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Practice for Discipline and Enrichment, Not Perfection

Practice makes perfect as the old adage goes, yet cases of failure abound, despite copious practice. Science now suggests that while practice will definitely make your kid better, it won’t necessarily get him to perfection.

A recent study analyzed the performance of more than 11, 000 participants in music, games, sports, and educational and occupational domains, and found that those who regularly practiced performed better than those who did not. However, the researchers also found that practice was only one of many other personal factors that predicted just how much was learned. Here are a few tips to help your kid make the most out of practice.

1 | Practice, yes, but the right way

Practice will always produce results. There is no doubt that practice will improve your kid’s performance. However, the type of practice makes a lot of difference.

A recently concluded study suggests that how we practice matters as much as how often we practice. The study examined over 800, 000 gamers to determine how practice affected their gaming performance. The researchers found that, despite practicing for the same amount of time, some players performed better than others. In other words, these players learned more efficiently than others. It was found that high performers spaced out their practice better and used more varied approaches to practice.

A different study came to the same conclusion. It found that kids performed better in math when problems were spaced out and mixed. In other words, learning was optimal when students were presented with problems drawn from different lessons rather than practice problems on the same topic. According to the study, mixing problems (many practice sets and problems on different topics) helps kids learn better because it’s more demanding and requires that kids pay greater attention to the problems presented.

2 | Don’t forget the “space effect”

Spacing out practice sessions also helps, as many studies have demonstrated. Evidence suggests that spacing reduces the rate of forgetting over a wide range of ages, settings, and tasks. Spaced practice improves retention, problem-solving skills, and the ability to assimilate new knowledge more easily. Instead of scheduling two-hour practice sessions, schedule four 30-minute sessions over a longer time frame.

3 | Not everyone will be perfect in the same thing

In a recently published study, neuroscientists examined the brain activity of 15 young adults and found that practice did not account for all learning. In other words, the researchers found that individual talent had a significant impact on how much was learned. After examining participants’ brain structures, the researchers were also able to accurately reveal those who learned quickly and those who didn’t, irrespective of practice. The study found that participants’ predisposition largely affected how they learned.

A different study came to similar conclusions. After analyzing chess players and musicians, the researchers found that it takes more than deliberate practice to become an expert, and that practice accounted for only about a third of observed differences. In other words, hard work can make us good, but it will not necessarily make us great.

The researchers suggest that accurately assessing people’s abilities and whether or not they are able to achieve their goals given their abilities gives them a realistic chance of becoming great. In other words, working from your kid’s abilities and interests will lead to greater success than forcing kids to consistently practice for something they have neither the skills nor the interest to undertake. Although encouraging your kid to practice her violin lessons will improve her performance, it will not make her perfect if she’s not inclined to the violin.

4 | Work on your kid’s self-confidence

A study published earlier this month examined the extent to which kids self-perception was linked to their performance over time. Drawing from a large-scale data set, the researchers found that kids who had a positive view of their ability in math and reading performed better in these two domains. In other words, the kids’ concept of their ability had a significant impact on both their motivation and performance. (Self-concept is defined as the perception of the capability to succeed.)

Much evidence suggests that kids who are confident in their abilities generally perform better than those who aren’t. When kids are motivated, they also perform better socially, academically, and psychologically. Motivating your kid is, therefore, the first step toward helping him develop his self-concept of ability. What does he know? What is he capable of doing? How do you set reasonable expectations? How do you ensure those expectations are being met? These are some of the issues that can help you guide your kid toward greater performance.

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