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Motivating Young Children


nature girl
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I've been informally working with my DD4 for the past couple of years, she was very strongly motivated to teach herself to read and loved fooling around with Miquon workbooks and basic math concepts and the experiments we did from BFSU. We've never done much, maybe 10 minutes of math a day and 20-30 minutes reading (not formal phonics instruction, just reading easy readers.) One of the main reasons I wanted to homeschool K was because she's been working on a K level for the past year, and she seemed to have so much fun in the time we spent together.

 

Recently though, over the past couple of months, things seem to have changed. She used to ask to do "math school" and read to me, but now when I suggest it she refuses. She hasn't even wanted to do art projects, which we used to do together all the time, and hasn't wanted me to read to her, when she used to sit with me for readalouds an hour or two a day. It seems like all she wants to do is imaginary play, which is fine, she's only 4 and I'm not about to push her to do school at this age if she's not internally driven. I know play is so important, and I love seeing her have fun. But now I'm wondering how we're going to hs next year (or the following years) if she doesn't have that internal drive. How have you gotten young kids to sit for school if they refuse?

(The idea of unschooling appeals to me, but I don't know if it will work for her because she doesn't seem curious about or drawn to specific topics, just has absorbed whatever I throw at her, has a day or two of fun and then moves on. And even unschooled kids need to do some level of LA and math.)

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My dd went through the same cycle. I let school stuff drop for a time. Now she is back to wanting school. Let your dd play for now. That is also important learning going on through her play. 

 

All of mine start school for 'real' at 6. Anything before was/is interest driven. Look into Waldorf inspired methods for ideas. Oak Meadow is a good one. They have some great articles on their site and a friendly staff without being Steiner-heavy.

 

http://oakmeadow.com/resources/homeschooling-articles.php

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There is no reason to worry right now. Four is still so young, it doesn't at all mean that she won't be willing to work with you when she's ready for kindergarten (which might not be right at 5yo.) I will say that I started a prize box this year with my kids and it made a huge difference for my kindergartner. He is two years behind his sister and he did not like suddenly having to "do school" when it had been optional for him to participate the past two years. The way I organize the prize system is there there are three levels of prizes in the box--small, medium, and large. They earn one point per assignment they complete without arguing, and every five points earns them a sticker. 6 stickers earns them a small prize or they can wait and get to 12 which earns them a medium prize, or 18 which earns them a large prize. I wanted them to see the value in each assignment but not get a prize for every assignment obviously, but also make the numbers smaller so it seems more achievable to them. They will work diligently for 18 stickers which is 90 assignments--but if they knew it was really 90 assignments that they had to complete, I think they would get discouraged. They have also seen the value of saving for something better and it has been neat to watch them decide in their own whether to claim a prize or keep saving for a better one.

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I would not force schooling on a reluctant 4 year-old or even a 5 year-old, but at the point where they get to the age that they have to do school and they don't want to do it, it just becomes something they have to do whether they want to or not. Just like brushing their teeth, or getting dressed in the morning, or picking up their toys. And I don't think that being resistant to doing school now necessarily means that your daughter will still be that way in a year. Imaginary play is how children learn. All that imaginary play she is doing now is much more valuable to her future academics than any schoolwork that she might not be doing right now, or even at age five or six.

 

Susan in TX

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It sounds ke her interests and needs have changed for the moment (to imaginative play). Great! Go with that. You worry about her being a motivated learner (having drive) but I think you might not see she is motivated and does have drive, it's just not in the same direction as you wanted her to go. She's young. She sounds quite bright, too. That won't be lost by not starting academics now - she will still have an edge. In fact, she will have a greater edge if you continue to encourage her in her pursuits and her own love of learning.

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Little kids go through phases. At 3.5 my youngest was starting to read. Then he switched to something else. He refused to write until 2 months ago but now he is starting to write stories. He is 5 at the end of the Easter holidays so will start school next term.

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My opinion on this isn't popular here, so I'll caveat with that.

 

At 5, school is non-negotiable... there is no refusing. I do go out of my way to make it short, sweet, and simple, and I stick to formal curricula only for the 3 R's (reading, writing, arithmetic), teaching science, history, and religion through read alouds, but those 3 R's are mandatory. I aim for fun, hands on, and I pace things out through the day (i.e. I do not try to slam everything into the same sitting).

 

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I've been informally working with my DD4 for the past couple of years, she was very strongly motivated to teach herself to read and loved fooling around with Miquon workbooks and basic math concepts and the experiments we did from BFSU. We've never done much, maybe 10 minutes of math a day and 20-30 minutes reading (not formal phonics instruction, just reading easy readers.) One of the main reasons I wanted to homeschool K was because she's been working on a K level for the past year, and she seemed to have so much fun in the time we spent together.

