Have you ever tried to get your child to complete a homework assignment, only to have him resist you with every ounce of energy he could muster?
How about trying to get him to play a game? Have you ever met with such resistance when inviting him to play on his Wii, shoot hoops, or play 20 questions? Probably not. That’s why whenever you want to teach your child something, you should try and turn it into a game.
Case in point: I recently began tutoring a little boy who will be entering the first grade in the fall. The first time I asked him to read a word, he glanced at the first letter, then looked away and guessed. The word was “hat” and he said “horse.” He refused to look at the actual letters in the words, literally turning away when I tried to show him how to point and make sounds for each letter. The next time we met, I brought word cards and told him we would play a game. The goal of the game was to get the most cards. ”You can read it, you can keep it,” I told him. ”If not, I get to keep it.” I was less than shocked when he took time with each word, pointing at each letter, making the sound, and then blending them together.
Games work for lots of things. Reading Hebrew, for example. Last year, I was subbing in a Hebrew school, and there was a time in most classes when the students would go around the room and read different words in the text book. Instead of just having them read it, I introduced a game called “baseball,” in which they could choose how many words to read and then hit singles, doubles, triples, or score home runs if they read them correctly. Suddenly, students who were goofing off and doing everything in their power to avoid reading were focusing on the book and trying to score for their team.
Memorizing math facts is another skill that can easily be morphed into different games. Instead of just going over facts, tell your kids that if they can tell you the answer first, they get points, but if you say it first, you get points. Whoever gets the most points gets to choose what to eat for dinner, or gets an extra 15 minutes of TV time – whatever you want. Watch how quickly your kids move from resentment to excitement when you try this.
Games even work for doing things like cleaning up a room. Try telling a room full of 3rd graders to clean up a mess on the floor. You can bet that most of them will balk at the task while one or two dutiful souls do all the work. But say something like, “Let’s see who can pick up the most pieces of trash!” and you will have kids crawling all over the floor, picking up everything in sight.
Why are games so interesting while doing schoolwork on its own can seem boring? In games, you have a clearly defined goal – to win – and you can tell if you have met your goal or not. School assignments also have goals, but frequently, they are hard for kids to determine, or don’t seem important to a 6-11 year old. Of course, knowing how to infer the meaning of a word in a book is infinitely more useful than beating someone else at a game – but tell a kid that, and he’ll roll his eyes at you.
Games make learning fun, and when kids have fun, they are happier and more motivated. So the next time you are struggling to get your child to do something, make it into a game, sit back, and watch an attitudinal transformation take place.