“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This ancient Biblical proverb of King Solomon hit the nail on the head when speaking to the critical subject of educating children.
Abraham Lincoln echoed this thought centuries later when he declared, “Teach the children so it will not be necessary to teach the adults.” Both men knew that in most cases what we consistently teach a child from age 5-18 will stay with them for the rest of their lives, define their worldview and opinions, and guide their choices and decisions as independent individuals.
Being a child educator is a lofty goal and an occasionally daunting task; especially when your student shows little to no interest in the wisdom and insight you are striving to share. How do you maintain their curiosity, concentration level, and eagerness to learn as you take them through a not-so-riveting math lesson or grammar study?
Here are some ways to rekindle the joy of learning with your younger students that I have found helpful in my own tutoring journey:
1. Keep Smiling!
Very few kids, or adults for that matter, will want to connect and communicate with a teacher whose facial expression resembles a human rain cloud. Frowns, grimaces, and furrowed eyebrows may give your emotions a vent when a lesson is dragging, but for the pupil in front of you, it creates uncertainty, stress, and nervousness. Your students will infer from your countenance an unwillingness to participate or even be present in the session and will very likely respond with the same attitude.
Smiles may sound like a cliched way to instill a positive atmosphere, but don’t overrate them! Studies show that a smile can decrease blood pressure, boost the immune system, and even trick the brain into feeling happier! Along with the academic skill or concept, you are teaching your young student, you can indirectly demonstrate the importance of staying positive by smiling even while working through challenges or problems, an ability that will greatly benefit them in the real world.
2. Keep Relating!
Oftentimes a child will feel the age gap or experience level between him and the teacher too large to bridge and might hold back in asking questions or seeking clarity on a subject as a result. Kids love to share their likes and dislikes when making friends, so don’t be afraid to talk about your favorite foods, hobbies, and culture with your students, and encourage them to do the same to make them feel comfortable conversing with you.
Children also get a kick out of hearing stories of “when I was your age”, especially when they relate to school adventures and struggles with subjects they may also have trouble with. It gives them the encouragement they need when they know you made it through failures they have felt and successes they have won. I like to start my lessons by asking my students how their day went or is going, depending on what time of day we are learning in. Showing an interest in a child’s life outside his or her education makes them feel special and appreciated. Changing your teaching styles to adapt and relate to the classroom can be useful.
3. Keep Listening!
Many tutors, (myself included), can easily roll along in the rut of talking at our students, rather than talking with our students. Who doesn’t enjoy the ease of presenting an educational monologue without the annoying presence of verbal interruptions? Questions, however, are almost never unnecessary or trite.
If on average preschoolers ask 100 questions a day to their parents, this process of acquiring knowledge should not be stifled or underused when teaching children! Make sure you give your students plenty of time to ask clarification questions during a description or definition and let them probe for further information after reading a story or studying a new concept.
Dismissing a question with an “I don’t know, let’s keep our focus on our lesson”, oftentimes tells a student their interest or confusion was unmerited and disruptive, leaving them hesitant to ask for help when they really need it. Even if their whys and hows lead down a bunny trail of sorts, the time spent discussing what caught their attention or made them ponder will strengthen your relationship between you and them, something every child educator should work towards.
4. Keep Analyzing!
It’s no secret that every child learns differently, and sometimes one child needs different teaching methods for each subject he or she studies. If your first lesson with a young student goes awry, look over the material you taught, and see if you can rework it to suit the pupil’s strengths or weaknesses. I was a visual learner growing up, who craved pictures and written down explanations.
Some kids on the other hand are auditory whizzes who can see things in their heads once they hear something read aloud. Neither way is superior! There are many studies and articles that explain various methods a tutor can use to connect with children depending on how best they absorb information; I would suggest you look into these helpful guides to keep the lesson times with your students vibrant and fun for both you and them!
5. Keep Changing!
If you were to wake up every day, knowing your breakfast would always be a piece of toast and some orange juice, you would probably not be very inspired to come to the table. In the same way, interest in a subject may wane for kids if the same schedule or progression of activities awaits them each time they open their books. Try to vary how you get your student through the lesson material. Maybe a quick internet search will bring up word games, quizzes, and other activities that will lighten up a somewhat dull concept. A short video outlining the historical period or animal in biology your student is studying can also shake up the rhythm of a mainly textbook-driven session. Who says you must do everything “according to the book”?
I have experienced the thrilling and humbling experience of teaching something new to a child. You can literally see the piece of information you are sharing slip out of your hand like a seed and fall into the deep moist soil of their young minds, to take root and blossom as they process it. A wise gardener seeks to plant things that will benefit the entire garden, not clutter and contaminate it to spoil future harvests. They also don’t pack seedlings together so tightly that none of them reach the height and maturity they were meant to. In the same way, child educators need to review not just what they are teaching, but how they are teaching it. The same information handled two different ways can result in two very different students; with practice and careful planning, you can make learning for children the invigorating and exciting adventure it was meant to be!
Hannah Stiff is a grammar and literature teacher on Tutor Ocean. She has been gobbling up books since she was 4 and loves reading and re-reading her favorite novels, when not busy trying to write her own stories. Along with tutoring, Hannah enjoys music, homesteading, and photography. She lives with her family in the beautiful Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, where she hopes to soak in the same scenery that inspired L.M Montgomery to create her beautiful characters.