Think of All the Things You’ll Learn!: Families and Parent Educators Share Tips for Helping Children Stay Motivated in School (page 2)
Zorayda Velazquez’s six-year-old son is bright, sweet-natured, and curious about the world around him. But he does not always like going to school.
“He says, ‘Why do I have to go?’ I tell him, ‘Because you have to get an education! You get to learn new things!’ He’s happy when he gets there, but it can be a challenge,” says Velazquez, a single mom from Stevinson and case manager for Parent Resource Center.
Most children, at some point, gripe about school and homework. Just about anything, even chores, sounds better than writing a five-page report or memorizing the multiplication table.
For some families, this turns into a daily power struggle, with parents using bribes, threats, and time-outs to get their kids motivated, and kids resisting every inch of the way. Children may start thinking of academics as punishment and parents become increasingly frustrated as their smart, inquisitive kids show less and less interest in school.
The critical thing is sparking—and maintaining—children’s motivation, says Helen Neville, an Oakland parent educator. Parents and parent educators offer tips for helping kids stay motivated in school.
Velazquez shows her six-year-old son Aziel that learning is fun and satisfying by reminding him about all the skills he’s learned so far, like riding a bike and playing new games. “I tell him, ‘Remember when you couldn’t do this? Now you can! And think of all the things you’ll learn in first grade,’” she says.
At the dollar store, Velazquez buys her son activity books that have word puzzles, number games, and other things that make learning fun. He likes board games, so she uses them to teach addition, subtraction, and multiplication. And she reads to him every day. “It’s hard for me to always find the time,” she says, “but I think it’s important. So far he’s doing great.”
Talk with children about the importance of education, adds Andrea Jones, a project specialist at Healthy African American Families in Los Angeles. “I told my kids all the time, education is the only thing no one can take from you,” says Jones, who has five grown children and two elementary-age grandchildren. “Knowledge is power. That’s how you get ahead.”
Connect school work with children’s interests
“Parents need to look for ways to connect schoolwork to the child’s natural interests,” says Neville. “It can be a real challenge, but if there’s no connection, (children) tend not to do as well (in school).”
For example, she says, if a child has to write a report on California missions but is obsessed with reptiles and baseball, families can talk with the teacher about letting the child write about snakes found around various missions, or sports that were played in the missions. If a child only wants to read comic books, ask a children’s librarian about chapter books with similar themes or interesting pictures.
Include school work in everyday life
Families can incorporate school topics into daily life, suggests Jones. In the car, ask kids simple math questions, or how to spell different words that come up in conversation. Quiz them on whatever they’re learning in school.
“(Try) anything to keep them up on things, keep them thinking, especially during school breaks,” she says. “Show a real interest in what they’re doing. Ask them every day what they’re learning. Talk to the teacher.”
Set up homework routines
Velazquez’s mom takes care of Aziel after school, says Velazquez. After a snack and some time to relax, her son has a choice whether “to work a little with my mom or go play first. When I get home, he’s had his fun time and it’s time to sit down and talk about the day and to show me his homework,” she adds.
Though Aziel knows his numbers, he doesn’t always like writing them out. “He does two sets in a row and says ‘I’m done! I don’t want to do anymore.’ and his handwriting gets sloppy,” says Velazquez. “We take ten to fifteen minute breaks and come back to it. He says ‘Ok, I’m ready, let’s do this!’ Any kid gets frustrated—keep talking to them, encourage them, praise their efforts. Don’t force the child to do it, eventually it’ll get done,” she adds.
It can be hard for parents to find the time to be involved in their children’s education. Bobbie Vaughn, a single mother of two elementary-age children in Oakland, works two jobs and is usually overwhelmed with making dinner and doing housework in the evenings, she says.
“I just can’t give them as much time as they need,” Vaughn says. “They pretty much have to be self-motivated. I set up a routine as soon as they started kindergarten, which helped a lot.”
Vaughn keeps the TV off during the week and has them do homework as soon as they get home from school. She also volunteers in their classrooms, so she has a good idea what the teachers’ expectations are and how her children are performing. And that shows the children that she thinks education is important. “We haven’t had many problems,” she adds.
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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