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I want to learn how to help my kid with school. I don't know how to motivate him to learn. He says he wants to make things (just like his Dad). I would like to start with basic skills, like ABC's and Math. What materials do I use? How do I learn how to teach?

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All kids that age are motivated to learn. It's a hardwired part of being a human. What they aren't necessarily motivated about is learning what adults want them to learn. He will have plenty of time for formal academics like math and reading. Schools cover that in depth and they start too early as it is. The best thing you can do for your child is to help him explore his own interests, so he doesn't lose the motivation for learning he already has. That's the part schools aren't set up to do very well. At least not as well as a parent can.

He wants to learn how to make things, so make things with him. You're probably thinking he needs a whole lot of theoretical background in order to be able to start making things, but with a mentor, it's just as easy to do it the other way around. You can gain a theoretical background by seeking to better understand a practical project you're building.

My kids were interested in making robots, but the kind of robots I could make were obviously out of their reach. That doesn't mean we can't do other things that will lead them toward that point, yet still feel relevant to them. Some of the things we've done that the kids loved:

  • Squishy Circuits. You probably already have some battery holders and LEDs in your junk drawer, and the ingredients in your kitchen. The kids think they are playing with playdough, but they're learning the basics of circuits, resistance, and diodes.
  • E-textiles. These are great to learn about around Halloween time, for costumes.
  • EL wire. Another great Halloween time project.
  • A littleBits Kit. These have components you can combine with crafts to make interactive toys.
  • HexBug nano. You don't build the robots, but you build a track for them. They also have more advanced kits for older kids.
  • Robot turtles board game. The kids are programming a robot without the hardware.
  • Let them observe and help me with a more complex project. Kids that age can learn a lot just from being around you and asking questions.

To you, these kinds of projects might seem like a poor substitute for what you're making, but they are right on your son's level. You will be amazed at the kinds of intelligent questions he asks when he is excited about what he is learning. You can also sneak in the subjects you want him to improve on. My son has difficulties with math, but I can make him do math forever if he thinks it's important to a fun project we're working on.

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  • I checked out each of links. These are good ideas. – BSEE Sep 27 '14 at 3:35
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This is not a full answer for an overall educational process. Just a single idea you might like to try...

Get yourself one of these and build it together. (Don't buy it from that link though, you can probably find cheaper.) Lots of interesting things you can explain about gear ratios and pendulum length, and springs, and (for the bell mechanism) gravity. You can teach him to tell the time, and maybe do some simple modulo arithmetic (what time is it two hours after eleven o'clock?).

Or bake a cake together. Reading words from the recipe, and measuring things are useful skills.

I'm sure if you look around, there are plenty of other similar things you can do together to appeal to his interests (making things) while providing an educational experience along the way.

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  • This is a good idea. – BSEE Sep 27 '14 at 3:36

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