Every Tuesday afternoon I spend 40 minutes working and reading with a first grade boy through one of our local tutoring programs. We have this whole packet containing word cards, word games and workbook in which to practice reading and writing that’s been designed for us by the program coordinator.
I’ve been working with this child since last October, and things have been going fairly “swimmingly”—up until about 3 weeks ago. Yes, the winter has gotten long for most of us, and kids are no exception. And it was highly possible that the antsy-pantsies of early spring fever were setting in, but I had some doubts in this case. All of a sudden a kid who had been willing to read the word cards, and even after not-too-much coaxing would eventually write same, didn’t want to do much of anything. He seemed to enjoy dropping his word cards down the crevice in the lunch room table we work at, take at least 5 minutes diving under said table to retrieve the pencil—whose lead he’d busted at least twice per session, and laying his head down saying, “I don’t want to . . .” to just about everything.
This wasn’t going to work for either of us if it kept on . . .
We volunteers go in as just that: volunteers. We are not there to scold or discipline. Some of these kids simply need a bit of focused one-on-one time with somebody who has time “only for them.” However—if neither of us is enjoying the time, there isn’t much point.
I started wracking my brain to come up with ways to engage him. And that’s when I remembered how much my own two kids used to love colored ink pens, so I trotted off to the local Wal-Mart and bought one green ink pen for him and a box of colored pencils (as backup!).
The next week we met, and when it was time to start our word/sentence writing, I told him I had something special for him to write with that day, and what would he think about trying to write with green ink instead of that pencil that keeps breaking? HALLELUJAH!—the kid’s whole demeanor shot up like a skyscraper in Manhattan!
But he’s a smart little guy: “Now, I don’t want to waste any of my green ink by writing any more than one sentence.”
Oy, vey. Ain’t nothin’ ever completely easy.
“Okay,” I said, “then how about writing one sentence in green ink, and two more using these new colored pencils I brought?” (Score “1” for me.) It worked. He agreed—and the kid wrote the best three sentences he’s written so far this year. Don’t ya’ just love it when things work out!!
Well, three good sentences calls for something more than just an ordinary old drawn-on “star,” so out came the red foil stick-on stars I’d also brought along that day. Victory No. 2 for the day. He enjoyed pasting those stars on his journal book—where he wanted them.
“I want to take the green pen home with me,” he said.
(. . . sigh . . .)
“But if you take it home and forget it, we won’t have it for next week,” I said (praying that he’d be satisfied).
“Well, how about if we just put it in my locker then?” (dang)
“But sometimes things can disappear out of lockers—and then we’d be without a green pen again.”
He thought this over.
I thought even quicker.
“How about if I bring the pen back every week with me, and at the end of this school year you take it home? It’ll be yours.” (Bingo!)
I don’t know if I can keep him motivated with this green-ink/red-foil-stars thing for another two months or not, but I’m going to try.
Sometimes we all just need a new tack on an old routine that’s been bringing us down.