Friday, March 16, 2007

The Power of Stickers

My kids love stickers. Being that we have three kids who ignore their mother's pleading to not plaster their stickers on...

  • the chalkboard
  • the wood floor throughout the house
  • the linoleum floor in the bathroom and kitchen
  • the chest of drawers their father so beautifully refinished
  • in their siblings' hair
  • or anywhere else which would make their mother's life difficult

they do it anyway when I'm not looking.

Be this as it may, I have to admit, I give a private chuckle when I see these stickers throughout the house, especially when they appear in strange places. I know how secretive the kids feel they are being when they paste a sticker on the underside of the sink or inside the refrigerator door. They convene in the back room and whisper about the great success of their goal to drive me crazy.

However, stickers can also be a parent's friend.

For example, the other day we were in a bookstore called Half Price Books after a walk to return a DVD to Scarecrow Video. Half Price Books has great deals on books and their clearance books can be purchased for a steal!

While there, we purchased a few homeschooling workbooks from the clearance section ($1 each). One on "Learning To Read" for P and one on "Learning Letters" for C. In the middle were two pages of stickers for some additional learning activities. I told the boys that we'd do the sticker activities after all of the other pages in the books had been completed. We all agreed that this made sense (albeit, after a little bit of whining and complaint).

The catch is, when the boys are "doing homeschooling" with any "homeschooling" books, they need to do them with a parent. They are not allowed to just rush through the book to get to the end. They are allowed to do as many pages as they would like to do in a given day since we do not usually limit them on these types of things. I firmly believe that much of our deepest learning and appreciation for a subject occurs during these times of being completely into what we are doing and having permission to shut off the rest of the world until we are done or have had enough.

Indeed, if there is any overarching problem that we seem to hear about continually in the news and from parent and teacher friends, it is about our children unable to focus on a task, to give it full concentration. But are we, as a society, not feeding our children mixed messages? We say we want our children to learn to focus, but we only permit them a specific amount of delineated time to do so and on tasks that are presented to them externally (think of the prescribed amounts of time for each chosen activity - time for singing, time for playing a game, time for storytime, time for playing outside). I worry that some of our children will lose touch with their own needs and abilities for self-actualization and self-direction, forever waiting for what the next task is, the next external direction telling them what to do.

But I digress...

While we are "doing homeschooling," especially workbooks, if we see that any of the kids are starting to get frustrated, if the material appears to be too difficult, if stopping the activity would be better, then we stop and take a break or move onto something else (often something totally different like going for a walk or running around in the back yard). And we talk to them about this process, help to make them aware of how we react in certain ways when we feel overwhelmed or tired out. Yes, our boys are only 3 and 5 but a discussion on their level in this way can be very insightful for all of us. It is amazing what they will share in terms of the things on their minds. P might share how he feels the same frustration when he can't climb the bars at the park. And C is learning how taking a break feels so good later when coming back to the same task.

So, the other day, when the weather was cold and rainy the boys begged to "do homeschooling" with their "homeschooling" books that they had just got the day before from the bookstore. I figured this was a GREAT idea. I mean, if your child is begging to learn about the letters of the alphabet or to read, who are we to say no, right? ;-)

Five or Six hours later, after breaks for lunch and discussion and the bathroom and playing with the cats and fetching the mail, the boys had each made it through their workbooks. We had talked about each page in each lesson and since the books were not extremely difficult, the boys were able to continue all the way through the books. C made a big jump in his recognition of uppercase and lowercase letters and sounds (he had to read each of the letters of the alphabet on the page in each language before he was "allowed" to color them). I was very impressed since before he had seemed to be fairly disinterested in such a task. He still has a hard time with separating the English and German letters which have similar names: W, V, E, I, A. P's book was a little easy for him but it still helped to reinforce some English vocabulary. To make things a little more difficult, I encouraged him to read the directions to each lesson out loud. It is amazing what a child can read when motivated!

In the evening, the boys delighted in their sticker activities (which, by the way, are simply more reading and letter learning activities.. hee hee). I cut some index cards in half and the boys stuck their stickers on each one to make them into "flash cards" for even more learning fun.

I cherish these days of learning and absolutely love being a part of it. More often than not, the choice of tasks come from the boys themselves. I pay very close attention to where their interests are during any given month and try to incorporate those topics into learning motivation as well. For example, P is still infatuated with dinosaurs and will make every effort to sound out the name of the longest dinosaur name because he is so interested in it. So, the more activities we have around that involve dinosaurs, the more requests come from him to "do homeschooling." And C is in complete awe of his ability to write letters and to create his own words which he demands I pronounce. So, I make sure we have paper and pencils around for him to write, write, write.

I stand in awe of this process and am honored to be able to share in it. For me, homeschooling is a privilege and honor.


Lilian said...

This is awesome. It makes me want to do it now now now! I don't think it's going to be easy, though, since I think I'm used to just doing things on my own, being online, working on the dissertation and not giving the boys concentrate attention. I can hardly do it for an hour, let alone for hours at a time!!

The tough thing with Kelvin -- and the reason why sometimes I feel that he'd do better in school than with me -- is that he doesn't care for drawing or coloring, he never did. He didn't seem very interested in writing either until one day in church he saw the children writing their names on their coloring sheets and he was determined to do it and did. Now he's much more interested in writing, but it took being in company of other children for the motivation to kick in.

I've basically decided that I'll give homeschooling a shot this next year, even because I think that kindergarten shouldn't take the whole day like the other days. a 5 year old is still too young to be away for such a long time...

Well, I want to talk to you about languages as well later.

Alice in Austria said...

The problem that I have is finding the right workbooks. We got some sticker ones, too, and they are AWESOME and Isabella went through it in two afternoons as well. But since I ordered them from Amazon US they weren't cheap ... and I haven't found comparable ones here in German (have you??? I need to re-read that post in which you recommended all these German workbooks, but I can't seem to recall that you mentioned sticker books). Also, like Lilian I find it hard to concentrate on this. I am so distracted with all these billion things that I have/should be doing in our household ... any tips on time management in this sense???

Corey said...

Lilian, I can't say that it is for everyone and we are constantly reassessing what we do, how we do it and I do lose faith from time to time. But I do think that any motivated parent can make it work if they give it enough attention and thought. For us, it is all about helping to instill a love for learning and hopefully keeping our children from thinking that learning is "work to be avoided" and it is just about "getting the right answer" on a test. It is about the love of life. As a friend told me on Saturday, she read an article where major universities are desperately seeking out homeschooled kids because they bring so much to the classroom and are so advanced in their analytical abilities. I'm not sure if that is so true across the board but there must be something going on there! :-)

Yes, Alice, you are so right! We are so lucky to have these great stores around with these workbooks. I'm sure we could make some of our own (with cut-outs that we then glue on paper, etc.) but they aren't the same and the kids know it. But I think in the end, just doing interesting things with the kids (as I know you do) is what counts. Them feeling like they are in charge of their learning is an important element in all of this. But stickers do help. ;-)