by Lyn Waldeck
When I first started training with Bob back in the early to mid 1990s, I was fortunate to be able to sit through hundreds of evaluations with him. Hundreds of times I heard him ask the question, “So Johnny, what do you do for fun?” One evening over a working dinner meeting he went to great lengths to tell me how important that simple little question is in getting to understand what makes a kid “tick.” It allows us to see various obsessions or DSAs (Debilitating Sensory Additions) a child may have. It allows us to see gaps in global maturity that need to be addressed. It identifies who is at a loss of how to put their thoughts into words. It also provides a wealth of information when it comes to assisting the parent in how to guide the child’s day. In this particular article I want to address how to take a passion and use it to motivate a child in the advancement of his education.
In today’s mess that has been created by politicians pushing for grading a school based on how well they teach the kids to take a specific test at the end of the year, it has become even more important for parents to focus on motivating a child at home in order to enrich his ability to become an adult who is resourceful and knows how to obtain information. If you are homeschooling you have an opportunity to do education so much better. I am always shocked when I have parents, especially of young children, agonizing over which “curriculum” to purchase. When they ask I quickly respond, “It doesn’t really matter. It is all the same: the same degree of bad.” Why take what is working poorly in the schools and reproduce it in the home? With the exception of the high school years, which have to be looked at in more detail and individually based on the course their secondary education will take, there is much more to gain by using a child’s passion to create a rich learning environment. While I am in agreement that there are areas that a child should learn “just because,” even those will be more successful if you first turn them on to a quest for knowledge in an area of interest. I can remember one of my sons taking an interest in chemistry at a very early age. When asked why, it was evident to me. His “Poppy,” my father, was a chemistry teacher and Kenny loved his granddaddy. My dad was not a man of many words until you got him talking about either gardening or chemistry. Interestingly enough, one of my older sons gravitated towards an interest in gardening, the other in chemistry. At the age of about 12, Kenny was accelerated in both his auditory digit span and his reading comprehension, which by the way, go hand in hand. He was able to self teach from his grandfather’s teaching supplies in his “free time.” By the time he was in public school, and later in the work place, this head start really paid off for him to a much greater extent than had we progressed through Science Curriculum one year at a time.
If you are not homeschooling, then it seems you have an even bigger task to overcome. In the very little time that is left after a day of going through the motions of school and homework, it is important to take the time that is available to give them a passion for learning. In this case I strongly suggest giving as much input and assistance as needed to get homework over with ASAP so that the fun stuff can begin. I remember how Bob once told me about his son and how one of the first areas of passion in his life was basketball. Bob used the Utah Jazz to create an enjoyment in learning without him even knowing it. Together there wasn’t a stone left unturned in knowing statistics, sequencing and mental math with jersey numbers, going to games as rewards, and many other creative ways to work basketball into processing and academic advancement.
I am always shocked at some of the monotonous writing assignments given in school. The one that really pushes my buttons is when they assign the child to write a persuasive paper and give them a topic that they have no frame of reference for or don’t have any interest in. To become a good writer, it is much more productive to use a subject that the student already has a foundation of knowledge in and has a passion for. On program many of you will have “Fun Unit Studies” written on a line of your program. Truthfully, I wish we could make that one little line about 5 inches bigger than the rest of the academic activities. It seems to be an item left off more times than not and is a huge loss in opportunity. I think that most of the time it is because you really don’t grasp what we mean by “Fun Unit Study” to begin with. It is not meant to be a note to motivate you to purchase pre-packaged curriculum. How can anything be individualize and yet pre-packaged? While there are some wonderful tools that can be used for unit studies, we do not mean following a plan that is laid out without the interest of the child taken into consideration. Some of the best unit studies start with a simple question from the child. If it is fun to continue gathering information, then continue. If it loses its appeal, move on to something else. I can remember the first time one of my son’s saw a school history book. He was disgusted that Christopher Columbus got less than half of a page devoted to him. His comment was, “Didn’t we spend 6 months learning all about things to do with him?” Then he went on to list the things not covered in the history text. These were things he had learned approximately 6 years before. The reason he retained that information over the course of time was because he was interested in the first place and we proceeded in a fun way with the learning.
I want to let you observe two videos that have been sent to me by wonderfully smart boys on my caseload who inspired me to write this article. I will not go into their original challenges that brought them to us, but I will say that each of the mothers has done an amazing job of working to put pieces together so that their brilliance can shine through. These parents have an understanding of how to work on processing and make learning child-centered. As a result these boys have retained information in areas of interest that they have spent a lot of time gathering. They research their topics of interest and share with an enthusiasm that makes me want to learn more about what they are saying.
As you look towards a future for your children, let’s not bore them with meaningless memorization for tests only to have them forget most of what is drilled in to them. Let us explore their passions, research and expand knowledge, and work with them on ways to communicate to others in a way that makes the information come alive.
Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 26 No. 2, 2013 ©NACD