My son is a Cub Scout, and we've been encouraging him to pick a badge or two that he would like to earn. The pick that he has been working on for quite some time now is the World Conservation badge. I had hoped that he would be motivated to find time to work on it on his own, but that really wasn't happening. Through talking with him, I realized that while he was eager to earn the badge, he didn't know how to fit it into his days and would consistently claim that he ran out of time in his day to get around to it. While I know at an intellectual level that he was benefiting from unstructured free time, he had set a goal and was struggling to focus on it. He also didn't know how to gather all the information for the badge requirements, even though there was quite a bit that he knew already. I didn't know how to support him.
The requirements that he chose to complete were pretty comprehensive and I would imagine they could be daunting for a child in grade 4. He was to hike around two distinct ecoregions and compare and contrast the plants, animals and insects that live there. In addition, he was to learn a bit about the soil in each region, water sources, and hypothesize how changes in temperature could impact the ecoregion. Lastly, he was to discuss the food web for one of the ecoregions. Quite a tall order!
We sat down together about three weeks ago to look at what he had finished and what was left. Then, we broke the work that was left into even smaller pieces and he told me when he would commit to completing each smaller step. We agreed on what my role would be to support him, and the work that he was expected to do on his own.
At the same time, we also started writing out the chores and schoolwork we expected he would complete each week, including the work on the World Conservation badge. And, we laid out consequences for not completing the work. By the end of the day on Friday, we would sit down to see if he had finished all the items on the list. We would also consider and discuss his effort level. If all was done and done with a good level of effort, then great! Kudos all around! If not, then Nicholas would need to stay at home to complete the work and miss extracurricular activities until it was done.
This exercise has reduced the tension that seemed to arise daily. I am no longer nagging at him every day to get to it. He is in full control and makes decisions about how he will spend his time. We have a chance to talk about what he needs from me early in the week so that I'm not surprised or I have enough notice to accommodate his requests. He knows about little nuances in our schedules so that he can do a little extra one day in order to enjoy other activities. We are spending more time together to work on his schoolwork and projects because I better understand what he needs from me.
Today was a perfect example. He had requested a trip to the museum a week ago to learn more about the flora and fauna that live where he had recently hiked. It was penciled in on the calendar...and then the trip fell through when everyone fell ill. So, we rescheduled for this morning, and he worked ahead in his schoolwork on Monday and Tuesday to compensate for not doing it today.
He's planning to present his work as a food web, where he had written the names of plants, animals and insects on a board and then hammered nails by each label. Then, he can easily use a piece of yarn, string or twine to show who eats what. Here's one he finished for the Bay of Fundy, which we toured last summer:
It's such a great feeling when a goal is achieved. Being almost there, and knowing just a little bit more work until it's all wrapped up, feels pretty good too.