The first few days were likely an exciting new adventure, but as we continue to try to balance working from home, maintaining the needs of the household, and serving as the frontline for our kids’ education, it is likely that we will experience new stresses. Kids who sit still for their teachers or listen to their martial arts coaches may not want to exhibit the same studious behaviors for their parents. And if there are siblings involved, you may even find yourself serving as a referee as battle ensues.
Fear not, we are here to help!
It is important to remember that you most likely do not have the training that educators have and that kids will naturally exhibit their worst behaviors around you because they feel safest expressing their frustrations, fears, and desires to those who love them the most.
Your homeschooling adventure does not have to be a perfect recreation of the classroom or dojo, it only has to encourage kids to love learning. Once you relieve yourself of this burden, things will be much easier.
That said, it is important that you have the tools needed to help kids get the most out of the time spent with you as their new teacher. The instructors at Xtreme Ninja Martial Arts in Medford, MA go through extensive training to be able to keep students engaged and enthusiastic, while also moderating behaviors. Read on to see how you can use some of our favorite teaching tips in your own home.
1. Healthy Competition
Competition no doubt helps students of all levels step up their game, and if you prompt competition for your lessons in a fun way that splits the class into teams then it’s not only healthy – it’s FUN too! If you have multiple children, this can be as simple as seeing who can draw the most number of triangles in 30 seconds.
If you have a single child, or your kids have a broad age gap, you may have to step in as the competition. Kids love seeing adults in agony. Just think of the shows your kids watch, and when they laugh the most; usually it’s an adult getting hurt or making a mistake.
Challenge them that if they can write their sentences in 5 minutes or less, you will do 5 push-ups, but if they take more than 5 minutes THEY will have to do the push-ups. This is not about punishment, it is about FUN (and the extra boost of endorphins will help break the stress).
When your kids get to choose the activity at hand, they become more motivated to put forth greater effort. Kids tend to feel as if they have little control over their lives, and this can lead to some major tantrums. As parents, we sometimes don’t trust our kids with control because they will make less than favorable decisions. Stripes and polka dots!?! No Way!
By providing choices, we let the kids feel a sense of control over their lives. This is important for their development as someday they WILL have to be the one making the decisions. It is even more important for their mental well-being as they are trapped at home, isolated from their friends because of social distancing practices.
When setting up the lessons for the day, have the flexibility to provide your child with a choice. If you tell them spelling is next, you may get pushback. But if you ask whether they’d like to do spelling first or math first, they will feel empowered; and since both of the choices you provided were acceptable options, your own stress levels will go down, as well.
We can all agree that many kids will not have the very best discipline all the time. To increase the level of discipline and effort in class, it is important that we are constantly catching and rewarding students that are trying hard and leading by example. The simple act of setting your kids up for success is the key to maximizing good behavior in class.
A great way to do this is to focus on what is going right rather than what is going wrong. For example, imagine you have two siblings, and one is on task but the other is dawdling. Most of us would try to correct the dawdler. Instead, praise what you like about the focused child. “I love how focused you are, Sky! That shows me that you are a person with good discipline.” A natural reaction will be for your other child to seek similar praise by modeling the behavior you said you liked.
You can also use a similar technique for a single child. The goal is to “catch them being good.” When you see the behavior you want, even if it is for a split second, praise it. This works even better if they don’t think you are watching. It is a slow process, but you will actually start rewiring their brains to exhibit those positive behaviors.
Trickery is a humorous way to help build focus, engagement, and connection. The concept is to try and trick your students into ‘going’ or ‘starting’ by using words that sound like the word ‘go!’
We use this in class mainly for physical movement activities. For example, when starting a martial arts drill that has two or more teams competing against one another, we may count down, “Ready…Set….GOAL!” The kids get a laugh, it breaks the tension, and encourages them to be ready to perform, but not to over anticipate.
You might use a similar bit of trickery when encouraging your kids to see who can collect the most amount of different kinds of leaves in 2 minutes.
Side Note – thinking outside the box about conveying lessons is also a subtle form of trickery akin to sneaking onions into the meatloaf. Collecting different leaves can teach about shapes, math, biodiversity, or even cooking if they are edible leaves. Not every lesson needs to be about notes and textbooks.
5. Up the Rep
Most students become tired towards the last few reps of an activity, particularly in high rep drills, or activities which include a lot of physical or mental exertion. With that said, this tip includes a strategy for prompting mental toughness throughout each rep, so that the student becomes better at every rep.
If your child has to write a set of spelling words 5 times each, it is likely that penmanship will decline and errors will increase as the child goes through the motions. One way to use the Up The Rep concept would be to encourage the child to have the first set of words be the sloppiest and worst spelled, the next set a bit neater, and so on until the last set of words is the neatest and best.
This provides them an achievable goal beyond simply completing the assignment, and helps them learn to practice mindfully rather than just going through the motions.
Basically, the concept is to get the left and right hemispheres of the brain working together by challenging the brain to ‘think’ more during lessons. This improves cognitive performance, which is how well a student can think and remember what they learned in class.
In the martial arts environment, we will perform exercises while counting by colors, or counting in other languages. The reason this works is twofold. First, the addition of physical movement to the activity increases blood flow to the brain, which carries additional oxygen and nutrients to improve cognition. Second, by forcing the brain to think in unique ways, neurological activity spikes, which allows the brain to take in more of those nutrients.
By reciting vocabulary words while doing jumping jacks, for example, the increased neurological activity helps make the memory more concrete. As a bonus, the endorphins that are released during physical activity help reinforce that learning is a positive activity.
7. Intrinsic Motivation
This concept works by giving the kids options for performance, and then they chose the hardest option because they want to. We use this in our martial arts classes with great success. This tool works best if you can tie it to a character trait that the child wants to exhibit naturally.
For example, if a child has to write an essay, you could give them three options about how long that essay will be. This is similar to the Choices tool mentioned above, and it is empowering for the kids to have some control. By then tying each level of choice to a level of awesomeness, the kids will more likely choose to perform at the highest level.
“For your ELA homework, you have to write an essay about how much you love martial arts. Now, if you want to have good writing skills, you’ll write three paragraphs. But if you want to have rockstar writing skills, you’ll write four paragraphs. And if you want to have super ninja black belt writing skills, you’ll write five paragraphs.”
Make sure that all three levels are acceptable for the assignment, and within the stage of development for your child. Don’t prompt the kindergartner to write 5 paragraphs, because no matter how super ninja they want to be, it is unrealistic.
8. Extrinsic Motivation
This concept is when a person puts forth greater effort based on external rewards such as prizes, praise, making others happy, etc. It is easy to overuse this concept, so be mindful of how you apply it.
This one is the simplest. “If you do your homework, you can have ice cream.”
We’ve all bribed our kids at least once in our parenting lives. To make this tool even more effective while maintaining a healthy boundary of control, tie it together with one of the other 7 ideas. Instead of, “If X then Y,” try something like, “If you can get your art homework done in 15 minutes, you can have ice cream and I’ll do 5 push-ups.” Or, “If you finish your science packet by 10:30am, you will get to choose the movie tonight.”
By tying multiple ninja teaching techniques together, you can create a learning environment that is full of fun, but which also encourages kids to love learning. Remember, when all else fails, step away from the kitchen table and find a way to have fun. To a child, play is the path to knowledge, experience, and wisdom. If you can make the lessons fun and interactive, there will be less stress for everyone involved.
Let us know which Ninja Teaching Tool worked best for you!