Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Using your child's interests to fuel learning

Mom2MomEd blog: Using your child's interests to fuel learning
I’m sure most of us can look back at our school days and know right away which subjects we enjoyed and which ones we did not.  It’s also probably no surprise that those subjects that we enjoyed were also the ones that we did well in.  

My son is particularly interested in science and prefers that all activities we do—educational or not—relate to science in some way or another.  It can be quite a challenge to meet that passion in every single thing we do! It’s especially difficult given that my background is not in anything remotely related to science!  

Recently, we have been practicing letter recognition to help my son to be well prepared for kindergarten this coming year.  My son has a very low tolerance threshold for sitting at a table and doing worksheets or drills. I’ve had to come up with entirely new approaches and when I can bring science into the mix, my son is much happier.

Lately, we’ve been looking at signs while we drive, pointing out words and letters and racing to see who can find the whole alphabet first (read HERE about how my son’s competitive edge helps. I can tell that this is starting to get a little boring for my son, so I mixed it up and got out our insect field guide. We chose a page at random, discussed the insects we saw and then had a race to see who could find the letters first. One of us would randomly choose a letter and then we’d frantically search the page—sometimes stopping to admire a bug—while trying to be the first one to find the letter.  

But, practicing letters doesn’t always go so easily for us. Last week, we were practicing writing letters.  My son will write, but he does not like to repeatedly write the same letter over and over on a worksheet. He will do it once and then will start to make up his own letters.

As a mom and an educator, it’s been frustrating to coax him into practicing. I was tired of the battle.

We happened to have a jar of items we have collected on nature walks and from our backyard—simple things such as rocks, feathers, dried leaves, dried flowers, and seed pods. I gave each of my kids (my 3 year old joined us for this) a piece of paper and had them write a given letter one time. They then used the items we had previously collected and “traced” the letter with the item.

It was fun for my kids to try to fit their items on the lines and it also gave us a chance to re-examine some treasures we had long forgotten we had.

Once they had traced their letters, we flipped the paper over and they had to make the shape of the letter using only our nature items without the actual written letter to guide them. It ended up working out great!

Not only did my son participate, but he also thought it was silly and fun! They both practiced their letters without even knowing that they were really doing it!

We also have been spending a lot of time at a nearby fish hatchery because my son has become enamored with learning about invasive species and it was invasive species prevention week at the hatchery. They had pictures and samples of various wildlife to keep an eye out for and we also got to see some of the interesting things that had been recently removed from the area!

We learned things like this: When people let their gold fish go in the rivers or flush them live down the toilet it can lead to invasive species problems. We saw HUGE goldfish that had been living in the river and local waterways.

It was amazing to see and also sad to learn about all of the damage non-native species can do to our very own native wildlife.

I capitalized on this new interest by working with my children to make our own field guide in order to start keeping track of all of the wildlife we see in our own backyard. We then made 2 lists: one for native species and one for invasive (or in our case, non-native to the backyard) species. We got to explore our yard and we all laughed when we described our chickens as an “invasive” species!

My son was the recorder and carefully spelled out each animal with minimal help.

My son who hates to practice his letters by rote and hates to practice reading just for the sake of practicing...

Knows his letters.

Knows how to write.

Knows how to spell.

Knows how to read.

After the activity I praised him for how well he did on making his list and he was beaming from ear to ear. I guarantee that if I suggest we make another list he will jump right on board!

It’s not necessary to make each activity a big production, but I do find that using a little bit of what interests my children makes lessons and activities run more smoothly. My son is equally as happy spelling out gross words or the names of insects and animals. We do plenty of that too. Like adults, children don’t always want to do the same thing over and over. It’s good to have some innovative tools and to mix up your approach now and then.  

What are some ways that you have tied your child’s interest into learning? What has worked? What hasn’t?  Please share your answers in the comments!  
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