How to tutor a squirmy little boy?
November 24, 2006 10:57 AM   Subscribe

How to make the most of a weekly one hour reading tutoring session with a hyper 6 year old boy?

My office volunteered to do weekly lunchtime reading tutoring sessions with a first grader. "Our" kid, a babyfaced little 6-year old boy, is sweet, but he cannot sit still. The sessions have devolved into battles to keep him on task -- he'll read a line out loud, then fall off his chair, then turn away and refuse to look at us, then hide his face with the book... last week, we gave up and took him back to his teacher half way through.

He's actually quite a good reader and is at the stage where he needs to be taking on the tricky, multisyllable words. Maybe the challenge tires him out? Maybe he just doesn't like us and thinks we're weird strangers and would rather be at recess? Things do seem to go better when he and I read a book out loud together, letting him sound out a few of the harder words on his own.

Another problem might be that the books we're reading are either too hard or too easy, so I'd appreciate any book suggestions. He really likes is Ezra Jack Keats's "The Snowy Day," which seems to be exactly the right level -- anything else like that?

All tips appreciated! I really don't want to give up on this kid.
posted by footnote to Education (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If he has an official diagnosis of ADHD and is on medication for it, make sure that his medication has been taken in the appropriate interval before your session. This is non-negotiable.

Make him more involved by asking him at least one question per page. "Why do you think the penguin did that?" "What did the farmer do?" Make sure that one of the questions is about a previous page. Involve him.
posted by adipocere at 11:03 AM on November 24, 2006

Don't make him sit down. Let him read standing up if he wants, and maybe spend some time acting out the story. Basically find a way for him to move while he's studying without detracting too much.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 11:20 AM on November 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

Bribe him. Seriously. Buy a bag of Skittles and say things like, "When you read the next two pages, you can choose a Skittle." Let him pick the color and just give one. He will work for the Skittle. Some may disagree with this tactic, but it works, and I know a lot of teachers who do it.

Buy an inexpensive kitchen timer. Make it a game, and say something like, "I bet you can't finish this book in 5 minutes."

Buy a book of cool stickers. Set small goals throughout the hour and reward him with a sticker or two.
posted by LoriFLA at 11:27 AM on November 24, 2006

Response by poster: LoriFLA - I forgot to mention that according to the rules of the tutoring program we are not supposed to give the kids candy or gifts, so the bribery route is out...
posted by footnote at 11:30 AM on November 24, 2006

An hour is an eternity for most 6 year olds. Like martinX's bellbottoms says, move around with him, try acting stuff out. Maybe "read this line in an angry voice" and "read the next line in a sad voice."

Does he like rhymes? (Most 6 year olds do.) Read rhyming books with him, have him raise his hand every time he hears a rhyme, you do the same when he reads, make a word bank of rhymes, blah blah blah. The key is changing up the activity frequently while sticking with the lesson.

Onomatopoeia and nonsense words are good for learning to sound out because it's less scary to 'mess up' -- and they're fun to say. Dr. Seuss works well for that.
posted by Marit at 11:50 AM on November 24, 2006

I forgot to mention that I have a six-year old and here are some of his favorites:

The Hello-Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon

The Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Rey

Alexander, and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

There's a Nightmare in my Closet and There's an Alligator Under my Bed by Mercer Myer. (May not be appropriate for the overly PC-- Nightmare mentions guns and "shooting".)

The Pig in the Pond by Martin Waddell

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon

Tough Boris by Mem Fox

The Stray Dog by Marc Simont

Harry and the Lady Next Door. We have all of the Harry books by Gene Zion. They are great.
posted by LoriFLA at 11:51 AM on November 24, 2006

I second the acting out.
Another fun thing would be to have him read (while standing or bouncing or whatever) and then make you guys act it out.
posted by captaincrouton at 11:52 AM on November 24, 2006

Bribe him. Seriously.

One time, I didn't want to explain what I'd written to a teacher cuz I just assumed I was wrong. They send me to remedial, and my problems could have been corrected in a month. Instead, they bribed me with candy and I pretended I couldn't read for about two years.

