Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What to do when your child hates school: 10 Ways to Make Learning Fun



Once upon a time, we had two little boys who loved school. They were both so excited to go to school and even do their homework. There was a point in time where we had to make up homework for one of them to do so he could be like his big brother. But then something happened: Second grade and now, third.

I don't know what caused it, but sometime during second grade, our eldest son decided he no longer liked school. He's naturally quite gifted, but doesn't enjoy the act of school at all. Basically, if he's not interested in it, he doesn't want to do it and if he isn't naturally good at it, he doesn't want to try.

As parents, we want our children to do their best and be happy, and in many cases, this means that we have to make them do things they don't want to do. School has been that thing for us.

I should clarify that our son has not ever tried to get out of school or made excuses not to go, but he's told us he doesn't like school. He has plenty of friends and every time I've volunteered in his class, it's obvious how much he's loved by his classmates. His teachers also adore him, but still, he doesn't like school.

I believe that education is one of the most important things we can give our children, so I want my children to be fully engaged in their schoolwork and dream big dreams. The last thing I want to do is cause my children to dislike school and begin to dread it. From a young age, I've loved to learn about all manner of things and to this day, I'd go back to school in an instant. In fact, I work in higher education, so I'm technically "at school" every day.

For a while, I chalked up this attitude about school to him being a boy and wanting to spend more time playing than doing homework, but then my thought process changed. I haven't ever wanted to be the mom who yelled to get her kids to do things and I certainly didn't want to start with this challenge, so I began to ask creative questions about school and the subjects he studied which turned into learning so much.

When we'd go upstairs to work on homework, we'd do some work and we'd do some talking. One of the things I found through listening to my son talk is that he really likes to learn. He's really interested in how things work and why they work. What he's not interested in is why he has to take timed tests on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. As he told me, "No one will ever ask me to do this 'in real life.'" How can you argue with that?

I also saw even more clearly his hesitancy to work hard on things that don't come easily. To be honest with you, this has been the toughest part of our challenge for two reasons: I know how capable he is and I'm the total opposite (I really enjoy challenges). Seeing this trait in him at a young age really caused some fear for both my husband and me. When you have a child who does most things well without trying not want to try things that he doesn't think he can do well, it's hard to see. This trait is one that spills over into every day life like not wanting to tie his shoes or learn to ride his bike without training wheels, both of which he does well, but both took much coaxing.

Another thing that's shining clearer for us as he's growing is that he has some anxiety surrounding test taking. We noticed this even back in first grade, but it got a little worse in second and third grade. Thankfully, I think he understands how to handle this now and things are doing much better.

For me, being able to see why he seemed to be struggling was eye-opening and has given me an opportunity to try my best to make learning and school exciting for him. Yes, it's work. Yes, it requires preparation on my part. Yes, sometimes it's even frustrating. But I do it because first and foremost, I love him, and secondly, I want him to always love learning.

Homework time isn't usually as fun as playtime, but sometimes, it comes in a close second and maybe even ties. I've put together a list of 10 things that we do that make learning fun, engaging, and entertaining. I'm always looking for new and creative ways to make things fun, so please send your ideas my way.

1. Make stories come to life. At his age, he has a standard reading book filled with stories. Some of these stories are biographies which he tends to love. One of the things I like to do if he's read a story about a particular person is look up a YouTube clip of the person and watch it with him. I think it's cool that he's able to see something about the subject's life and it also helps him remember.

2. Repetition and writing are key. For some people, one of the best and easiest ways to learn things is through writing them multiple times. Each week, when he has his list of spelling words to learn, he writes them a few times. He'll learn a word and we'll move to the next word and then do both of those words again. You get the picture.

He and I have talked about how repeating things and writing them down really helps information to stick. He sees this too. In fact, this article from Business Insider talks about just that.

3. Don't focus on grades. One of the worst things you can do for a child's educational experience in my opinion is to focus on grades. Yes, I really want my kids to make straight A's, but more than that, I want them to learn. Sometimes, this means they'll bring home a B and that's okay. I don't expect my children to ever be perfect or make perfect grades, but I expect them to try their best and if that means a B, then I'm happy with a B.

