Do you feel like your child hates learning? Is every lesson a battle? Does it seem like no matter how much time and money you spend on your child’s education, it isn’t working out? Do those wonderful curriculums (whether from your child’s school, or purchased curriculum if you are homeschooling) seem to work well for other families, but are a total failure for your family–or for one child in your family? Do you feel like maybe it’s your fault? Or worry that there is something seriously wrong with your child? Before you throw up your arms in despair, read on…
Follow your child’s interests and passions! Think about your own life. When you were a child, did you enjoy exactly the same school subjects as your best friend? When you grew up, did you follow the career your parents hoped for, or did you choose something else? When it’s hockey season, are you there in front of the TV cheering with all your friends and family, or would you rather be out for a hike or curled up in an easy chair reading a book? We are all different in so many ways–and one of the best ways to encourage a child who is unhappy with learning, or struggles with learning, is to match learning experiences to other things he or she is passionate about.
Here are some examples (and surprises!):
Use materials that are related to your child’s interests–even if they are “too hard.” One of my children had a “severe learning disability” (SLD) and at age 9 was still unable to read. Then he discovered Pokemon. He wanted to play Pokemon cards with his friends, but he needed to know about each Pokemon’s abilities, so he asked for a Pokemon handbook for Christmas. Now a Pokemon handbook is NOT “easy reading”–in fact, not only does it have a lot of technical language, it also has a lot of strange, complicated names for the characters. But my son loved Pokemon and was determined to read that book, no matter how hard it was. And that book, along with Pokemon novels, became his curriculum for the next couple years. Did it cure his SLD? No. But he learned to read. When he was 12, he still struggled mightily with writing even the simplest sentences. But he became interested in rockets. A friend gave him a book on physics, and how to make homemade rockets. He read the book, took notes, designed and made rockets, and wrote detailed reports about them! When he went to high school (grades 9 to 12), he took an academic program, with just a little help from a Learning Assistance teacher (mostly for math), and was on the honour roll the entire 4 years. Was it easy? No, he still had to work really hard to read and write, but he was successful! Oh… and at 26 years old, he still keeps all his Pokemon books and cards–the “curriculum” that got him going.
So … if your child has a special interest, such as dinosaurs or princesses or skateboarding or whatever, it is fine to use books, magazines, articles, etc., that are above the child’s reading level. You can look at the pictures, and the child can orally use vocabulary related to the picture–and then you can together think of the “sounds” that would be in those words, and search for them on the page. If the print is too small or there is so much print that it is overwhelming, you can write the key words on a piece of paper or a whiteboard. Photocopy the picture(s) accompanying the text, and have the child “label” the picture(s) with the words you have written down, and then write a sentence or paragraph below the picture. If there are several pictures, the child can make her own “book” of several pages.
Keep your child’s attention span and learning styles in mind. Remember that children have shorter attention spans than adults. So you might want to change learning activities often–even every 10 minutes or so, unless the child is really “into” an activity. Then you’ll want to let him run with it until he wants to stop. Forget your carefully laid out time schedule! And remember–use learning activities that are on topics of particular interest to your child. Pay attention to what intrigues and interests your child, and let him suggest activities. If he’s a bouncy, energetic child, don’t force him to spend hours reading and writing. If soccer is his passion, go with it. Let him join a team. Spend lots of time in backyard practice (physical education). Follow the sports news in newspapers (reading). Have him keep records of the scores of the different teams (math) and graph those scores and determine the possibility of which team will come first based on the scores. Do research together to find out the physics behind the longest kicks, and the ideal nutrition for soccer athletes (science). Follow the annual FIFA world cup; map the countries where the teams comes from, and learn about their training methods, customs, etc. (Social Studies). Film and paint pictures of soccer games and players (art). Listen to the songs played at soccer games, and maybe learn to play some (music). Research on the internet, at the library, in books, on documentaries, watching games (live and on TV), play soccer video games, and make creative reports and projects. Almost any topic can be developed to become a broad-ranging curriculum that develops all the learning skills in a traditional curriculum!
Follow your passions at any age! I once observed a group of teenagers, ages 15 to 17, who were in a “resource room program” because they were still unable to read. But the entire group had one goal they were passionate about: they wanted to get their driver’s licences. Their new teacher went to the provincial service centre and got a stack of driver’s manuals–and suddenly each student in the group was poring over the manual. They had been attending school since they were 5 years old, and in 10 years or more still hadn’t learned to read. But every one of them, within 3 or 4 months, learned to read well enough to pass their learner’s licence–and to fill in job application forms, and read books and magazines and more. When a child–or an adult–encounters something of great interest to him, his motivation will lead him to WANT to develop the necessary skills…
In fact, why not model this for your child by following your own passions and interests? Almost every adult has some interest they’ve always wanted to develop and learn more about. “Show the way” for your children by letting them see you follow your own passions. Explore as many aspects as possible of your chosen topic or hobby or career interest. Let your child see you read and write, draw, do physical activities, explore the history and geography and culture connected with the topic, do experiments, use the “real-life” math connected with it, build things, and more. If your children become interested in your explorations, invite them to help you learn more–as you also help them learn more their interests. Learn together–one of the most motivating and exciting ways to learn!