Green Ink and Red Star Magic

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!) 

Accord reached. 

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.



5 thoughts on “Green Ink and Red Star Magic

  1. Hey Bec,
    This is exactly what Cindi does all day long. You mentioned the teachers in the classrooms, but often there are Therapists in there too. Cindi is an OT (Occupational Therapist) in the schools here, and it’s amazing the things she comes up with to motivate these kids (something like one in every six kids nowadays has a learning disability!!!!!).
    Sometimes they write with little glue pens and then sprinkle cinnamon/sugar powder over it (like we used to do with glitter). They love it. Cinnamon letters!


    • Thanks for this, Clint. I just might have to email Cindi for extra suggestions if I can’t keep the green ink thing working. It is a REAL challenge, as the hyperactivity is most present! Wow. Hate that for these kidlets (and teachers/therapists). And it isn’t new.

      One of the very last things my late brother shared with my sister was this . . . “You know—I just never could sit still.” That made me so sad. I remember he struggled in school, but no one knew much of this frustration in the kids back then. Damn.

  2. Score! When I read the title, I thought you might be writing about St. Patricks day and baking with yeast. 🙂 But, this was even better! Good piece of writing and good job of figuring out what the little guy needed….and negotiating to keep your pen until the end of the year. (BTW–kids also LOVE to write on the board as opposed to writing on paper–if that’s an option in your setting.) I enjoyed your blog today.

    • Thanks, Bonnie. Much appreciated. The thing is—we need to show his progress by having him writing in the journal . . . so maybe I could “re-negotiate” with him—take a small white erasable board to write on–AFTER we’ve got the journal lines satisfied.

      I think everyone should experience this so they would understand how many teachers often times have to deal with 20-30 such negotiations all week long.

  3. Capice! I used to volunteer with counting coins – by referencing football. The quarter was the quarterback and the other coins were other players. So it is fun to come up with a variety of ways (and plays) to entice kids to enjoy learning. Ha! They sure do come up with a bunch of mind-blowing comebacks and antics! Score, Becky!

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