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Motivating Your Homeschoolers

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Remember when you first started homeschooling? You imagined cozy moments spent reading a story together or children happily working on a science project. In your mind, your beautiful children always came to learning with enthusiasm and never balked or argued.

You probably have days when all these things actually do occur. A day goes smoothly and you smile to yourself, thinking, “I’ve really got this homeschooling thing down.” And then there are the other days—the days you don’t read about in homeschooling magazines. On these days, your kids moan about getting out of bed. They argue with each other over breakfast. By ten, you’re trying not to yell. By noon, you do yell. And by one, you throw up your hands in despair and give up.

Homeschooling is a wonderful, exciting adventure, but it’s not always perfect. In a public school setting, children are often less than motivated, yet they may get their work done in spite of feelings of boredom. Children may fear a teacher’s disapproval or even punishment; they feel pressure to conform; or they have learned to perform for grades and stickers.

None of these motivators are particularly desirable. Most homeschooling parents are happy to abandon them in favor of more positive means. But what exactly are those more positive means? How do you motivate kids without crushing their spirits or losing your sanity? Read on for a few tips from veteran homeschoolers.

Change Your Approach

Many homeschoolers have observed that “unschooling” parents, or those with a very loose schedule and curriculum, often face feelings of panic. They worry that they haven’t covered all the bases. But, self-directed learners are usually motivated if given the right tools and resources.

On the other hand, parents and children who use the “school at home” model tend to suffer more bouts of burnout and loss of motivation, but parents know exactly where kids stand academically. Perhaps, then, an approach somewhere in the middle is the best fit. Maybe you’re not ready to throw academics out the window altogether, but if kids are balking over school, try loosening the reins a bit.

More than anything else, the best way to motivate kids is by letting them direct learning, at least some of the time. Homeschooling dad Daniel Lewis explains, “We try and find things the kids are interested in and meld that into their education. My daughter was interested in arts, ballet and things like that. My son on the other hand is the exact opposite, so the motivations that worked with my daughter do not work on my son. He is interested in computers, so we have found computer courses he could take on the provision that he also get all of his other school work done first. On top of that, we try and explain to him why the other subjects have an impact on his desired future career.”

Jodie Slothower uses field trips to ignite interest. She says, “We often read and learn about something, then go for a trip. For instance, you can learn about apples (making pies, math, etc.) and then go to an apple orchard. We learned about yeast and enzymes in science. Then we gathered materials and made root beer with yeast. We actually made several types of root bear and sampled them. We wrote about the experiment in a science lab with photos.”

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Take A Break

Sometimes, the best thing to do to refuel motivation is to simply take a break. Many parents have discovered that their kids need a few weeks to decompress when they first leave public school. Before long, they’re bored and ready to dive into learning. Similarly, kids who’ve been homeschooled for a while need breaks occasionally.

Do you and your kids suffer from burnout during the winter? You’ll be happy to know that most public school teachers face the same challenges. Most teachers would prefer to blot February from the calendar. Instead of beating yourself up every winter, wondering why you can’t seem to get it together, simply accept the February blues as a very common phenomenon. Plan fun activities, watch movies, or go on a trip. Come March, you’ll all feel better.

Some parents homeschool Monday through Thursday and use Fridays to run errands, go on field trips, or just hang out at home. Try a three-weeks-on, one-week-off schedule if you prefer. When kids know a break is coming up, they’re more able to focus and stay motivated.

Take breaks during the school day too, if necessary. Homeschooling mom Jennifer Turner says this about her six-year-old son: “If he really resists doing school, I give him a break. I want him to like school, not associate it with anger or frustration. We’ll play cars together or I let him ride the tire swing outside until he’s ready to come back inside and work.”

Put Learning In Their Hands

As parents, we like to think we’re molding our little ones, but at the end of the day, your children are ultimately responsible for their learning. Use rewards and praise judiciously because these can quickly backfire on you.

Instead, talk with your kids about their learning goals and slowly release the responsibility for learning to them. Angie Tolpin has been homeschooling for almost ten years. She says, “When we have attitude problems, we confront the attitude problem by talking through it. Usually though, my children understand that school is a part of life. Life is learning; sometimes we have to learn things because they are necessary to know, and other things we can learn simply for the fun and love of learning. We try hard to communicate with our children the bigger picture as to why we home school and why we are ‘learning’… to be better prepared for whatever their unique callings are in life. I view my job as preparing them for life as best as I can… and they view their job as preparing as best as they can… we are a team in this.”

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