By KATIE KNAPMAN – JUMPING YAK.
London in lockdown has been a very different place over the last few months. As a parent of two school aged children, I have had the chance to see at close quarters just how they have responded and adapted to the challenge of remote learning. Motivation, routine, screen time and exercise are just some of the things that have been on my mind. And I’ve also had a lot of time to reflect on my own childhood when schooling was altogether less competitive and less intense.
In the 1980s when my parents were living in Africa, my sister and I went to a prep boarding school in Salisbury Cathedral Close in Wiltshire. We were termly boarders and at weekends, we were always busy: challenging each other with board games, playing on the lawn, going on long walks and sometimes, watching television. One TV show that sticks in my memory is Record Breakers. Roy Castle, the presenter, introduced us to people who were exceptional in some way or other; these were people who could break world records. Most shows would include footage of great sporting achievements and interviews, usually ending with a live attempt at creating a world record. At the very end of the programme Roy Castle would sing the theme song which included the lyrics, “If you want to be the best, if you want to beat the rest, dedication’s what you need.” It struck me that in the current situation, following weeks of disruption to normal schooling, these words couldn’t be more appropriate. We don’t have to try to break world records, but if we want to get good at something … anything… we need to work at it.
But how do you motivate your child when all normal structure and targets have disappeared? How can they remain focused and hit the ground running – if possible – when they return to school? Motivation is something that many of us struggle with at some time or other in life, and children are no different. So here are some suggestions to keep them going in the weeks and months ahead.
KNOW YOUR CHILD
Before even attempting to motivate your child, take a good look at what you’ve got. Some children can take a while to get going: I’d describe their style last minute dot com. Others have a more methodical approach: they work constantly and steadily. Knowing how your child learns, works and gets results is hugely beneficial when considering how to motivate them.
MAKE A PLAN
Here’s a well known saying: if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail. So draw up a plan for the days, weeks and months in front of you. Establish a routine. Gather the books, notes and resources that you are going to use. Ask your teachers for help with material. Bear in mind that without a plan, it’s hard to know what you are working towards so decide what needs to be covered, and definitely include a lot of daily maths and english.
SET TARGETS AND GOALS
Years ago, when I was working as a researcher for BBC Children’s TV, I travelled to some of the major towns in Britain to find young filmmakers. We were looking for the next generation of documentary filmmakers, and every BBC researcher had to give presentations to children aged between 8 and 13. Having explained the format of our TV show to the children in a school in Nottingham, one child asked me, “What’s the point of all this?” I managed to persuade him to put forward a proposal, but his question made it clear to me that if children can’t see the point of something, then there is no point – in their eyes anyway. Your child needs to feel invested in the journey. Why are they doing all this work? Why does it even matter? What’s the point of all this? Discuss this, and then focus on working towards the end result. If you want to become an engineer, scientist, doctor, etc… You must focus on the bigger picture.
REWARD THEIR EFFORTS
For this, I recommend using a “pasta jar”: you start with a large empty glass jar. Each time your child does some good work towards a goal you have set – perhaps getting started on their home study soon after breakfast without prompting, you add a handful of pasta. (You could use marbles, sweets, pebbles – let them choose!) With Junior School children, your motivation could be for small activities: for example, reading for 30 minutes every day when you know they find it hard, or doing a sheet of times tables to try to improve accuracy. It’s the effort that counts and it’s an easy way to get them motivated. When the jar is full, you can reward your child with a pre-arranged treat.
MAKE LEARNING FUN
Sometimes it can be hard to get your child to sit down and study. You are match ready. The planner is on the wall. The workbooks are in and the stationery has been bought. But your child has another plan. They just need a break and they need one now. At times like this I would advise deploying stealth tactics and injecting a bit of lightness into their learning. My books, Revision Fun for Clever Kids and Maths Fun for Cool Kids, were written with fun very much in mind. These books can be slotted in among all the other books and files you have gathered: just the ticket for taking the pressure off but keeping the brain switched on.
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Jumping Yak (17 May 2018); ISBN: 978-1527220010
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Jumping Yak (15 May 2019); ISBN-13: 978-1916101203