27 January 2011


Tutor Tales, Volume 26

Remember that study of story about the children and the marshmallows? Researchers gave each of a bunch of children a choice: one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. Then they tracked the progress of their subjects and discovered that those who had been able "to delay gratification" were the ones doing better in life.

I was thinking of that early this week, at Scrap Metal's house, as I organised the work he'd have to do during our hour together . . .

He likes it when all the books he needs are already on the study table, open to the pages that need to be answered, and stacked in a certain order. Maths always goes on top, then Language or Reading (separate subjects in his school), then Filipino, then Religion. That's because he likes Maths the best . . . and Religion the least. =P

While he was still dithering about, I began: "Scrappy, let's say I told you that you could have one marshmallow--"

"What kind of marshmallow?"

"A normal marshmallow."

"I don't like normal marshmallows. I only eat chocolate marshmallows."

"Okay. Let's say I told you that you could have one chocolate marshmallow now or two chocolate marshmallows at the end of our tutorial. Which one would you pick?"

He really thought about it, his little forehead scrunched up in concentration.

Then: "I'll take one marshmallow now."

It explained so much more than the order in which he does his homework.

The next day, I was with Angel Delight and thought I'd ask her the same question.

Her eyes sparkled at the thought of chocolate covered marshmallows, and she, too, gave her answer much thought.

"I think . . . I'll take the two marshmallows after our tutorial!"

That explained a lot, too.

Only at the end of the hour did I remember that she has already become used to saving her treats until all her work is done. For several weeks now, I've ended each tutorial but one by reading aloud one chapter from Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories from Wayside School.

And as much as I'd like to end it there and say we've been tutoring happily ever after . . .

The book was my choice--an "educated guess" because I didn't really know what Angel Delight would like to read. (Her collection is still dominated by picture books. The girl needs more MG love.) I soon noticed that she really liked the funny-but-realistic stories but wasn't too enthusiastic about the more surreal ones. Still, I didn't "get it" (as we say) until she brought out The English Roses: Friends for Life!--which isn't really a story book, but a slam book style guide to the five main characters in the English Roses series--and asked me to read it to her.

And just like that . . . I knew.

It's hard to explain this kind of knowledge with mere words, so I hope you get what I mean when I say that if Angel Delight came to a fork in the road with Roald Dahl's Matilda on one side and Beverly Cleary's Beezus and Ramona on the other . . . she'd take the second path.

Which is not to say that reading is "either-or" (because we all know that it's "both-and"), just that we all have our preferences, and that if you want to get children to love reading, you should hook them with books that appeal to theirs.

I don't think I'll ask my older girls, Rain Dancer and Star Shaker, about marshmallows. (LOL!) After a certain age, the question becomes too insulting. You know? =P

I'll write about them in a different post.

Image Source: Chocolate marshmallow


Sullivan McPig said...

I remember how I always would save the yummiest food during dinner for last. My brother would eat it immediately. The one time when he thought about my way of doing things and decided to safe the best food for last he got into an argument with our father and was send away from the table before he could eat it. He became a 1 marshmallow now kind of person for life after that and you know: maybe there's something to learn from that. Carpe Diem and all that.

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, your poor brother! It had to happen on that night, too, aye? LOL!

Life is, of course, not as black and white as the marshmallow experiment suggests it is--and neither are Scrap Metal and Angel Delight. But there is a lot of interplay between them in my mind (the ironic part being that I see Angel Delight before Scrap Metal, when of course I'd prefer it the other way around), and I'm afraid the only description that came to mind this month involved those marshmallows!

Belfry Bat said...

mmm... marshmallow...

But what's this "MG"?

As it happens, I'm finding that bags of marshmallows are much too deceptively cheap for my sanity, so I have to avoid that aisle whenever I get groceries.

You know? Which reminds me, it's about time again...

Lesa said...

I remember that study. I asked my little boy tonight and he said '2 marshmallows'. I was pleased cause I'm a 2 marshmallow sort myself but I do want him to be balanced and know when to 'Carpe Diem' and know when to delay gratification. His dad is a 1 marshmallow sort so maybe little T will be a little of both.

Sully: We are of the same tribe! I always save the best bite for last and can make a square of chocolate last 30 minutes!

E: I like both of your tutees but that angel is a delight. I know what you mean about wishing the sessions were reversed.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat: "MG" is Middle Grade, which is what the intermediate reading level gets called these days. =)

Think: chapter books--but simple enough for children making the transition from picture books to read on their own.

(You know what's kind of funny? I don't even like marshmallows! If I had been one of the children given the two options, I would have chosen the first one, just to get the marshmallow out of the way! =P)

Lesa: I think I could make a square of chocolate last thirty minutes if I really wanted to . . . but of course I never want to. ;-)

Poor Scrap Metal was ill this week and threw up during our tutorial yesterday evening. =( His mother has a rule that he may be barefoot in the bedroom but wear slippers in the bathroom, so when he felt that he was going to be sick, he made a mad dash for the bathroom, threw the door open, stood on his tiptoes at the very threshold, and threw up in the sink at his shoulder because he couldn't reach the toilet from the door.

Ten minutes later, all was well again, and I was showing him a strange wet spot on a work sheet, saying, "Tell me the truth, Scrappy. I can handle it. Is this vomit?"

On some days, I really feel like I earn my living, you know? ;-)

mrsdarwin said...

Looking at those marshmallow pix, I'd take one now. :)

I just went and asked my girls the marshmallow question, and they both chose the two later. However, I think that's because one is fairly diligent and determined, and the other just likes food.

Enbrethiliel said...


LOL! Angel Delight is both fairly diligent and determined and very fond of food--which definitely had a lot to do with it. ;-)

I wonder if the experiment would work with other motivators, like an hour of TV now (or two later).