My mother still hasn't forgiven me.
posted by jon_kill at 11:55 AM on November 24, 2006

I used to start by reading the story to my kids and then have them read single words, then sentences, then take turns reading pages, then I would forget to take my turn or say "oh, it's so good, read me just one more page..."

This works ok with my own kids 'cause I can have them in my lap. I doubt you're going to do anything inappropriate, but a kid who isn't your may or may not want to sit in your lap, so you'd have to at least sit side-by-side.

For some six-year olds, reading is like eating broccoli. You have to get them used to it in little bits. But I have yet to meet a kid who doesn't like being read to. Start there and once they're comfortable with that, get them going from there.

Breaking down learning tasks into really, really small pieces works well in general I find. And never underestimate the power of modeling behavior - reading to kids when they can see the text is a great first step.
posted by GuyZero at 11:57 AM on November 24, 2006

LoriFLA - I forgot to mention that according to the rules of the tutoring program we are not supposed to give the kids candy or gifts, so the bribery route is out.

Well that is understandable, but unfortunate with this squirmy boy. You could still do the timer. Make it as fun as you can. Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre--Gail Godwin
posted by LoriFLA at 11:58 AM on November 24, 2006

Oh, as for book selection - while the classics are great, don't be afraid to dive into the pulp trash of children's literature. My son loves Lego Bionicle books. I find them painful to read. Painful. But he loves them and reading is reading. And who doesn't love a good trashy book now and then? Find out what he likes and get books about that - cars, barbies, dinosaurs, commercial characters, whatever. He needs to learn to pay attention first and the best bribe is giving him a book he really wants to read. Even if it's the last book on earth you'd want to read.

Also, some boys prefer non-fiction to fiction. I have no theories, just anecdotal observation. There are plenty of leveled easy readers on various non-fiction topics, like sports, animals or space.

We have a big set of Magic Schoolbus books, both those that are based on the TV series and those that came before the TV series - they're structurally very different and the original books are very, very good. My son loved those at six. Like The Magic School Bus Lost In The Solar System - he loved it and I found it pretty enjoyable too. The original books are rectangular, like the one linked. The TV series ones are more square, like this one.
posted by GuyZero at 12:06 PM on November 24, 2006

Buy a bag of Skittles

please don't -- he's already "hyper", don't feed him any sugar unless you don't want to tutor a caffeinated little squirrel
posted by matteo at 12:16 PM on November 24, 2006

At the risk of sounding argumentative--sugar doesn't usually cause hyperactivity in children. It's a very old myth that won't die.

Information and more information.

posted by LoriFLA at 12:31 PM on November 24, 2006

On the sugar theme, with my kids (I have but anecdotes to offer), hyperactivity is a symptom of hunger or fatigue. It may sound backwards, but my son always calmed down a lot after eating. Make sure you eat lunch first, read second.
posted by GuyZero at 12:41 PM on November 24, 2006

Have you tried animal-assisted therapy? The Delta Society has a nation-wide Pet Partners program that may be able to help in a situation like this. They've posted an online survey for their Pet Partners team members involved in canine-assisted reading programs so they should have teams that are trained in this particular field.
posted by plokent at 12:48 PM on November 24, 2006

Ezra Jack Keats wrote a bunch of other books - most have a simular 'feel' to the Snowy Day. Pet Show is a fave around our house.
posted by serazin at 12:50 PM on November 24, 2006

Also, (speaking only as a parent, not someone with a lot of educational theory in my background), I'd say that this is turning into a power struggle that could really turn him off to reading.

I'd start by spending 10 minutes just playing with him, or engaging in a way that he wants to engage. Try falling off your chair yourself - that's sure to crack him up.

You can sort of 'trick' him into reading in a few ways. You could read to a toy or stuffed animal and just ignore the kid for a while. Then encourage him to help you read to the animal.

You can give him meaningful jobs that have to do with reading and writing. With my kids, I often have them write shopping lists. Especially if there was a particular food they wanted to get from the store - I'd tell them to write it on the list. I even did this before they could write at all. But it was meaningful and motivating literacy play.

