math=life lessons

Apr 21, 2014

Our little man has what I lovingly call the “leave me alone and let me build things and find bugs and for heaven’s sake, don’t make me sit still and do workbooks syndrome.” He does love me to read to him and he will sit for hours while I do so. He also sits still whenever he is focused on something of his own choosing. Lately it has been learning to draw bugs, race cars, and space ships.

He is really good at math. His minds gets math. I love watching the wheels turn in his mind as he ponders something and figures it out. But he doesn’t really like doing math. He especially doesn’t like to be cheerful as he does it. I was about to pull out my hair with all his grumpiness and flat out refused to help him whenever he turned into a whiney mess of “I can’t do it, I hate math, why can’t I go outside?” Richard talked to him. I talked to him. But nothing really helped for more than a day at a time. I thought about it. I prayed about it. Then I put a plan into action.

About four weeks ago I made him a deal. I told him if he could cheerfully do math with me and get done with his current math book and the next math book by the end of April, I would buy him the remote control rat he had been dreaming about since last fall. He had me count up all the pages in both books and help him figure out a schedule of four pages a day, three days a week.

But then I went to California with my dad…and then my mom and sister came…and we got behind on his schedule. We had to revamp it to seven pages a day, four days a week. And he cheerfully worked hard and learned a gob of new information and increased his skills and wowed me with how smart his little mind is. Somedays he got through eight pages, sometimes nine, but usually seven tuckered him out.

This morning he woke up and came and snuggled in bed with me and asked “How many more pages do I have in my math book?” I said “I don’t know, let’s count them up.” Well, he had 28 more pages so I said “You are doing great buddy! You are going to make it to your goal, I am so proud of you!”

He thought about it for a few minutes and then asked ever so sweetly, “Mom, can we do all 28 pages today? I want to finish today.”

“Of course! I will help you out and put in the time if you are willing to put in the time.” And so we started.

Nearly five hours later we finished. He was exhausted, but quite pleased with himself. He almost gave up a few times, but he stuck it out and pushed himself to do hard things. When he finished the last page, he gave me a heartfelt look with his big blue eyes and red eyelashes and said “Mom, thank you for helping me.”

He immediately called his papa and told him the good news and asked him to go pick up the rat. We found out a few hours later that the rat was only available at Halloween time and had been gone from the store for months. The poor boy! He was so disappointed. I found one online and offered to get it for him and have it arrive sometime next week, but in the end he decided to get a little lego set he found on clearance at our local variety store with his papa tonight.

I don’t believe in bribing children. I DO believe in helping them learn better skills and behaviors by occasionally creating a plan with them that involves a tangible reward. Fisher didn’t have to do x and then he got y. He had to overcome his desire to complain about his math book for weeks on end, treat me respectfully, learn a lot of really tough stuff, and stick with it day after day. In my mind, that is totally worth $14.

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