 

Recently though, over the past couple of months, things seem to have changed. She used to ask to do "math school" and read to me, but now when I suggest it she refuses. She hasn't even wanted to do art projects, which we used to do together all the time, and hasn't wanted me to read to her, when she used to sit with me for readalouds an hour or two a day. It seems like all she wants to do is imaginary play, which is fine, she's only 4 and I'm not about to push her to do school at this age if she's not internally driven. I know play is so important, and I love seeing her have fun. But now I'm wondering how we're going to hs next year (or the following years) if she doesn't have that internal drive. How have you gotten young kids to sit for school if they refuse?

 

(The idea of unschooling appeals to me, but I don't know if it will work for her because she doesn't seem curious about or drawn to specific topics, just has absorbed whatever I throw at her, has a day or two of fun and then moves on. And even unschooled kids need to do some level of LA and math.)

 

Well, but she's just 4. She's "motivated" to learn; she just doesn't want to do anything that looks like school, and I can't find it in my heart to blame her. Just because *you* are motivated doesn't mean *she* will be.

 

You cannot forecast what she'll be doing academically when she's 7 or 8 or 10 or even 5 based on the fact that she doesn't want to do your school work when she's 4. And it is *your* school work.

 

IMHO, it wouldn't hurt for you to lighten up and let her entertain herself with the things that motivate her, instead of trying to motivate her with your school stuff. :-)

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My opinion on this isn't popular here, so I'll caveat with that.

 

At 5, school is non-negotiable... there is no refusing. I do go out of my way to make it short, sweet, and simple, and I stick to formal curricula only for the 3 R's (reading, writing, arithmetic), teaching science, history, and religion through read alouds, but those 3 R's are mandatory. I aim for fun, hands on, and I pace things out through the day (i.e. I do not try to slam everything into the same sitting).

At 5 kids here start school (day after their fifth birthday usually) so it is non-negotiable. At four they play mostly. Having said that I insist my nearly five year old does some stuff but I keep it very short.

 

Eta. I insist because he has perfectionist tendencies and needs to be pushed or he won't try new things.

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How have you gotten young kids to sit for school if they refuse?

I would not. I would definitely not let fear of resistance at 5 or 6 (my kids formally start school in 1st) scare me into making school a battle at 4. I would also not do rewards, bribes, etc., as I believe the real message delivered is that the extrinsic rewards are more valuable than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

 

I would take her to the zoo/aquarium/botanic garden/park/museums/children's theater. I would take her on nature walks. I would keep a nature notebook myself and, when she asks, buy her one too. Same for a journal. I would put art supplies everywhere, out and at the ready. I would buy her play silks and/or more costumes. I would strew gorgeous books of fairy tales, read some myself and see if she bites. I would take her to library story time.

 

But now I'm wondering how we're going to hs next year (or the following years) if she doesn't have that internal drive.

I would be much more worried about how you are going to homeschool her if you squash her internal drive by ignoring the fact that at four she wants this break. I truly don't believe she doesn't have drive. You say "she was very strongly motivated" but that "over the past couple of months, things seem to have changed." This is not a big deal. Really. Even now, with older kids, I find that each of us ebbs and flows in the personal motivation department. The best things happen for us when I am flexible, and the worst things happen when I am rigid. At 4, I do not see any reason not to "unschool" (aka live a rich life with a nice rhythm) during an ebb.

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If you want to teach a child like this then get on the floor and play with them - decide what it is you want to teach and teach it there on the floor with them. Imaginative play lends itself to a lot of teaching if you are very sensitive to your child's needs - they lead and you follow while teaching - it takes practice and you have to learn where NOT to go. It requires NO testing, no asking, just pointing things out all the time.

 

Letters and words really are everywhere so reading can be taught everywhere without any formal instruction (while you may need formal later, you will be amazed what it is possible to teach with just play) Maths is also everywhere and can be taught on the floor - all numbers, all prepositions, all concepts such as taller, shorter etc are best taught in toy and imaginative play, patterns are easy to teach with toys though you may have to watch for your child to make a pattern if she doesn't like you interfering or you may have to make a few patterns and see if she copies and when you have done this a while and still she has not commented you could try commenting and see if she is interested or not - if not then back off - you said it, she heard, its going in.

 

Reading to a child at that age should still be done - every single day. It needs to be a routine if she is anti it - bedtime reading is usually the simplest. The reason this is easiest is that imaginative play should not be taking up her bedtime routine - going to bed they need to start calming down and this is not pushing formal schooling - it is simply teaching good sleep habits. A story fits well here.

 

This is essentially unschooling I suppose. From 5 I do though expect my children to do some school and I see it in the same way as expecting them to brush their teeth and eat their food three times a day - its just part of our day. Children at 4 change so rapidly - you can always leave it for a few weeks and try again or even leave it for longer or wait for her to show an interest again.

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