How do you get children to practice what they know?

One of the recurring problems that seems to happen in school is children not following instructions. There are a variety of reasons, they didn’t hear, they didn’t understand, they didn’t want to!

Today I had a child in my office doing his work. They worked beautifully, spoke politely and if you didn’t know the reason that they were there, you could be mistaken for thinking that they were a model pupil. At lunch time we got chatting about the rest of the family.

This child has 2 sisters, a baby brother and an older half-brother. He dotes upon the young brother; he very proudly told me about how he is sometimes allowed to look after him while his parents are in the other room and he follows him round and makes sure he comes to no harm.

He then spoke about his half-brother, they have the same mother, and how different their two fathers are. His dad, he felt, was strict but fair, the half-brother’s dad had no rules and never put boundaries in place. We discussed the merits of the two styles of parenting. He felt that his dad’s way was best. He could see the reasons for rules and following instructions. He wanted to impress his parents and was grateful for the guidance that they offered, he wanted them “to walk beside me every step of my life.”

We carried on chatting and he admitted that he didn’t always follow instructions given by his parents immediately, but he always did in the end because they are the parents and they need to be respected. “You should always respect grown ups”. It was a very mature conversation that ensued.

I suppose in a way this is what we see in school. Earlier in the day I had very quietly asked him to come downstairs with me, he sulked, he put his head down on the table, he slammed his book down, he shouted and he left the classroom in what could be described as an uncontrolled manner. He did, with the calming intervention of another member of staff, end up downstairs. He had, eventually, followed the instruction given.

So I have a child who can explain that he likes, even prefers, the sense of order and discipline that adults can offer him, he can say that he should follow instructions, that following instructions keeps you safe, that you should respect adults. He seemed to struggle to make the link between what he had said and his earlier behaviour. So how can I get him to practice all of the things he so eloquently explained to me?

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How do you get children to practice what they know?

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