Benefits of Spaced Practice: Simple Recommendations for Parents
By: Megan Smith & Yana Weinstein
Last week, we talked about how parents can handle homework requirements of grade-school children. This week, we discuss the benefits of spaced practice – one of the reasons why homework can be so important to encourage high levels of learning in our kids.
Why the homework? Well, one reason is that students learn more when their practice with the material is spaced out over time, rather than spending long consecutive periods of time working with the same material or “cramming”. Cognitive research tells us that if we spread studying out over time, we will actually learn more than if we took the same amount of time to study in one session. Another way to think about this is that spacing out studying is more efficient. Students would have to study for longer during one session to reach the same levels of learning as when studying is spaced out. We all know that time is limited, and the amount children need to learn is great. Short periods of practice at home can help children learn a great deal.
So parents, here are some simple ways you can help encourage your children to learn more by spacing their practice:
1) Help your child plan out a study schedule, and stick to it
At the beginning of the school year or each semester, help your child plan out a study schedule, and help them stick to it throughout the year. Explain to them why they need to space their practice see this blog post for information about how students can space their study). What your child does during the scheduled time will depend on what they are doing in school, and their age. For example, younger children can spend time reading or doing activities from school, while older children might self-direct review of material presented during school each to reinforce their learning. If children get used to a routine of revisiting schoolwork for at least a little bit each day at home, it will likely be easier for them when they have teacher-assigned homework or they need to study for upcoming tests.
2) Encourage your child to retrieve what they learned during the school day
You can help your child increase their learning by asking them what they learned at some point after school. When someone describes and explains information from memory, they are engaging in retrieval practice, and doing this helps children learn. This means that when your child is describing and explaining what they did in school that day and what they learned to you, they are actually reinforcing their learning. It’s ok if you don’t know much about the material they are describing – just let them do most of the talking!
3) Encourage your child to revisit old topics
Repetition is important, but repetition is most effective when the presentation of information is spaced out over time. Therefore, it is important for students to revisit older information in addition to going over the most recently learned information. When your child is doing their homework, ask them how what they are learning now relates to what they learned earlier in the school year. (Or, even previous years!) Doing this also encourages interleaving, which is also helpful to learning. Interleaving ideas (going back and forth between them) encourages students to see the similarities and differences between ideas. (To learn more about how students can use interleaving during study, check out this post).
Want to go the extra mile? You might even ask your child’s teacher for resources for your child or additional practice that your child can do to keep things fresh – especially over long vacations.
4) Make sure your child gets enough sleep!
Even the best learning strategies become less effective when children are not getting enough sleep. Sleep is very important for consolidating, or reinforcing, what has been learned (to read a description of this research, see this blog post). Sleep will make your child’s spaced practice more beneficial. Importantly, spacing practice out across the week, rather than cramming it right before tests, can help alleviate the need for students to stay up very late studying before tests. So, spacing out practice helps students get sleep, and sleeping more makes the spaced practice even more effective!
A version of this article aimed at teachers was originally published on TES.