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Balancing effort and pleasure for positive learning experience.

Updated: Oct 2, 2021

Learning to read and write in hard. And especially when a bilingual / multilingual child can already read in a the school language, it might feel even more demotivating to start from zero again with the home language (Fortunately, leverage helps making it a lot easier – Check out my YouTube video on this topic) It is therefore extremely important to balance properly the amount of effort your child will be putting in an activity with the pleasure (i.e.: instant reward) they get from it.

Guiding thought

“What’s the POINT?!”, “Is it worth the effort?”

… are the questions your child asks themselves every time they are confronted with a complex task. In all fairness, we ALL do that! For every decision we make, we weigh the pros and cons. Then we choose whether we are going to do it or not depending on the #RewardVSEffortRatio. As adults, we have developed a better appreciation of long-term rewards. But with your child it is crucial that you keep in mind the short-term reward they might experience.

Learning to read and write is not easy. And your child will be asking themselves: Is the pleasure I’ll get from this ‘task’ worth the effort I am going to put in?

As the effort is quite significant, it is important to counterbalance it with an even bigger short-term reward.

In this post, I will explore several ways you can balance effort and pleasure.

Before I start, I would like to stress the fact that of course, we can tell our children that they need to/have to complete the task “because I said so”. But if we want to develop our children’s eagerness to perfect their literacy skills in all their languages, it is crucial to cultivate a positive rapport between your child and these complex but essential skills.

Therefore, when giving a reading or writing task to your child, the goal, is give them something that they will WANT to do even if it is challenging.

I will explore the link between emotions and memory/retention in a future post. In the meantime, I invite you to check the fantastic Ted Talk by Mark Rober titled “The Super Mario Effect - Tricking Your Brain into Learning More

In a nutshell, the more effort your child puts, the bigger the immediate emotional reward needs to be.

Let me detail a few ways in which you can counterbalance the effort with fun!

1) Make reading or writing what makes the game/activity possible.

Let me share with you two activities from The Parents’ Guide to Raising Multi-literate Children:

#10 Mastermind is directly adapted from the game of the same name where one player needs to work out a combination of colours chosen by the other one.

As detailed in the picture below, the game can only happen if the player reads the different cards.

In the activity #45 Create your own menu, your child is given a big incentive: If they can write what they want to eat or drink they can have it!! Here, the reward is to be able to pick and choose what they like and that they normally cannot get for a meal (e.g.: ice-cream) and to avoid eating what they want to (e.g.: mushrooms)

Note that the templates and cards to play these two games are part of the Resources Pack that complements my book.

2) When your child can start deciphering words quite confidently, you can provide them with little texts they can read, that provide them with a lot more of fun as a consequence.

Here are a few examples:

  • Treasure hunt: Each clue read properly gets your child closer to the treasure. They will therefore make sure they read and understand each clue. If you are working on certain graphemes (i.e. letter combinations) that they find tricky, include several words containing them.

  • Blocks of games: These books contain activities such as mazes, riddles, spot the differences etc. These are great fun! And when your child starts to decipher words confidently, it offers the perfect balance between the effort furnished to read and understand the short instructions and the fun your child experiences while playing these games. My sons used to spend hours (literally!) reading and playing! Note as well that all these games require your child to pay attention to details, which is crucial when learning to read. If French is one of your languages, I would highly recommend this block of games designed by Magdalena, primary teacher and author of the series Je suis en CP and Je suis en CE1. It has been specifically designed to work on reading skills.

  • Jokes and riddles are another form of short texts that produce immediate rewards. By reading out loud the joke, your child can make others laugh, or can appear witty/clever by reading out loud riddles. Your child will be proud of the impact they can have on their audience!

3) Add a fun element

An activity that is notoriously dreaded by most children is the dictation. To make this activity more bearable, you can:

  • Use props – The activity is still technically the same, but having props brings an element of fun in the mix. Here is a video that you can find in the IGTV section of my Instagram page @multilingual_dad.

  • Add a challenge – This can be done in various ways and depends entirely on your child. My youngest is very active, loves climbing and jumping everywhere. In this video, you can see how I combined the dictation activity with an obstacle course.

Your child loves treasure hunts? Football? Animals? How could you integrate their interests and passion to make the revision phase, or the dictation itself more fun?

How could you make dictation more attractive to YOUR child? Let me know in the comments.

Yes. This demands a lot of thinking (Check my future post “Dictation: its benefits, and how to make it more enjoyable”)

4) How to decrease the effort and multiply practice.

Especially at the start, when our children are not completely confident reading or writing, it is important to make sure they are not pushed in the struggle zone too quickly and/or too often. Instead, we need to focus on integrating little “literacy-moments” in our children’s daily lives.

This has two main benefits:

  • It shows our children the purpose of being able to read and write: it is a way to access more fun, information, and become more independent.

  • The effort will only be required for a short period of time, ideally followed by a big reward!


  • Let your child type in the search bar on YouTube, Netflix, etc. the names of the cartoons they want to watch. Make sure that if they are struggling, you provide them with help. If they have toys, or books, of the precise cartoon they want to watch, the name might be written on it. Then ask your child to check the spelling and copy it. You could also help them remember which letter(s) represent which sound.

The obvious reward is being able to watch the cartoon they love.

  • Shopping list: Nowadays, we all do our shopping online. However, you could do it on paper. Ask your child to write the shopping list.

Help: Have a list of your most ordered items on a piece of paper (stuck on the fridge?) Let your child find and copy the name of the item. Once they get more confident and feel like they know how to spell certain words, they will naturally write from memory. A great way to learn without pressure.


  • Morning messages: You can leave messages, written on a mini white board, on the dining table for your child to discover in the morning. The mini white board allows your child to reply if they want to. Taking off the pressure of having to read/write, make them more likely to do it, than forcing them to.

  • If your child brings a lunch box to school, why not leave a nice word of joke inside?

Key Points:

  1. When thinking of working on literacy with your child, always keep in mind the question: “Is it worth the effort? / What’s the point?”

  2. The more demanding an activity is, the bigger the immediate reward needs to be to counterbalance it.

  3. Let your child access “help sheets” so they can refer to them and learn progressively at their own page.

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