Friday, 26 November 2010

Putting the Fun into Learning

A very useful strategy I have used over the years both with my own daughter and with the children I have worked with is getting them to forget that what they are doing is learnng.  The difference in results obtained between sitting a child down at a desk and having a boringly structured session and playing a silly game, laughing and having fun are remarkable, particularly with children in infant school.

You can still get across what you had planned to teach that day but there are ways and means of doing it successfully.  Even now after 22 years of experience, I can go in to work feeling pretty 'blah' one day and then at the end of the morning wonder why the child I have been working with has not cooperated, not learned anything or generally been difficult - it tends to be a snowball effect.

By contrast, if you turn the tasks into games and don't be afraid to wander off the target occasionally, you will be surprised at the results.  Even reading key words can be turned into a competition if you have a chart with a column of smiley faces or ticks and keep encouraging the child to get a higher total than last time, with a reward (sticker etc) at the end.  This works particularly well with two or more children (you may have to cheat a little if one of the children is far behind the other and starts getting despondent!)  I have also found that telling the child that you really don't think they will be able to do this when it is a very simple task they have done before and then pretending complete shock when they do it works extrememly well.  They love to prove you wrong!

For the really young child, don't be afraid to get down on the floor with them in order to play.  Adults are quite big and intimidating to young children and getting down to their level helps a great deal.  I had the most productive session ever with the little boy I am currently working with recently by taking him off into the school library where we could sit on the carpet with various toys and books,  sing action songs such as 'Row Your Boat', Old MacDonald Had a Farm etc., and all the time using Makaton.  At the end of a fun three quarters of an hour, I  had my first 'conversation' with this child in Makaton - he had relaxed totally, forgotten any reserves he might have had, enjoyed himself and was able to construct some simple remarks in Makaton about the up and coming playtime.

Also do try to keep your eyes open for signs that the child is learning from unexpected quarters.  Many is the time I have had to stop myself from telling a child off for something they have done because just in the nick of time I have realised that they have either just said/signed something for the first time or that they were attempting to do something you had taught them on a previous day, it had just manifested itself at the wrong time.   If you tell a child off for in these circumstances, it is easy to undo work that you had previously put in.

If things go wrong and you really aren't getting anywhere, let it go and take the child for a walk round the school or outside.  This can still be learning as you talk about what you see and the change can calm a situatuon right down.  If the child has been angry and stubborn, take them outside and do some shouting in the playground - turn it into a game of naming objects in the loudest voice, sing  a marching song and stomp about - it diffuses the mood as well as practising speech, voice control, following actions etc.

Above all, don't be afraid to be creative and spontaneous - it works!

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