Having two children who both put pressure on themselves to perform perfectly in different ways makes me even more cognizant of this. I am a typical Type A Personality and that trait of perfectionism is both a blessing and a curse. I don't want my children starting off their lives under pressure, so I will do everything I can to help them to know that their best is always good enough.

4. Look around your house for things that relate to what your child is studying. Anytime we go to the mountains, we come home with rocks. My grandfather collected rocks and passed some of those to us and my great-grandfather was a mining supervisor and some of his collection is now ours. A few weeks ago, our son was learning about the different types of rock, so we pulled out some of ours. He loved being able to match what he was studying with the rock he was holding in his hand. He was so excited about it that he asked to take a bag to show his teacher and classmates the next day.

5. Let your child use things that are exciting for him. One thing both of my sons love is a Sharpie. I love them too, so I don't have room to talk, but the thought of them playing with Sharpies makes me envision lots of long-lasting "tattoos" or some original artwork on my dining room table. But during homework time, Sharpie usage is allowed; in fact, it's encouraged. When he practices spelling, he uses Sharpies. Sometimes, he likes to do patterns with the many colors, so that adds another element of learning to the mix.

Another thing my sons like is the dry erase board. We have one on an easel and we use this during multiplication facts and spelling.

6. Play games. One of my favorite ways to practice spelling is using our Scrabble board or Bananagrams game. While we don't play Scrabble correctly, we use the board for him to spell his words. He thinks this is awesome. We've also made a game of adding up the points for each word (including some math) and seeing which word "wins."

7. Let your child tell you a story. When my son has a social studies test, I always let him take the lead in telling me what he's studying. Oftentimes, he shares so much information and gets excited talking about it. He's currently studying about the early colonists and he's taught me things. He's been telling me all week how the Boston Massacre wasn't really a massacre and only five people were killed. I obviously didn't pay attention in American History, so this was really surprising to me. I may have had to Google it to make sure I wasn't misreading his notes as he told me all about it!

8. Be patient. Patience is not always my strongest virtue. Many times, I am thinking "please just write the answer down and we'll talk in a minute," but I know that's not the best way to be. When it's homework time, I focus my attention on my child and employ patience. Sometimes, it's easier than others. I don't want him to feel like I just want him to finish up so we can play because I want to encourage him to talk and quite frankly, having a little time to just chat with him is one of my favorite parts of the day.

9. Help your child feel prepared. Whether your child gets nervous before tests as many do, or he doesn't, make sure your child feels prepared. Some weeks, I'll make practice tests for my son because I know that when he does a fake test at home, it makes him feel better about a test at school. I used to be bad about practicing a few spelling words on the drive to school on test day, but I don't do that anymore. I feel like it's added pressure. Just face it, practicing a spelling word a few times in the car at 7:15am is not good for anyone.

10. Praise your child. If nothing else, our children should be full of confidence. Both my parents and my husband's parents instilled healthy doses of confidence in the two of us and we're doing the same with our children. Show them how their hard work is paying off. Always let them know how proud you are of them about everything, not just school work.

As the boys grow older, I know we'll be faced with other challenges related to school. I know this particular challenge will continue to evolve as well. Right now, we're really in a good place. I can't tell you the last time either of our boys complained about having to do homework. We've established a really good schedule that works well for both us and our kids. I know things will change, but for now, I'm happy with where we are. In the meantime, I'll keep pinning ideas to make learning fun!

2 comments:

Jennifer said...

Excellent tips, Anna!

Katie H said...

As a teacher, I very much appreciate this post and your thoughts. It is so wonderful to see parents truly making an effort to ensure a love of learning in their child. I completely recognize your son's hesitation to try new things with a risk of failure. We have to consciously work each day to break that cycle! We call it "failing forward."Many parents step in to rescue their children when things become difficult. I know how hard it can be to see them fail, but oh how they learn from their mistakes! Keep it up! You are clearly great parents!