Teacher tip: Use a learning menu to motivate kids to make their own choices

Kids with learning and thinking differences thrive on structure and routine. But allowing your child to make choices is important, too. It can help motivate your child to complete tasks. One way to teach elementary-age kids to make choices is to create a learning menu. It serves a similar purpose as a menu in a restaurant, because kids get to choose activities to work on.

For example, in class your child might start off choosing to watch a video clip or preview a picture book. This would be the appetizer.

Next, your child orders the entrée, which is the bulk of the assignment. Kids can select from menu options like creating a poster or writing a poem. Think of these as the larger activities, similar to the main course at a restaurant, which take more time to finish.

Last comes dessert. Kids can choose activities that wrap up their learning experience. I offer students options like sharing one important thing they learned from their assignment or writing their own math word problems.

Learning menus also chunk assignments into smaller parts to help kids organize their work. At home, you can use learning menus in a similar way. They can help break down chores and homework into manageable, organized activities. Using a learning menu at home can also motivate your child to finish tasks without constant reminders.

Tips for using learning menus with your child

1. Create the menu together. On a sheet of paper, write out a menu with your child. (Kids often like creating the choices themselves.) Of course, you’ll need to set some “non-negotiables” like doing homework or taking a bath. Mark these must-do tasks with a star to show that they’re the most important items. Consider setting a time limit for those tasks to be completed.

2. Start small. Have your child choose just one task from each section. For an appetizer, your child might help with chores. For an entrée, your child might do their reading homework. Be sure to celebrate successes with verbal praise to boost confidence. You can add more tasks as your child becomes more comfortable with the menu.

3. Set goals and incentives. At the bottom of the menu, have your child write a personal goal, such as completing three appetizers, two entrées, and one dessert each day. Include an incentive for achieving the goal, such as 10 extra minutes of technology time. Allowing your child to choose the reward can help motivate your child even more. Don’t forget to mix up the goals and incentives over time to keep your child interested!

4. Consider a dry-erase board. If you want to change your menu from day-to-day or week-to-week, try writing the menu on a dry-erase board. Hang the board in a visible place, like the kitchen. Adapt it as necessary depending on the day or week ahead.

Learning menus can be a fun way to help your child feel more confident and organized. By completing tasks, kids can feel like they have more ownership over their lives in school and at home.

—Melissa Sandler

Melissa Sandler serves as an Understood Teacher Fellow. She is a third-grade general education teacher at Ashburton Elementary School in Bethesda, Maryland. She holds a BS in elementary education and an MEd as a reading specialist.

Download a PDF of our evening routine menu. To use it over and over again, you can laminate the menu and have your child make selections with a dry-erase marker.


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