by Joyce Herzog
Now I understand there are times when you just “have to do what you have to do…” But even then a fun reward makes it all better. You’ve heard the old phrase, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” That is true with learning as well.
Even if you are a died-in-the-wool textbook teacher, find a way to sneak in some fun; one day a week, a reward for a successful morning, on holidays or birthdays, or make time for a game or two. Those are the times your children will remember well into adulthood.
Younger learners love matching games. This works well with capitol and lower case letters, letters and beginning sound pictures, words and a picture (such as hat and a drawing of a hat), or words and their definitions. Think of something that goes together like an ice cream cone and the ice cream, a boy and a girl, a head and a hat, a shoe and a foot. Write or draw (or better yet, have the children do it) all of one set (such as the letter) on one part (such as the shoe) and the other set (such as a beginning sound) on the other part (such as a sock). Then mix them up well and another day have the student match the shoes and socks. That’s much more fun than drawing a line and your child may be willing (or even eager) to do it more than once getting more practice.
In fact, anything that comes in pairs or sets can also be made into a magnetic game. For example, there are eight parts of speech. Obtain colored magnets using eight colors: and assign a color to each part of speech. Write sentences on strips of paper or card stock. Use a cookie sheet or magnetic board. Have the student match the correct color to each word in the sentence.
Does your reader pass the period as if it is not there? Start giving a “ticket” for missing the stop sign. Three tickets earns a time in “jail” which can be a time out, a chore to perform, a stunt, or some other dastardly punishment. Make it a bit hard so they’ll not want to get the tickets.
Throughout a study, have your student write a list of statements about various characters starting with a fairly difficult one and ending with a very obvious one. To review the study, read the statements one by one, and give points to the one who guesses who the character is. You might give five points if guessed on the first statement down to one point if guessed on the last.
For example for Ben Franklin, you might make these statements:
- I lived much of my life in Europe, though I was an American. 5 points
- I was an inventor and writer. 4 points
- I started the first library and the first post office. 3 points
- I discovered that there is electricity in lightning. 2 points
- I invented the Franklin stove. 1 point
Try some dice for math. For the youngest, try to build to instant recognition of the number pattern so they don’t have to count the dots. For the slightly older, roll two dice and have them add the two numbers together. Here you can teach “counting on” if you like. Just name the biggest die and keep counting from that number on the other dice. For example, if you roll a 6 and a 4, say 6 and keep counting, “7, 8, 9, 10.” Again, try to build to instant recognition of the total.
As your children mature in age and skills. Have them multiply the two numbers. Then roll three dice; total them and roll one die and subtract–or even divide. You’re still practicing math, but it is so much more fun.
Challenge your children to create a game to study any needed facts or practice any skill. You may be amazed at their creative talent.
One Last Word about Fun While Learning
A merry heart is good medicine. Our tendency as teacher and mom is to point out every error and try to correct every problem. Think about it for a moment. The last time you were having trouble doing something–from getting breakfast on the table to getting the kids dressed and out the door for church to choosing something to wear to that special event. Did someone come and try to fix it for you? Did someone come in and try to tell you how your approach was wrong, slow, or even just could be improved? How would you react?
If you’re anything like me, you freeze. You get sad. Maybe even you cry. I mean, really. You are already under pressure. You know you are having a difficult time. You really are trying and sometimes someone pointing out the problem is exactly what you do not want.
Now put yourself in the place of your child who struggles every day with printing, memorizing the math facts, or some other task that seems simple to you. You’re coming along and trying to bully them into doing it your way, at your speed may be just the last straw. Sometimes they just need a kind hand or a gentle encouragement.
And sometimes they need the relief of a laugh. I remember one time when one of my students was having a terrible day. Nothing seemed to come right. It was as if we’d never before even talked about this topic, which I thought he had nearly mastered. I could have yelled, cajoled, prodded, and complained. But instead, I laughed. So did he. In fact, we laughed for the whole hour we worked together. We laughed and laughed. “Wow. This is not your day. Wonder where ‘you’ went. Sure hope tomorrow is better. Amazing. Oh, well. We’ll plow through this. Do your best and we’ll laugh our way through it. I have bad days, too. As soon as we finish this ‘hard stuff,’ we’ll do something more fun. Would you like to cook or draw? Hang with me, now and we’ll get past this moment. One thing’s for sure; you’ve got to be better tomorrow.”
What have you done? You have affirmed who he is and that this is not the end of the world. You have assured him that there will be better days. You have strengthened your relationship. You have also taught your child how to handle the bad times he will surely face throughout his life. Maybe it wasn’t the best day with the times tables, but more than that was going on. Were you with it?
Try it. Laugh your way through your next tough day. You’ll be glad you did.
“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
Copyright 2012. Used by permission of the author. Originally published at joyceherzog.com, August 2012.
Joyce Herzog is a gifted teacher and author of many educational products that simplify teaching for you and learning for your students. Joyce taught classrooms of learning-disabled students in private and public schools for many years and has been working with homeschooling families for two decades. Learn more about Joyce at www.joyceherzog.com.