Beyond the Classroom- Finding Your Child’s Learning Rhythm

As the holiday season revs up, we see the outline of this year’s edition of our children’s school life. We piece together grades and notes from teachers with sporadic anecdotes from our kids, their friends, and our friends, to draw conclusions. It pains us when warts from years past reappear or new issues arise.   

We want to help and also try hard not fall into a stereotypical role passed down. I hear my mom’s voice, “Just buckle down” or my dad’s, “I don’t want to hear it, get it done,” or other parents, “My job is work; your job is to complete homework and study every once in a while.”  

Although repetitive, focused work is the key to success, these messages need to be often shelved if we want our kids to truly, deeply learn and to commit to keep learning. In my experience as a teacher, academic, test-prep tutor and parent, if people do not work efficiently, learning does not stick; scores remain stagnant or decline, passion for learning deteriorates, and everyone loses. If you discover with your children a light-hearted, easygoing, rhythmic learning approach and commit to maintaining it, your child’s attitude toward school work will improve and scores will go up.  

Whether you want your child to understand character motivation in fiction or to not make silly mistakes on a test, they need to find and nurture a mind-body connection, and this happens when we find our learning rhythm. Some speak of student or teacher learning styles and of teachers making education multi-sensory. The bottom line is you can’t depend on your child’s teacher to differentiate all that much. You need to help your kid find ways to activate two or more of their senses so their brain can integrate information. I often walk or stretch while I’m reading; others draw or act something out.   

You can help your kids develop the “sweet spot” for their learning by working beside them. Just like our little ones parallel play, we “parallel work.” Carve out time to do non-phone/computer intellectual tasks beside your child. You bring a lightness and positive energy that emerges when working in rhythm. Sometimes, I throw my phone into another room so that I can lay on the floor and read a magazine next to my daughter. Other times, I close my computer and hand write a shopping list while my son completes his math. Admittedly, this sounds antiquated, and it can be hard to put away the phone, but these experiences prove invaluable.  

Finally, oftentimes learning in school isn’t that exciting or challenging,and your child may not be able to put in the kind of quality time that will improve their grades if they are enjoying the learning mode. Help them along by expressing intrigue about what they are learning, even if it truly seems boring. You will likely find they develop their commitment when you embody the sense of wonder and enthusiasm you had when your child first started manipulating objects, making facial expressions, bopping around, using words, and building concepts. Be amazed. I am not advocating for meaningless praise, but do notice and appreciate achievements that apply to their developmental steps. If you show simple and calm interest and curiosity about how their learning is unfolding, they will want to put in the effort to learn more in school and out. When we engage and model focus, children learn confidence to excel.  

Kevin Miller spent 17 years working in the New York City school system. He’s now a full-time tutor based in Tarrytown. You can reach him at or 


  1. Great article, Kevin. I love the whole “parallel work” thing. So important. I so appreciate the opportunity to set up shop next to my daughter as she’s working—maybe I’m working on a little math myself or just working out my schedule for the week—and I feel it does really help. And the whole “Be amazed” thing is crucial. My daughter recently worked on a unit all about the Fourth Amendment, and it was SO interesting. Thanks for the column and the thoughts here.

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About the Author: Kevin Miller