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Kids are under a lot of pressure to make the most of their education.
And while good teachers and healthy study habits no doubt help kids get better grades, so do a slew of factors out of students’ control.
Boosts can come from something as simple, yet vital, as a clean pair of clothes; or instilling in kids a mindset that tilts toward growth instead of rigidity.
Here are some of the more unexpected things that help students succeed.
1. How “gritty” they are
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We say some people are “mentally tough” or “gritty” as if these were mere personality traits. But UPenn psychologist Angela Duckworth has found that stick-with-it quality to be vitally important in accomplishing goals.
Duckworth’s research has found the kids who do the best in life learn how to cultivate this skill of resilience.
In short, they know how to get back up after they fail.
2. Their attitude about themselves
Duckworth’s research is grounded in a larger mindset that parents can teach their kids, which comes from noted psychologist Carol Dweck.
Dweck found that high-achievement stemmed from “growth” mindsets, not “fixed” mindsets. Kids who learned to see themselves as capable of change — of growth — excelled far beyond those who saw themselves as inherently incompetent.
In school, this means learning from a bad grade for next time, not taking it as a sign of ominous things to come.
3. If they go to summer camp
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Summer camp appears to offer two unique benefits to students at different stages in life, according to research.
The first comes in camp’s ability to keep students engaged. Sociologists observe a “summer setback” among kids who spend their off-months at home, but a retention of learned knowledge among kids who stay active.
Other research has found the social lessons taught at sleepaway camps can make college a much easier adjustment later in life.
4. After-school programs
One 2012 study found elementary- and middle-school- aged kids who participated in after-school activities saw improvements in their academic achievement.
Researchers say the programs instill in kids a sense of success outside the classroom. By showing up to clubs and games, they work towards a goal in a low-stakes environment.
When it comes time for a big test, they’ll already have the confidence that success is possible at all.
5. Having clean clothes
As part of its Care Counts program, appliance company Whirlpool found that giving washers and dryers to 17 schools in Missouri and California led to 90% of kids attending school more often and 89% greater class participation — all from kids having clean clothes to wear to school.
University of California, Irvine, sociologist Richard Arum says there are two mechanisms by for the effect. One is directly giving kids clean clothes to wear.
“The indirect mechanism would be that the program suggests to them that the larger society cares about their schooling,” he told Business Insider.
6. If they start school before or after 8:30 a.m.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has determined that middle and high schools should start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
The pronouncement comes on the heels of sleep research that finds kids’ cognitive abilities suffer dramatically when they are made to come in before that time.
A study of 30,000 kids found that attendance rates and graduation rates both went up when schools moved to the later start time.
7. Their name
There are more than a dozen studies showing children’s names can influence how well (or poorly) they do in life.
In school, kids with more pronounceable names often do better, one NYU study has found.
“When we can process a piece of information more easily, when it’s easier to comprehend, we come to like it more,” psychologist Adam Alter, a study author, told Wired.
8. Their parents’ relationship
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One University of Illinois study published in 2005 found kids whose parents had a strong relationship tended to fare better in school than kids whose parents fought a lot. It didn’t matter if they were divorced or married.
However, divorce did seem to correlate with poorer outcomes in schools in follow-up studies. Kids had more behavioral issues, lower self-esteems, and were more likely to fight with their parents.
9. How diverse the school is
Columbia University sociologists have found that racially-diverse schools lead to better outcomes for students than school with more homogeneous student bodies.
In one 2016 study, investigators found “the benefits of school diversity run in all directions.”
“Researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving,” the co-authors wrote.