Thursday, December 10, 2009

Teaching Hannah - motivation

If left to herself Hannah would spend the day watching Curious George while she folds foil into interesting shapes or sorts things and stuffs them into bags. I have no idea why she likes George. She doesn't want to play with Curious George toys. She just wants to watch him on TV. As far as cartoons go, it's ok. The background music is jazzy and soothing, not all hyper and irritating. He's not disrespectful and he can't talk, so he doesn't lie like other cartoon characters that have been banished from the Tivo list. But watching George won't prep her for those CLEP tests that are a big part of the grand plan. So we have to find a way to get her motivated.

She is a very smart kid. But she can be quite stubborn. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we pray each night that the kids will enjoy learning. If I go head to head with her and make each lesson a battle, no one enjoys anything and she ends up dreading her lessons. I have also learned that Hannah will work FOR a goal much more easily than she will work to avoid a consequence. I remember when she was potty training. She'd ask for something and I'd tell her that she could have it as soon as she went potty. And it worked.

I use this same technique with school. She gets little rewards for completing lessons and a big reward for completing the day's work. These rewards are often things only Hannah cares about, like checking the mail. She loves to check the mail and she can hear it when Miss Julia comes in the front door and opens up the community mail box. Hannah goes nuts and runs for the keys. So now, Hannah can only check the mail if she's completed all her school work for the day. Some folks might accuse me of bribing. I call it teaching her delayed gratification. Plus, I don't care what you call it, if she'll do her work and enjoy it along the way, I'm all for it.

Hannah also loves getting a bagel from Has Beans in the morning. This has nothing to do with the bagel. What she wants is to go to Has Beans and greet her fans. Her math work was getting to be a source of contention for her plus she was getting into trouble first thing in the morning each day because she would wake up demanding to know the plan for the day. She doesn't care about my plan. She wants to argue with me and try to convince me that we should go to Has Beans, Target, the park, and come home to watch Curious George. So now the plan is this. Wake up, groom herself, dress, and get right to work on math. If she can complete her math WITHOUT COMPLAINING before it's time to walk to the corner with Paul, she can have a bagel. This will hopefully eliminate two of her biggest bad attitude temptations, the temptation to fuss about the day's plan, and the temptation to fuss about doing homework.

So the first day we tried this was Tuesday. She complained throughout her assignment except for the last 5 problems. When she asked if she could have a bagel, I threw Paul under the bus by telling her to ask her Baba what he thinks. When he told her she didn't make the cut that day, she was devastated. What a HARD daddy moment. But he pulled it off beautifully. When she wasn't around he said I had turned him into a sitcom dad who is melted by a sad little girl's tearful "please." Yesterday she sailed through her math. Today she did well too so I hope this keeps working.

There are days like today that Hannah zooms through her work with very little complaining or distractions. Sure, there were times during reading (I have her read to me while I am feeding the baby) that I'd look away and look back to find she had put a shoe on her head or she was almost completely upside-down and she required some readjusting, but for the most part, she hunkered down and did her work.

But there are other days when she is quite distracted. We break things into smaller chunks on those days and give little rewards for each task completed. Like she will get to watch a little bit of C. George or play with a new piece of foil or something. And I constantly remind her of a big reward that will await the completed school day - like mail time or something else she's wild about.

One more trick I've learned is to offer her choices. I select twice as much work as I intend for her to do and I give her choices for each lesson. Somehow, this helps her embrace the lesson a little better. She is given choices about each part of the process from what color marker she will use to which math sheet she will do. She can't make a wrong choice. Each choice leads to the same end result, but it she seems to feel a little more included in the plan and she gets a kick out of it. Sometimes she tries to talk me into a completely off the wall choice, like C. George or something, but I remind her that's a reward, not a choice and she eventually makes a choice that leads to progress.

Even though she often has other plans for the day, she's proud of her learning. She loves it that she can read most anything now and she feels so grown up. It is so rewarding to me to get to watch her learn and grow. I posted a comment on a friend's fb wall the other day that teaching Hannah has been the best DIY project I've ever undertaken!


  1. You are so wise! You could write a parenting book, because these concepts you're talking about apply not only to school work but to so many aspects of parenting. I love it.

  2. I love it also! You rock the NY Daylife! Can't wait to read how Hannah takes on these same tasks with Elijah when he's older..It will be a reward for all of your patience and hard work!