It’s clear that the most effective way to teach kids is to customize teaching to the way the kids learn, and to the interests the kids have.
A great example of this type of learning is me practicing music with my sons. Parents who have a young musician in their house are probably familiar with what I call the 80/20 rule: twenty percent is the kid’s motivation and eighty percent is the parent screaming at the kid to practice.
And not just practice. But practice in a focused, thoughtful way. Because a good half-hour practice is better than a mindless ten hours of practice. (For more about how to practice, go to the Bulletproof Musician. It’s a great blog.)
Since I want customized education for my kids, I have customized yelling. For my older son, who does not aspire to be a professional musician, I remind him to poop before he plays. “Remember,” I tell him, “no stopping in the middle of practice to go to the bathroom.”
Yes. Really. I’m convinced that the bathroom interruption impedes his ability to learn focus. And, in case you’re wondering, water breaks are against the rules as well. If he says he has to poop or drink, I throw a fit. And, one time, I even threw his bow. And broke it. But whatever. At least the broken bow meant he couldn’t practice which meant he wasn’t going to poop during practice.
For my younger son, who has much higher musical aspirations, I yell if he forgets what we are working on: “IT’S A SHARP! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE IF YOU ARE NOT REMEMBERING THE NOTE YOU’RE PLAYING!!!”
At that same moment I am congratulating myself that by some miracle I noticed the difference between a natural and a sharp.
I realized, as I was customizing terror tactics, that if I stick to each son’s personality type, I can pretty much guess what they will need as a motivator. My youngest is an ESFP. He was born to perform because he wants everything in life to be a party, with him at the center.
So, for him, I turn the whole practice into a game. I draw pictures on note cards and he picks blindly. Sometimes he gets a card that says “Kiss your mom” or “make cow sounds on the cello.”
Then he loves me so much for being fun.
My older son is an INTJ and his idea of fun is reading at a restaurant between courses. He likes each practice to have a list. He goes down the list methodically, and pounces on any error or omission in either strategy (“Mom, doing all the scales at once would be more efficient.”) or spelling (“Mom, it’s not ‘sale’ it’s ‘scale’!”)
Of course, giving your kids what they need to flourish means you are being a good parent. But the big question is, if you customize your bad parenting as well, does it mean you get to do more bad parenting and still be called a good parent? That is the data that advocates of customized education are missing.