Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Using my child's competitive spirit to fuel learning

Mom2MomEd Blog: Using my child's competitive spirit to fuel learning
This summer I am doing some activities with my kids to boost their academic skills. As I write this, we’ve only just begun, but it’s already been an excellent learning experience for all of us.

Especially me!

As you may have read HERE, my son gets particularly tired, bored, hungry, and so on when he is put on the spot and expected to perform on command. It’s like coaxing a bear out of its den just to get him to do even simple tasks that I know he is capable of.

One interesting tidbit, is that he is insanely competitive—and somehow we had no idea until recently. We found out on the dirt bike track when, after time and time again of riding alone, another little boy joined in.

My little sweetie, Hank, changed.

He became a competitive, focused kid who only wanted to win. While it was a little scary at first, it was also exciting and cool to see a side of him that neither my husband nor I knew existed.

Since I now know that he’s competitive, I try to use that to my advantage when getting my son to do activities. I’ll say things like, “I’ll race you to the car” or “I bet I can put away my clothes faster than you can put away yours” and now I’m using it as we work on academic skills.

I had actually sort of forgotten about this aspect of my son’s personality and was getting frustrated with his inability to perform tasks I know he can complete.

Each day we’ve been focusing on letters and writing, but now we are also incorporating some health and safety concepts—ideas that have been weighing on my mind lately. This ended up working out in two ways.

First, I have been able to utilize Hank’s competitive side by allowing him to “race” and try to “win” as we work together on skills and concepts.

Secondly, I have been using coins—mainly pennies—as incentives and prizes. So, my children are learning the skills set before them, I am able to motivate them, and in the process, they are both learning about money.

And, thirdly, they are also learning to save their money for the little toy they each want to buy this summer.

Win, Win, Win!

I combined these three aspects by telling them that I was going to ask them some questions and I wanted them to answer as fast as possible. If they didn’t know the answer they could wait to see if their sibling knew or just say “I don’t know.” If they answered the question they got a coin. (However, they each got a coin if they attempted to answer the question. The real race was just trying to answer the question before the other one did.)

I happened to have a list of concepts that I wanted to teach this summer so I used that as a guideline. I also referred to a curriculum I had purchased previously, and my list of questions evolved from there.

These questions are specific to what I wanted to teach my children in the moment, so you may have something else weighing on your mind or a particular concept that your child needs to focus on.

My kids are still really young at 3 and 5, and I’ve admittedly been reading too many articles on Facebook lately about hot button parenting issues like talking to strangers. So, some of the questions we have covered include:

  • Can you tell me what a stranger is?
  • What would you do if a stranger asked you to follow them?
  • What if a stranger says, your mommy said it was ok?
  • Do adults who aren’t your family ask kids for help?
  • What are some things we can do to keep our body’s safe?
  • Who are some safe people you can ask for help?
  • What do you do if a person or place makes you feel uncomfortable?
This ended up working out pretty well. Both kids got really into answering questions and it opened up opportunities to talk about these topics and for me to gauge their level of understanding. An added bonus for them was that they both walked away with a little handful of coins to add to their piggy banks.

While, I know that not every child is competitive (my daughter is not), this is just one of many ideas we’ll be sharing with you on how to engage your children in learning activities. Sometimes what works seems to change day to day. It’s all about keeping things fresh and being willing to rewrite a plan if it doesn’t work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a hard time learning this myself.

I tend to like things done a certain way and it’s been a huge challenge for me to let go of my expectations. Yet, I’m learning every day that it’s really neat to sit back and see that teaching children is really about adults learning more about themselves.

What methods have worked for you when teaching your children? What haven’t? Do you find that you have expectations for your children that may not be realistic? What have you learned about yourself in your parenting journey? Leave your answers in the comments.
And, it's not too late to hop on our read-along over on Facebook! We're reading The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents & Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre. Pick up a copy at your local library or order from Amazon HERE.
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