Tackling Challenging Academics by Having Fun

A story for parents to keep in mind when helping their child with difficult homework and/or seeking support for their struggling student.

As a reading specialist I periodically help children with academic challenges at Parents Helping Parents. Right now I am working with an 8 year old, Marie. When I first met her she acted like many students who are “behind” in school, giving up easily when confronted with any mildly difficult word or phrase.

When working with students I of course prioritize needed skills but also believe that an engaging and fun learning environment is often the biggest contributing factor to any progress achieved.

When a child feels “stupid”, “wrong”, or “incapable” their ability to sort through a difficult subject can be swamped by feelings of inadequacy. Lightening a child’s emotional load by convincing them that things “aren’t as bad as they seem” can often open doors to understanding and eventual success more easily than extensive correction and repetition.

Here are some of the many things she and I did to turn her drudgery and discouragement into laughter.and motivation.

* When we started working together we did anything that was fun, often laughing a lot more than reading the book we were tackling.

* We used coloroful magnetic letters and play dough to create and play with difficult words. (we made silly words and sentences as well).

* We “mixed up what we read” to make the lesson more fun, sometimes starting at the end or middle of the book or picking random phrases, sentences or pages to read.

* Sometimes I would read, making silly mistakes that eventually Marie corrected.

* Marie used a magic wand she created from pipe cleaners to “puff” away any hard words.

Gradually Marie was able to focus more easily on reading. At this point we spend most of our time reading and do less “fooling around.” Her teacher has reported that her reading level has increased 2 grade levels in a few months.

Last week she said to her mother “I like reading.” I assume Marie will soon stop coming to see me; I will miss the fun she and I have together.