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    Educational Philosophy, Home Education

    How to Teach Phonics to a Grump

    September 6, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    You’ve been there, haven’t you? You sit down with your binder and your Bob Books to do what you think will be a pleasant little lesson, and your student shows up, frown on face. Or, the lesson starts off great, only to have Something Happen midway that completely derails it.

    Take a deep breath, my friend, because it happens to the best of us.

    In fact, this is a good time to say, “Oh, well” and let it go.

    We've all been there, haven't way? Here are five ways to kick grumpiness to the curb and have successful daily phonics lessons.
    Is it awful that I love this kid’s face??

    Once you let go of that picture you have in your head of the Perfect Reading Lesson, you have some options. But first, the important guiding principle: we should never get into a habit of grouchy, combative reading lessons.

    Never ever.

    Do what it takes to keep that from becoming a habit in any kind of lesson, really. Once a child gets in a habit of being a grouch about his lessons (or his dinner or chores or whatever else he’s against), there are no decisions being made — he is just running his little train on the same rails over and over and the habit becomes more and more entrenched. Trust me when I say that it is much easier to prevent a bad habit from being formed than it is to try and break a bad habit and replace it with a good one.

    Today, we’re going to assume you’re not breaking a bad habit. You’re just dealing with something that happens occasionally: a bad day or a bad lesson.

    Here are some options that might work:

    1. Tell jokes.

    This is dangerous, because it can backfire. You really have to know whether your child will be able to get over himself in this way or not. Other things that provoke laughter — doing something silly, or a little tickling — may also work. I find that this is best aimed at the child who is only a little bit down. If he just had a huge blow up with his sister, it’s probably not going to work; in fact it might make things worse.

    But still: laughter is good medicine for child and mother — have you laughed yet today?

    2. Skip the lesson.

    Like I said, the priority is to not get a Bad Lesson Habit. Skipping a lesson occasionally is one form of prevention. The thing to keep in mind is that your student is very smart, and he might figure out that if he acts grumpy, he gets to skip school, so be on your guard. Depending on the situation, including the age of your child, skipping the lesson and filling that time with some hard work might be the best thing — a chore he hates might help him decide he prefers to face his lessons with a good attitude.

    By the way, I think it’s perfectly fine to be clear. I have told a child more than once that she has a bad attitude, and I don’t teach students with bad attitudes, so she will have to do chores instead. The key to saying something like this is to make sure your tone is still pleasant and loving so that your child doesn’t feel like you are The Enemy.

    3. Delay the lesson.

    I’ve done this with math more than reading, but let me tell you that it works. If one of my girls comes to me in tears over something, and it happens to be math time, guess what? She is not going to be able to do math because her mind is distracted with her woes. Comfort the child and do the lessons later. There is nothing wrong with rearranging the schedule now and then — the schedule is supposed to be your helper not your slave master.

    4. Shorten the lesson.

    If you know your child is having a bad day in general, but you think he can handle a bit of a lesson, then the key will be to keep it short. If a page or two is all he can handle reading, it’s okay. You were consistent with your lessons, and tomorrow is a new day. I know I assign page numbers in the lessons, but please don’t feel like you can’t make judgment calls.

    5. Freshen the lesson.

    I mainly put it this way because it rhymed. 🙂 Sometimes, we can get the child to get over himself and take interest in the lesson by doing this a bit differently. You might start with a read aloud from a favorite picture book, or spend some time doing word-building exercises using the rules you know. Whatever you choose, the point is to soften the child up a bit to the idea of doing his lessons.

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  • Reply Kara September 7, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    So, what about breaking the bad habit? I ask because I may know someone who has formed the habit….

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 7, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      Is it you, Kara? 😉

      Just kidding…

      I think breaking the bad habit is a much bigger process. Have you read Charlotte Mason’s volume 5? It’s called Formation of Character, and it really helped me when I had to help a child break a bad habit.

      To start, I think you will find this post, along with the links in it, a good help in getting started with making a plan.

  • Reply How to Teach Phonics to a Grump | Afterthoughts September 6, 2016 at 6:58 am

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