Flashcards and Fun

Sometimes I think it’s pretty ironic that I married a teacher, because I guess you could say I hold an unconventional position on schoolwork. I can’t really help it, though. If you grew up the way I did, I bet you’d feel the same way. It could be argued that I was slightly spoiled when I was growing up. I like to think that I was just pampered, but even I’ll admit that sometimes the pampering was a little over-the-top. Particularly in the area of school assignments.

When I was growing up, my mom was known to complete projects and papers for me on days when I was too busy playing basketball. On occasion, she covered my reading too. If I had been assigned a book for class, sometimes my mom would do the brunt of the work and then give me the details over breakfast. As you can see, school assignments were nothing more than a nuisance in my life, a road block en route to the basketball court. Homework was never a real priority, and it certainly wasn’t fun.

Despite my lack of devotion to after-hours schooling, though, I made it through college and began an enjoyable hiatus from homework. Then came the kids, and homework and I had a re-introduction. Suddenly it was back in my life, but this time homework took on a whole new dimension. As the parent in this relationship, I was supposed to encourage my kids in their studies. As the parent, I was expected to think homework is spectacular, and I was supposed to teach my kids how to love it. But, to be honest, I’m not sure if I ever fully boarded that train myself.

Until one year when my youngest daughter Anna was eight, and her second grade class was learning multiplication. When Anna took home some of her math worksheets that semester, my wife and I could tell she was falling slightly behind in the subject. Determined to help our daughter learn, we bought some multiplication flashcards. We started out by studying them methodically, but that gave me flashbacks from my own torturous years spent in a classroom. I wasn’t too thrilled about that, so I decided to try something different.

As we pulled out the cards one night, I made up some new rules. I told Anna that I would give her three seconds to answer each flashcard, but if she took longer than three seconds, I would tickle her until she got it right. Anna giggled and agreed to the suggestion, on one condition: the tickle rule didn’t apply when the number twelve was a factor on a flashcard. I agreed to that, and we started flipping through the cards.

It was like magic. We had a blast studying multiplication that night—so much fun that we decided to keep our little game going. For weeks afterward, when I would go upstairs to tuck Anna in, she’d be sitting on the side of her bed with her pajamas on, flashcards in hand. My daughter looked forward to those study sessions, but so did I. They were a great way to spend time together; in fact, a part of me wishes that Anna still needed them today. Trust me, that’s something this homework-dodger never planned on.

In your own home this week, what could you do to put a positive spin on something your family doesn’t normally enjoy? Try adding some laughs to the Saturday chores. Or race to take out the garbage. Encourage when you would normally just pester. Plant some chocolate in a laundry basket. Just try it, you’ll see for yourself. Even the blandest, most boring tasks in the world can be enjoyable when you make them fun and make them relational. Now, that’s a lesson worth learning—somebody should put it on a flashcard.