Sunday, March 1, 2015

Overcoming Bad Days

A few times a week, a very loyal and insightful reader named "Anonymous" sends me an observation or question via comments.  This week it was a gem about completely losing sight of extra work.   "My kids completely skipped their all the extra workbook time and had computer/tv time for most of the nights."

Last week, 2 1/2 of us were sick. Trumpet practice is usually the last thing in the day, maybe 30 to 45 minutes before bed time, and I'm in charge of making it happen.  It didn't happen.  On Saturday, we had to drive 90 minutes for "Contest" so my 4th grader could play for 90 seconds.  We were late, barely got a spot, rushed in without warming up, and the results were as expected.

Between January and December, there are lots of bad days, bad weeks, and bad months, especially with little kids who tend to get sick a lot.

Computers is a big problem.  Children in this house observe a parent with a smart phone, or a parent blogging, and expect to be on the computer all the time as adults.  

Computer is also a big solution.   Kids who have to do work to earn computer time are 98.7% more likely to work super hard and get things done right the first time (so they won't have to do it over again) in order to play with computers.  It is the #1 motivator of all time with the exception of not getting eaten by a monster.

So here's my answer.   Put your little gifted kids in charge.  Obviously, we parents can't do it alone.  

Step 1:  Make a chart of weekly work and post it on the fridge.  I just made one and it took about 1 minute. It has math, vocab, and music practice on it.  Reading is assumed.  There is one section for each child and a section for me.  My row has "Enforce no screens" on it with my name.  Each night we are going to check off our work, and mine will be enforcement.

Step 2:  Announce that there will be no screens of any type until Saturday, and only if everything is complete on the chart.  When I first introduced the no screen policy, we had a few Saturday mornings with quite a bit of work still left to do.  I think my kids were seeing if I was serious.  They never worked harder before.

Step 3:  Make sure every child has a few interesting books or a kindle so they have something to do in lieu of screens.  At least one of these should be challenging to read, but the rest can be comic books, nonfiction, magazines, whatever.

Why go through all of this extra effort?

First of all, if your child gets into an advanced program or course as a result of this extra work, they are receiving a better, more expensive education.  I wish all children could be enrolled in a GAT program, but a GAT program requires a minimum effort by parent and child.

Secondly, the average curriculum and homework load in the U.S. is not enough to put the kids at the level of their international peers, the level where a child will naturally get to if they work consistently every day.  If you the parent manage to overcome the obstacles and hang in there, your children will hopefully make it into the top 5%.

Thirdly, you child will eventually get A's because of all of the academic skills that result from the extra effort.

As for TV, I almost never turn it on at all.  It's all trash.  Then last weekend we turned on the Military History Channel and sat enraptured for 3 straight hours.   We learned so much.   Alas, it would be better to learn it from reading.


  1. Thank you!!! I need to read this post every day to remind myself. Have a good day!

  2. My kinder and 1st grade are doing vocabulary workshop right now. Is there a good list of vocabulary/spelling/math vocabulary/science vocabulary by grade that I can pull somewhere? What's the best way to learn those words (e.g., check out science books from library)?

    1. For science vocab, go to the FOSS science website for the module that is similar to what your child is learning in school. If your child is young, get a Phonics book for spelling, if older use Vocabulary Workshop. For math, I created my own list just by googling 3rd Grade Math Vocabulary and ended up on spelling city. And of course you'll find everything on anyway.