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
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