You can't grow a tulip underwater!

I consult with a lot of parents and though their circumstances are often unique there are commonalities that continue to emerge.

My child is very bright, but isn’t thriving in the ‘regular’ school stream. In other words, my child’s teacher doesn’t understand how to reach him/her.

The common thread is that something crucial is being overlooked; it’s that the environment, in which the learning is supposed to happen, isn’t right. You can’t grow a tulip underwater, you need the right environment.

There seems to be a lot of reliance, in the traditional teaching approaches, on the idea that—if you build it, they will come. This doesn’t sit well with me for two reasons.

1. Not all kids will absorb knowledge like water, just by being surrounded by it.

2. Not all kids will pick up skills by osmosis, or simply being around other kids who are learning.

So what are some practical ways to meet your child’s needs and to ensure that the environment is optimal for growth?

1. Consider motivation to perform as important as any other goal.

If you aren’t motivated, you won’t do well. It’s really quite simple! Target motivation systematically; depending on your child’s level/age/ability this can look different but usually involves some combination of the following.

-Provide a clear answer to the question “what’s in it for me?”

Your child won’t be intrinsically motivated to perform for the sheer satisfaction of task completion (sorry to burst your bubble :P). Kids want to know…if I finish my work, I’m one step closer to my favourite x, y, z (book, activity, praise and positive attention, a sticker on my sticker chart, a check mark on my task list, recess, a science experiment, etc.)

A teacher may say that their classroom doesn’t work like that, or that they can’t allow a child to gain access to a special prize or else all the kids will want it. My response to that is that teachers have the power to embed these kinds of contingencies into their daily routine; what comes after work is the pay off, and they owe it to their students to make it happen. It does NOT have to be (and SHOULDN’T BE) something outside the typical school day (like a cookie, a jelly bean or…a BRAND

NEW CAR), get creative and start motivating!

-Compartmentalize goals so that work tasks are not overwhelming.

If you present me with the requirement to write a 30 page thesis, you’ve lost me already. If you present me with a few steps (pick a topic that interests me and do some background research) I’m much more likely to feel like I can do it. If I feel I can achieve the end result, I am less likely to be overwhelmed/frustrated by it.

2. Start talking their language!

You want to make sure your students are listening? Speak to them at their level, in a way that makes sense to them; by the way, this also helps with motivation!

You can achieve this in 2 ways:

1. Use student interests as the starting point for lessons.

2. Literally speak their language; if your student communicates most effectively in short (2-3 word sentences, or 4-5 words or using pictures) consider this a clue to how they best understand you. [I’m not saying never utter a longer sentence in their presence, but if you’re speaking to them specifically—show them that you ‘get it’ and that you can slow down, cut out filler words, and isolate the main idea.]

Consider the difference between…. “Ok friend’s it’s time to come to the carpet and start learning about science!” “Carpet time. It’s science!”

3. Generalization is half the battle! -Homework

Please don’t think that because the student is struggling, you shouldn’t provide homework. Homework is an opportunity to practice, and practice helps learning—it’s a no brainer. If you’re child isn’t getting homework it is a good idea to ask for it. It’s also a good idea to let your child know that if they aren’t feeling motivated to do their work in class it will (reliably) be sent home. Opting out is simply not an option. Your choices are doing it now, or doing it later.

For a lot of kids, repetition is the key to long term learning. There is a difference between having learned something (or being in the room when something was taught) and being able to use that skill fluently. Repetition yields fluency (and reduced frustration).

-Reliable skill performance across people Knowing how to do something with only one person (i.e. a child that can perform math equations in the presence of the math teacher, but not when the work is brought home) is not a testament to your fabulous teaching capabilities. If you’re not thinking about how to set your students up to succeed when you’re not there, you are only doing half the job. Consider that in order for a skill to be acquired, a child should be able to perform the skill in any reasonable environment (home or school) and with any person supporting them (teacher, EA, mom, dad, big sister, tutor, etc.)

If you want more tips for creating the ideal learning environment for your child, feel free to reach out to me directly. I can only provide general recommendations in a forum like this, but am happy to consult on individual obstacles which pertain specifically to your child (or your classroom, if you’re a teacher).

Phone:  647-404-6349 OR 647-985-7001  


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