to know how she is approaching her work and her thought processes. I also know that these conversations over the last 2 years have not just helped Grace but have cemented our relationship even at a distance.

Reading matters

At MTA, as many of you know, we are passionate about reading in whatever language a student needs to maintain or develop. As with many students on this island, for many students this is in English, Spanish and Catalan. For any teenager reading 3 books consecutively is challenging and often met with resistance.

There is no getting out of the reading activity, as this is driven quite rightly from school, however finding out about the story, asking questions and becoming involved with the plot helps make a difference in many ways, including engagement with the activity and consolidating memory retention for your child.

You could always read the story yourself as this acts as a fantastic base for a book review between you both. Give you opinions and entice your child to advocate theirs

Encourage a verbal summary of the plot, explaining what the plot is about.

Who are the main characters.

How does the character develop throughout the story.

What impact did the writer have on the reader.

Which is the most exciting chapter and why.

For auditory learners this is a fantastic way to revise and retain their knowledge.

This method is not confined to older students it also works well with younger children.

As a final note, I know that 2020 has been a difficult year educationally, however we are the cusp of the new academic year and the promises this brings. You are not alone, we are all here to play a part in making this academic year the best year yet for your child.