Is it enhanced learning . . . or is it busy work?
This is a tale of two moms.
Cheryl’s son has motivational issues, so she likes to help him approach a concept in many different ways. “If one activity doesn’t cement the idea, another will,” she says. She loves when a curriculum appeals to different learning styles by offering activities that engage her hands-on, kinesthetic child.
Jennifer looks for books and materials that just teach writing. She doesn’t want pre-writing activities, games, craft projects, or other “bells and whistles.” To Jennifer, these things are busy work. “I just want to teach my kids how to write,” she says. “I’ll play games another time.”
What is busy work?
bu · sy work n. useless tasks or assignments that appear productive, but merely occupy students.
I remember busy work—inane worksheets my teachers passed out as a dubious reward for those of us who followed directions and finished our in-class assignments on time.
We didn’t get to read a book or play a quiet game in the back of the room. No, our promptness and diligence were punished, in essence, with silly coloring pages and fill-in-the-blank worksheets that kept us quiet while everyone else slogged along.
Sadly, Jennifer lumps word games and craft-based publishing ideas with busy work. She thinks they’re unnecessary and time-consuming.
But my own experience with real busy work reminds me that pushing a pencil around a worksheet is worlds apart from using educational games and other creative activities to enhance learning.
What is enhanced learning?
Are you, like Jennifer, tempted to think of such activities as busy work? If so, consider their importance in light of the way most young children learn.
Manipulatives and pre-writing activities are vital, engaging learning aids, unlike those tedious workbooks meant to keep children out of your hair for an hour.
Educational methods such as spelling or vocabulary games help a child’s brain remember new concepts. They teach him about important story elements and help him discover fresh new ways to practice writing skills. Such activities especially benefit young—and usually kinesthetic—learners.
Learning games can teach a child skills such as:
- Adding description
- Developing voice
- Planning a mystery
- Adding details to a story
- Expanding writing vocabulary
- Thinking about story elements such as setting and character
- Summarizing a book
Crafty Publishing Projects
One of the most encouraging and rewarding experiences for any author is to see his work published. Most children love publishing their stories through a fun, imaginative activity.
Not only does this enhance the writing experience, but they end up with a really creative final draft they’re eager to share with others.
Your child can publish his writing project in many ways. For example, he can:
- Create a Top Secret File for his mystery story.
- Make a travel poster or paper “suitcase” for his adventure story.
- Present his report on a three-panel display board.
- Make a decorative invitation or thank-you letter.
- Design a lift-the-flap book or trivia game for an informative report.
The Craft Caveat
Like most young children, Cheryl’s son loves to combine writing and art to create his own “published work.” Your child, however, may not like craft projects as much. Or perhaps you’re not a crafty person and would rather bypass the hands-on activities because they’re not your style.
Either way, it’s still important to encourage your child to produce a final draft because it reinforces the concept of editing and revising. So whether your child creates a crafty masterpiece or simply rewrites his final draft on fresh paper in his best penmanship, remember that the final draft is as much a part of the writing process as brainstorming and writing.
The quickest, easiest way to display your child’s story is to affix it to a slightly larger sheet of colored construction paper. The construction paper forms a simple mat that gives the final draft a polished, published look and reminds your student that he did his best.
Writing = Fun!
You want your child to associate writing with fun, and you want his brain to be stimulated in as many ways as possible through tactile and sensory experiences. So if your writing program offers crafty or game-focused writing activities, take the time to make the suggested props, even if it feels like busy work to you. Most children love using them—and they don’t even realize they’re learning!
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