How frustrating is it to have worked so hard on a learning activity for your child, just to watch them turn away and go run and play with their Legos? To watch them throw the marker? Or destroy the contact paper? Or crush the printable?
This has happened to me more times than I can count. I’m a teacher at heart and I love talking, writing, drawing and learning with students. But now my son is teaching me — I am constantly exploring what is best for him and for his learning environment — and how boys learn.
My son doesn’t like to color. I have printed out more printables than I’d like to admit. I have laminated more paper, punched more holes, cut out more shapes, set up more activities…. and my son could really care less about most/all of it.
He just wants to play outside, or play Legos, or play trucks and tractors, or read his books.
And is there something wrong with him?
Of course not! He is a young, perky, intelligent, curious, rambunctious, inquisitive, rough-housing, creative little boy.
These early precious years of play are, indeed, learning time!
And though it has taken me months to figure him out, I no longer expect him to “love” the activities I set before him. In fact, he has declared that he doesn’t even like my beautiful Quiet Boxes and would much rather play trucks and Legos!
I think the revelation and acceptance of his learning style has truly come, embarrassingly enough, as I watch my daughter grow up (now 19 months). She is so different from him. She loves “busy bag” activities and will sit at the table with a marker for a long while. These are fun and enjoyable to her.
In contrast, my son (now 3 1/2 years) would spend about two minutes and then throw the activity across the room, laugh, and then proceed to make an even bigger mess and destroy the activity. It was fun. And probably I made it even more fun, with my face of disappointment and “AUGH what a mess” look! But I kept trying. And I’m glad I did. I think he did have some beneficial learning time from all of my efforts. And even more experiences with learning to help clean up (though reluctantly).
How to sneak deliberate learning in?
We have to sneak Tot School in when John is not looking. And I’ve shared many of our time together in our Tot School posts. Mostly, I’ll begin doing an activity — be it simply using crayons or Do a Dot markers or painting — and he’ll think it looks like fun, so he’ll join in. For maybe five minutes.
Now there was a time when he would participate for longer. These are mornings that I cherish — when the baby was still asleep in the morning time and we had 30+ interrupted minutes together. They weren’t all “school” — we did some paper work at his table, read books, organized shapes or letter pictures or did a sensory bin. Just the two of us. Oh I cherish those moments. Every day brings a new surprise, a new moment.
I have a new plan coming up for our next alphabet go-around. More activities, less writing. More messy play, sensory time, less blogging. I don’t want all of the tangible evidence that we “did preschool.” I want the memories — and of course pictures too — but he needs me to be in the moment. I can’t leave his focus for a moment, or he’ll lose his attention too.
Why do school time at all?
I have made the decision to homeschool my children. I love teaching and I spend my free time thinking about phonics. (!) I cherish the school time because that is a part of who I AM. But my son is different.
I connect with him through reading books and through deliberate learning.
Thankfully, my son adores reading. So his list is: Legos, trucks, tractors, outside, books. I often find him in his room reading. Since we don’t do much tv time, I let him be bored. I know it is so important for little minds to be still. And bored. And curious. And think. (You can see my post about limiting screen time — generally we only allow a 30 minutes movie on days when my daughter needs a nap at him — pre-approved and no commercials.)
How do I connect with him?
I think we, as mothers, need to find something that both mother and child enjoy, so that we can delight in moments with our children. Genuine delight.
Have you ever felt forced to “play like you’re having fun”? I know I have. Zooming the tractor around the floor for the 56th time. Or pretending I’m falling off the ship (bed) for the 89th time. Do I love being with him? Yes, yes, yes. Do I find joy in the actual activity? Not necessarily. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not love “sliding down the slide” or “playing swords” for 30+ minutes. The important thing, at least to me, is that I am with him in his moments of play and he is with me in the moments that I cherish.
And my genuine delight comes from reading with my son. We connect, we enjoy, we love one another through these books.
And…. I had to pause…. he just came in from his room (from making truck and ship noises) and asked me to read to him.
If he asks, I stop everything so I can read to him. It is an unwritten rule.
We sat down for at least 30 minutes and read. We connected. Him on my lap, his head resting on my chest. Oh those moments are what I live for. I long for his smelly hair and his fingers sometimes laced in mine when I can get away with it.
He won’t fit into any box and I wouldn’t have him any other way.
What is your child’s joy? What is your joy?
Can they intersect? Can you find one activity that you both adore? I hope so. For us, it is reading. It is also being outside together, enjoying nature, as well as cooking together.
But never, ever, feel that you must do what you “think” your child should do. He or she will never fit into a box. And that is wonderful.
I have received many comments and emails from mamas who relate to my situation. Our children — mostly boys — don’t want to sit and color!
They want to destroy and conquer.
This is not wrong. This is good. And it is beautiful.
There is nothing wrong.
What about art?
I realize that I want to create tangible art with my son. This is my desire. Certainly not his. He is not inspired to want to create an art project. However, after I set something up, he’ll come over and ask if he can do it. And he may do it for a short (short!) time, and then he will go back to his room to play with his trucks and tractors and Legos.
He’ll feel proud of his work. It will display on his clothesline in his room or on the clothesline in the kitchen above our big window. And he’ll say, “Look, daddy, look what I made!” So I know he feels a sense of accomplishment and pride.
However, these tangible pieces of art are not as important to him as our experiences together.
How can I create experiences that are centered around learning?
Well, for young children, play is learning. So when he’s building with Legos, he’s learning. But I make learning more intentional than “just play” because I enjoy it — not because it is necessary! (This is why I created our Lego ABC Cards!)
My goal for our next alphabet round is to create more experiences for him that involve his passions.
He loves to read. We will be reading. A lot. Does he want to do printables attached to our books? No. But could I make a fun recipe (think green eggs with Green Eggs in Ham) or we could do a re-enactment? Yes! Or a fun sensory bin? Yep. Activities don’t always have to be planned, and they can be spontaneous.
I will share our Preschool Plans soon! We are already on the Letter Z. Ready to start new and fresh.
I hope this post has inspired and encouraged you today.
Do you have a child who doesn’t have the same learning interests as you?
How have you had to adapt to his/her learning style?
What activities do you enjoy together?