What Smart Parents Know About How Kids Learn

what smart parents know

Families are left out of the equation when it comes to determining the primary audience for education reports, papers and articles—even though they are among the hungriest for informed opinions that can help them.

The folks at Getting Smart—a learning design firm that specializes in education innovation—have observed this time after time in their work. That’s why they spent a year listening to parents and sharing their stories in their Smart Parents blog series and on The Huffington Post Smart Parents blog.

Based on these inspirational stories, they created a culminating book, Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning (available in print and ebook versions) by Tom Vander Ark, Bonnie Lathram, and my friend Carri Schneider (our kiddos go to school together). Written by and for parents, Smart Parents is not meant to serve as a general guidebook on parenting (you probably already have a bunch of those in your shelf, right?) Instead, you’ll find numerous examples of paths parents have taken to created powerful, student-centered learning environments for their children.


Although the book relies heavily on insights from parents who have great suggestions for how to find, create, and advocate for powerful learning, one of the best features of the book is its 100-page toolkit—organized by age from young learners to young adults. The toolkit has tips and strategies that parents can implement right away.

Here are a few things smart parents know about how kids learn, excerpted from Smart Parents:


Kids need more than a diploma to succeed in the future.

“As parents, we know now that a high school diploma is no longer an indicator of future success. Today’s students must leave high school prepared for success in post- secondary schooling or training. Our students must also be equipped with skills such as creativity, communication, critical thinking and collaboration—new basics, if you will, for a modern age.”

Offer praise for hard work, not smarts, to encourage growth.

“Parents can encourage a growth mindset by praising effort over product. For example, let’s imagine your student did really well on a math quiz. Instead of saying, ‘You are so smart. You are really great at math,’ try, ‘I can tell how hard you worked on this. You put a lot of effort into learning your math concepts. I’m proud of you.'”

Every child learns differently. There is no one “right way” to teach.

“As the discussion around mindsets and habits confirms, there’s more to learning than academics. Even parents of very young children quickly learn that there are no ‘universal truths.’ No ‘formula’ exists that works every time and for every child. (If you’ve ever tried to get an infant to sleep through the night, you understand this on a soul level.) But the simple realization that every child is in fact different deserves acknowledgement and attention in a manner often obscured by its frequent status as a mere cliche?.”

Teachers need digital tools to foster quality time with your child.

“My few months of volunteering in my son’s class have given me deeper insight into education than my previous 10 years working in the industry. One important takeaway: If you have a great teacher and you want her to spend valuable time with your student, I hope she has some powerful digital learning tools at her disposal.”

It’s easy to forget that learning happens at different paces.

“Years have passed since I’ve had to take a math quiz. As an adult, I’m comfortable with my own strengths and weaknesses, including the time it takes me to do particular things. But as a mother of a fourth grader, I relive those math quiz memories every time she comes home and says, ‘I’m just never going to be that fast.’ She is what you might call ‘slow and steady.’ But many of her peers—some in the same grade level and some above it—sail through these drills.”

Get more information on Smart Parents here. Do you have a story to tell about parenting for powerful learning? Send your ideas to editor@gettingsmart.com with the subject line “Smart Parents.” Do you have favorite resources, articles or ideas to share? Use #SmartParents on social media to join our growing community.

3 thoughts on “What Smart Parents Know About How Kids Learn

  1. Andi Duferense says:

    I was almost a straight-A student before quarantine. I could do it all and hand it all on schedule, and had some time to live my own life. Yet I found it very difficult to control my time after the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve done all: from arrangements to hold a diary for the day, but it hasn’t done much. Then I fell by mistake and had a little epiphany at studying online. This essay helped me to set it all right.

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