The majority of young children love to learn. They are like sponges, soaking up as much information as possible. Most also love going to school and are genuinely excited by the games and activities presented to them each day.
As children grow older, however, there can be a disengagement from learning. Maybe your once enthusiastic child is now struggling to find the motivation to complete homework tasks, or no longer talks excitedly about classroom activities. This is quite common in what is known as the ‘Middle Years’ and in my experience it can hit around the end of Year 4 and last through till the middle of high school. It might also be a little difficult re-enthusing your children at this time of the year, when they’re coming to the end of summer holidays.
There are many reasons children may disengage from school/learning; maybe friendships and relationships are taking a more prominent and important focus in their lives, so education takes a back seat, maybe the work itself is less ‘fun’ and more tedious or challenging, maybe a developing sense of independence has your child questioning the choices and decisions others make for them, and sometimes, stresses from home/personal life or issues with others at school can affect their overall headspace.
It’s important for us, as parents to be aware of this, not to let it worry us too much, but to try to do what we can to help if our child’s love of learning has faded.
So I thought I would give you some simple ideas for things you can do at home to help your child bring back the love!
If your child has switched off from learning because of a change in curriculum and the once fun and enjoyable games have morphed into abstract pages of equations, it may be time to get real. The more you can relate the work they are doing to real-life tasks/situations, the more they will see a benefit in what they are learning and the more engaging it will be. If they realise that measuring capacity is, in fact vital for baking that cake or being able to add monetary amounts is necessary for keeping to a budget in the supermarket, they will be more inclined to pay attention to the teaching of these concepts.
The reality is, there is a purpose for what is taught in school. If you can find the real-world purpose of your child’s learning, you may just help them re-engage.
Recognise Their Right to Choose
I love to read, but I pick and choose what I read. I don’t want to read a non-fiction book on the moths of North America, so if someone gave me one, I wouldn’t engage with reading it. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t love to read. At this time of a child’s life, they are far more aware of their own personal likes and dislikes. Their personality is developed and they know what does and does not interest them.
I remember, clearly, a boy I taught in Year 4, about 10 years ago. He told me he hated reading. I told him, he just hadn’t yet found the right things to read. We worked hard on figuring out what would interest him and low and behold he developed a love of reading. I remember him bursting into my classroom, excited beyond belief because a sequel to a favourite book had just been released!
Let your child choose what they read – and remember it doesn’t have to be a novel – non-fiction books on their favourite topic/sport, newspapers, magazines, comics, blogs etc. are still perfectly valid examples of reading. If reading isn’t your problem, but the disengagement is with maths, for example, let them choose a maths-related activity – it might be cooking, or designing a board game, or shopping, or planning an event and working out numbers/amounts/costs etc. They don’t even need to realise it’s maths! All this feeds into my next suggestion:
Know What They Love
If you can relate homework/practise to activities or subjects they are interested in they are far more likely to learn. There’s a reason Star Wars maths books and Sophia the First word lists sell well! If the content is related to our interests, even if the link is somewhat tenuous, the love of learning is greater. If your child is interested in football, but they need help with number work, give them a challenge such as: If Hawthorn kick three goals this quarter, 3 goals and 4 points next quarter and 5 goals in each of the final two quarters, what will their score be? Or: St. Kilda is behind. How many points do they need to win? How many goals do they need to kick? If your child loves Taylor Swift, but is struggling with spelling, type up some song lyrics and make deliberate spelling mistakes for your child to correct. Be creative and find a link between the work your child needs and the things they love.
One Is the Loneliest Number
As your child gets older there will be more and more homework and much of it, I’m sorry to say, won’t be overly inspiring (unlike Brilliant Boxes!!. As a result, your child may find themselves sitting alone, either in their bedroom, the study or even the kitchen while they work and you work hard on keeping things quiet for them. This can be very isolating and I know I always feel better about working long hours when I have company. You don’t need to chat to them about your day (that would, in fact, be counter-productive) but try sitting beside them, there to help if they need, but really, just to be. You may have some work of your own to get done at the same time, or you may pay some bills, write out the grocery list for the week, or read a chapter of your book; whatever it is you are doing, your presence will make them feel less isolated and therefore less inclined to disengage from their set task and seek out a different activity.
Change of Scenery
They say a change is as good as a holiday and this concept can be applied to your child’s homework tasks. Report writing is, without doubt, the most time-consuming, laborious task teachers encounter and it can be hard to gather enthusiasm when report writing time hits.
Now, I’m going to show my age here, but I remember a time, before reports were done on computer and we had to handwrite all the comments. I was feeling particularly uninspired, as it was a rare, warm and sunny London day, so I grabbed my reports and my notes etc. and took myself off to the local park, where I lay under a tree on a blanket and the writing just flowed. Until, that is, a water balloon fight broke out nearby – but that’s another story!
In VCE I would often take my books to the park and study there. A change of scenery can really help to refocus and there’s something kind of romantic and Hollywood-movie-like about studying in a park, a café or a quiet corner of a cosy library. If your child is struggling to engage in a particular activity – pack some snacks and try a location change.
Of course I cannot resist a shameless plug, so I have to suggest, as my final tip for re-engagement, the purchasing of The Sunshine Collective’s Brilliant Boxes! Our activities are designed to cater to different interests and styles of learning; they connect concepts to the real-world and they allow your child to experience independence and choice, whilst not constantly staying glued to that desk chair. If you would like someone else to do the creative thinking for you, think Brilliant Boxes!
If you have any questions about your own child’s disengagement, or if you have some other ideas for how to bring back the love of learning, we’d love to hear them: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via the website: www.sunshinecollective.com.au.
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