Thursday, January 13, 2011

How do I motivate a "lazy" learner?

Ms. Dorothy,
My son is one of the most persistent people I've ever met - when he is doing something he wants to do.  Any time we try to teach him something that might be a little hard, he shuts down, gives up, walks away. I want my son to love learning, but it seems like every day is a struggle. Do you have any suggestions on how to motivate active, independent, hands-on, give-up-if-its-too-hard-at-first boys?
-Homeschool Mom

Persistence is the trait you want to build on.  You know that he can stick with something against all odds.  He needs to know that it is persistence that you value, and that he knows how to use.

Talking with him about how the brain learns; how, like a muscle, it becomes stronger with work, will help him to link his "smarts" with his persistence. 

The book Nurture Shock explains current research and is a great resource on the topic of praising brain processes to help children develop.

Setting specific learning outcomes will help too.  When he persisted in learning to walk, it was a long-term goal, somewhat out of his reach - a challenge.  If the small bite daily reading activities don't motivate him, it may be that he doesn't see the big target. 

Try enticing him with a motivating end goal.  Read, for example, the first book of the "Magic Treehouse" series to him, (about a mid-year-2nd grade-level book) and explain that when his brain is strong enough, he will be able to read the rest of the series himself. Then see if those daily activities will be more like small hurdles to get to a bigger prize, a prize that gets closer every time he works hard.

It is understandable that you want to make learning fun for him.  Maybe if he sees the fun in working toward a long-term goal he will learn to love learning - even things he isn't excited about.

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