But of course, frustration doesn't help. Here are four approaches I've found that do help:
(It's so good to be writing these out. I need the reminders!)
1. Stop for the day. I used to think that I always had to be stubborn about getting through the whole lesson or the kids would walk all over me. It's not true. Sometimes the best thing to do is to stop so everyone preserves happy memories of learning.
I have heard people say, and am finding it to be true, that it is much more important to be consistent about attempting a subject on a regular basis than it is to finish every lesson.
But...and this is important: stop the lesson calmly and with a smile. It's not defeat; it's just wisely saving the lesson for a better time.
2. Take a break with some sort of physical exercise. Silliness is often just pent-up energy and restlessness. Physical exertion can bring focus, or at the very least, the break gives you both a chance to get a fresh start.
- For very young kids, try a song with motions like "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes," or "Teddy Bear."
- Jumping jacks are great because they are quick and easy and can be done anywhere
- Make a little spur-of-the-moment obstacle course in your back yard. For me, this doesn't involve moving anything around. I just run to different objects in our yard in a certain order and see if my kids can remember it.
3. Channel the silliness. Kids do need time to be playful and silly. If you sense that they need that outlet, here are some things to try:
- Switch to a learning game
- Have the child go get a stuffed animal or doll and let the doll answer the questions. I stumbled on this trick once by accident and was amazed at how it helped my daughter to relax. This is especially helpful for a perfectionist child who is afraid to get the wrong answer.
- Play "tickle the ____ (letter of the alphabet, sight word, right math answer)" Make giggling sounds when they tickle the right one.
4. Hold the line with encouragement and a concrete goal. Some days you just sense that it's right thing to persevere. When this is your strategy, here are some things that might help:
- Double check the difficulty level. Kids can respond with silliness when the material is either too difficult or too easy.
- Encourage your child by being excited for them in what they are learning. For example, I remember my mother saying a lot to me when I was a preschooler, "Won't it be so fun when you know how to read?" and she would talk about all the fun things that would come from that.
- Make sure your child knows when the lesson will stop, and let them get a visual image of it. For example, if you are going to read for 3 more pages, don't just say the number, show them where the last page is. If you are doing math facts, show them the stack of remaining flashcards.
- The thought of a reward can help bring focus. In the long run, the best rewards are those that are logically connected to what they have learned. That's why I love, for example, the early reader books that have a place at the beginning to write the child's name once they have read it themselves. My son loves seeing his name there.