For reading, you could find a game that has instructions for assembly, and then you NEED to read the directions in order to play the game. This provides a concrete reason to read. Or assemble a simple dish from a kids recipe book - he has to read the recipe. It could just be a sandwich. You could even write ou t the directions using age appropriate words.

Good luck!
posted by serazin at 12:55 PM on November 24, 2006

See if you can find some good children's poetry books. I had A Bad Case of the Giggles and Kids Pick the Funniest Poems when I was little. A kid who can't sit through a whole book might at least be able to handle a 1 page poem. Also, the words will be easier to sound out when he can predict them based on the rhyme and meter.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 1:23 PM on November 24, 2006

It sounds like your sessions take place during his usual recess time. (Ever watch the overall restlessness build in a primary school classroom over the course of a morning? It's scary.) Maybe he needs to blow off some steam, like he does the other four days of the week. Take the first 10 minutes to run in place, do jumping jacks, etc?

What you describe also makes me think he might have a little performance anxiety. A six year old is definitely old enough to have an idea of their strengths and weaknesses, particularly in comparison to their classmates. Anything you do that's collaborative is probably going to help his reading confidence.

Try different things. There are lots of great ideas in this thread. Maybe he'd want to play Go Fish using words or sentences from A Snowy Day written on index cards. Maybe he'd be willing to talk out a story as you write it down and then read it with you. Maybe he'd like very simple word puzzles.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:47 PM on November 24, 2006

Trade off. You read a sentence. He reads a sentence. It gives him a mini break and the entire burden is not on him, you're sharing it. When he gets a one word sentence he'll feel like he's really getting away with something.
With my niece we would trade off reading with playing a game. Two pages, a game, two pages, a game. She was older and we had her for several hours but you get the idea.
Maybe you could read for 5 or ten minutes, play fish for 5 or 10 minutes etc.
When you read move your finger along under the words, when you come to the same word again, show him where it was previously ("There's that word again").
If he's struggling with a word he's just read say "Oh, that's the same word as before when the -------- was swimming in the pond. What was swimming in the pond? Yes! Duck! and point to the word. Help him figure things out give him lots of help so it's not so overwhelming. Make him figure out some of the words, give him others. Vary the amount of effort you make him expend so everything isn't hard.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:51 PM on November 24, 2006

Humans can give full concentration for periods of time equal to one minute per year of age, up to 20 minutes. Are you in a room with access to computer/web reading activities? If you're in the media center, or have access to it, read for five minutes, then walk the shelves with him looking for another book.

Read through a book, then make flash cards of the words he didn't know. Make two flash cards of each word, then play Concentration with them: put them face down, then take turns turning a pair over trying to find a match. You have to read the word to get the match, though.

(The 20-minute limit's important when you're working with adults, too!)
posted by ancientgower at 1:54 PM on November 24, 2006

A relative who is a former math tutor and now a children's author says she used to use "manipulatives" with kids like this; tools to help them learn with their hands. She apparently had cubes that could be assembled and disassembled to teach kids about fractions. A cruder variation is to just let the kid hold a stress ball to keep his hands occupied during the lesson.
posted by gsteff at 1:55 PM on November 24, 2006

What's his diet like? There's some evidence that behavioural problems in children are related to diet. This looks like a good place to start.
posted by krisjohn at 2:19 PM on November 24, 2006

I'll nth the advice to let him move around. I cannot tell you how many power struggles in my childhood could have been avoided had I been allowed to stand while doing my worksheet or reading my book. Besides, with squirmy kids, it can be hard to tell if they are still paying attention: my own mother didn't believe I could listen to a story and jump around the room until she challenged me and I recited back the previous four pages. You don't need medication or bribery; you just need to work with kids as they are.
posted by dame at 2:43 PM on November 24, 2006

Ask him what he likes. Find a book on that.
posted by Katravax at 4:43 PM on November 24, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all this great advice!
posted by footnote at 5:03 PM on November 24, 2006

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