I despise routine, mundane activities. My daughter inherited this attitude, unfortunately, so we often find ourselves at an impasse when neither one of us feels motivated to do something that needs to be done.
She rides a shuttle bus from her magnet school each day, and her responsibility is to text me when the bus leaves so I can meet her at its destination. My responsibility is to keep reminding her to text me so the rest of our afternoon doesn’t turn into angry accusations about who forgot who.
The other day, she actually remembered to text me as she left. Usually, I try to reward this with a response like, “On my way!” or , “Okay!” Feeling a bit perverse and bored with always giving the same answers, I decided to text, “ocean,” instead.
“?” she texted back.
I don’t know why I texted “ocean.” Moms aren’t supposed to do random, unexplained things. Why did I type “ocean” of all words? Where did that come from? How was I supposed to follow that?
“Joel,” I texted next, feeling that I might as well make her think I had gone completely insane.
When I parked at the school to wait for her bus, I sent one more word – “goat.”
Unsurprisingly, my daughter had raised eyebrows when she finally got in the car.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“You’re supposed to figure out what all three have in common,” I said – as though this had been the plan the whole time.
“They all have o’s?” she asked.
After a few more guesses, she resorted to Google on her phone.
“So, apparently, a guy named Joel saw a goat jump into the ocean,” she said.
“Yeah. That’s not it, either.”
Google finally rewarded her after she sifted out all of the suicidal goat links.
“They’re all Billy’s!” she exclaimed.
“This is fun! Let’s do it again! I might actually remember to text you if this is what happens every time.”
Her last statement penetrated my teacher brain, reinforcing something that I’ve known for awhile but never considered applying to our minor daily Battle of the Texts.
We all enjoy challenges that are in our Zone of Proximal Development. In fact, they can engage and motivate us. I observe this daily in my students when they make faces about tough math problems or reading passages – yet beg for more after they’ve succeeded. It’s why activities like Breakout EDU and the Wonder League Robotics Competition missions are so popular. These problems are novel and require deliberate thought, but are achievable with hard work.
Many of us struggle with how to motivate our children and/or students. Rewards seem like bribes, and punishment causes resentment – which is never productive. We want our young people to develop intrinsic motivation instead of becoming eternally dependent on a carrot or a stick. That ZPD contains the secret. Find that activity that makes them think a little harder, but is within their reach, and their eventual success will make them hunger for the next challenge instead of dreading or avoiding it.
By the way, it has been two days since the first random, accidental text. So far, my daughter has not forgotten to text me and even, much to her delight, was able to solve one of my puzzles without any help from Google. Of course, you don’t have to think of your own puzzles like this. Tribond is a game with the same purpose, and there are plenty of resources on the internet that are similar. If you want something a bit harder, check out “Kennections” by Ken Jennings.