211 S. Main St.
Moscow, ID  83843
800-310-5554, Monica Ray

Don't Push, Pull!

Ever watch a ten year old child with a shovel and a dirt pile?  Digging a hold to see how big you can get it is great fun.  But the same kid with the same shovel will really hate to spade a flower bed for you.  The difference is that the hold was his idea, and the flower bed was yours.  Tell him not to dig that hole (somebody might trip and fall into it) and he'll grouse and complain.  But tell him the flower bed has to be finished by Saturday, and on Friday night you'll have to stand over him with threats and a scowl.

Which of the above would you rather reading became?  Should it be a chore, or an adventure?  Expecially for a two- or three-year-old, the exciting adventure is always best, of course.  But how do you make it come out that way?  Don't most kids hate reading?  How can you be the lucky parent?

Answer:  it's not luck, it's just good planning.  What is the difference between the hold in the dirt and the undug garden in the first paragraph?  The difference is not in the digging, it's in the desire to dig.  The hole is something he wants to do, but the garden is something you want him to do.  All you need to make reading fall into the "I want to" category is a little reverse psychology.  I's not that hard to do, and it works - I know.

The method is simple.  Working on the computer is a privilege, not a right (and never a duty!).  When everything is going smoothly, let your child turn on the computer when he wants to.  But keep an eye on him.  I he starts getting bored, gently but firmly tell him the session is over.  For a two-year-old, fifteen minutes is more than enough time per session.  Perhaps five minutes for an eighteen-month-old.  You know your child, and you will be able to tell.

Every once in a while tell him "No, not now".  If his using the machine is inconvenient for you some of the time, just refuse.  That will go a long way toward making the computer a sought-after plaything.  It's alright to go out of your way a little to let him use the computer, of course.  Sacrificing is what parenting is all about.  But don't let the kid know.

If the child is being beastly, restrict his computer use. "If you don't straighten up, you can't work on the computer."  Ever heard a parent say "Finish you broccoli and you can have some ice cream?"  Even if he didn't know what ice cream was, the child would want some.  How about, "Alright, if you finish your jello you can have some more broccoli."  That's the idea, reverse psychology.  My kids all like broccoli!

It's also perfectly alright for you to ask "Do you want to work on the computer?"  If your child doesn't want to, drop the subject immediately.  He doesn't have to have two sessions a day, every day, to learn to read.  If your child doesn't seem interested in the computer as often as you would like there's a foolproof way to get him there without pushing.  Simply sit down to the program yourself and start playing with it.  Very soon you'll have a "helper" in your lap, and from there on it's easy.

A very young child should probably sit in your lap at every session.  I started Eddy on a computer a long time before I trusted him to sit by himself in a chair, so lap-sitting was a natural way to continue doing it.  Mom's (or Dad's) lap is a safe, comfortable place for a baby, and he'll also like you to be close by to admire his handiwork.  The proper "ooh's" and "ah's" are o.k., of course.

The important thing is for neither you nor your child to think of the computer in a "school" setting.  Most of us remember school as a place where a teacher used threats and humiliation to force us into learning.  Don't use the same tactics on your child.  They'll make life unpleasant for both you and your child, and they don't work on the very young anyway.  The temptation is very strong (I know!) to say "Don't you want to play just a little longer?" or "Wouldn't you like to finish?"  Resist that temptation.  The computer is a privilege, not a chore.

Also, be aware that most educational software is written not to educate children, but to sell to parents.  That is, after all, what makes a program "successful"  - sales.  We've seen educational software claiming to teach the alphabet that had so much graphics, animation and sound (not speech) that we had trouble finding the letter that was supposedly being taught.  Avoid educational programs that are all frills.  A child can become addicted to frills, and miss the substance altogether.

The last thought on the subject of motivation is one I'm not sure of.  I think it might be better if the child didn't have a lot of computer games to compete with the reading software.  When my kids were learning, we didn't have the extra money for games, so they didn't have any.  All they had for the computer were the educational programs we wrote ourselves.  There wasn't a temptation to say "You can play your games after you do your reading".  That statement would, of course, throw all your dedicated reverse psychology down the tubes.  If the child already has some games, you'll have to use your own judgement.  Perhaps he could lend them to a friend and they could be forgotten until his reading was well underway.

Other distractions, such as having the TV on constantly, can interfere with a child's motivation.  Have at least a few hours in the day when distractions are few.  There are other "quality time" things you can do with your child - this is just one of them.  Don't let the TV kill your quality time.

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