No, employers don’t check your old school reports. But marks do matter. According to the authors of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation book Crossing the Finish Line, academic success is largely a reflection of character strength. “Traits like grit and curiosity translate to better grades,” says co-author Dr Matthew M. Chingos. To wit: when the school district of Downey, California, put character development on its curriculum, scores on standardised tests rose more than 5%. “We’ve come to understand that character is a central ingredient for success in school,” says Dr James J. Heckman, an economics of human development researcher at the University of Chicago. So the more you challenge kids at home, the better they can do on test day. Are you ready to give your child an edge?

Offer Them R100 to Learn to Juggle
Key trait: Commitment
The payoff takes some time. “Kids can’t master juggling right away, but it’s not so difficult that they can’t stick with it,” says Dr Anthony T. DeBenedet, co-author of The Art of Roughhousing.
Academic edge
Scientists at the University of Oxford noted a 5% boost in white matter – brain tissue involved in learning – in novice jugglers who had been practising for six weeks.

Tell Them to Go Climb a Tree
Key trait: Emotional Control
This kind of challenge calls for steady nerves. “Kids can’t climb if their emotions are all over the place,” says Dr DeBenedet.
Academic edge
Climbing trees encourages children to confront their fears. Plus, playing outdoors helps foster creative thinking and problem-solving skills, say researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Teach Them to Play Chess
Key trait: Perseverance
You lose a lot of times before taking your first king. “Chess teaches kids that a loss is something to learn from,” says Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed.
Academic edge
Playing chess may increase a child’s attention span even more than physical activity does, a recent Spanish study found. Chess-playing students also reported better attitudes toward learning.

Praise the Work, Not the Winning
Key trait: Self-Confidence
Acknowledging the struggle gives it value, says Tough. This can nurture a work ethic.
Academic edge
Say something when you see your child studying, says Dr Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. Later, when the kid brings home
a stellar report, make sure he or she notices the connection: “I guess all that studying paid off, huh?”

Make Them Earn Honest Wages
Key trait: Patience
Your child must learn that toys and treats don’t come free, says Tough. So your boy is asking for an iPad? Have him rake leaves or clean the pool to save half the money.
Academic edge
A series of landmark studies that began at Stanford found that kids who could delay gratification scored higher on final exams years later. Those kids also showed higher measures of willpower as adults.