Spelling is very boring for a lot of children, but with some creative energy there are ways to make it less so. Here are some innovative ways of practicing spelling my tutoring children and I have thought of.
One child admired cheerleaders, so we turned spelling words into doing cheers, and she was able to chant the letters in a loud voice and devise different body movements for each letter. Pedagogically, this was an excellent technique, for her whole body was involved in the learning, and she began to respond with gusto to what she expected would be nothing but a boring task.
With Sandy we settled for a tracing method of learning to spell. We had a preliminary discussion about how tracing letters would get boring, and we both regretted that. “But at least we know how long the boring time will last,” I said, “and you can set our timer and stop when in rings.” In that way, we made the task containable with clear time boundaries. We also agreed to follow our spelling period with a more enjoyable task, like drawing. We utilized these rewards to make a boring task more tolerable.
One child suggested a way of humorously dealing with each spelling word by requiring, when a word was given or spelled on the board, that we create a silly sentence that included the spelling word. No restrictions were placed on the silly sentence, such as it had to make sense or be appropriate for a classroom.
Another activity commonly boring to children is a long ride in a car. Here, caring parents will want to prepare by taking along games to pass the time or suggesting car games. The point is that children are not left to the teasing and bickering that naturally sprout up among them when they grow bored. If children themselves help select games before a trip and the drive is enjoyed by all, the children feel cooperative and valuable, and their self-esteem will grow.
In general, if there’s a boring task that must be done with children and there are no avoidance or alternatives, try to involve the children in the acceptance of the task and the responsibility to do it as enjoyable as possible. This involvement is likely to affect a child’s self-esteem positively.
What you say about a boring activity is also important. First of all, acknowledge the child’s likely feeling by saying, “I understand this is not your favorite activity. I know it’s something you’d rather not have to do.” Children’s self-esteem is involved in having their authentic feelings accepted and acknowledged, they often become less resistant to the task that aroused those feelings. I’m thinking, for example, of Teddy, who dropped most of his resistance to reading, spelling, and comprehension when he discovered he could help design and schedule the learning tasks.
It’s helpful if children know you also value their feelings of boredom and resistance. One way to do this is not to deny them. Another way is to agree to cooperate with them in minimizing the negative or boring aspects of a task. Third, if a child, like Sandy, knows exactly how long they must tolerate a task, they might be more willing to accept the boredom if it’s seen as something finite.
As a tutor, I continually faced the challenge of finding interesting material to keep sessions from being boring. That’s one of the reasons I asked my “list of favorites” questions early on. They were not just idle questions to relax the children, but their responses gave me hints of how to keep the tutoring from being a bore. I didn’t keep my researching a secret from the children, either, but explained how I had chosen this or that material for them because I thought they were interested in it. They knew I didn’t want their sessions to be boring. When teaching reading, for example, if a child said the material was boring. I accepted that, and together we searched for alternative reading materials.
I am not trying to develop children who are unable to tolerate boredom and frustrations. Often the children and I explicitly discussed the fact that children things in life are going to be boring and less interesting than other things. My real emphasis was in helping them cope with boredom and frustration creatively. I wanted to help develop flexible, imaginative children who will know how to seek alternative solutions to the problems they will face in life. In short, I wanted to prepare them for success, and to give them a sense of themselves as being capable of living successful lives.
This did not mean they would be able to live life just on their own terms. They knew that already, all too well. Instead of simply resigning ourselves to being helpless, we looked for creative alternatives. We looked for ways to put our lives in harmony with the world, to match our growth with its demands. Self-esteem is heightened not only by continuing successes, but also by children feeling a sense of involvement and control in their own life process as it joins the larger world.