Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

A Matter of Motivation

One of the biggest challenges that I am finding in homeschooling is keeping my kids motivated. I know, I know, true motivation comes from within – but let’s face it. Who is ever going to be motivated to do 2 pages of a math workbook?

Ideally, the (I’m searching for an appropriate adjective here) thing to do would be to help my son learn the math concepts that the workbook is teaching without resorting to using the dreaded workbook, which would be fine… however. One of the things I am trying to do here is encourage working independently. I have a smart kid – I know that. I also know that I have a lazy kid; one who will always take the easy way out and if there isn’t an easy way, who will procrastinate until so much time has passed that it would be ridiculous to continue. Why can I identify these less-than-stellar traits so quickly? Because he gets it from yours truly. That’s right – good ol’ Mom handed them down – maybe those kinds of things pass through breastmilk or something – however he got them, I recognize them as faults of my own.

Am I slightly more harsh on my kiddo because I identify how those traits have negatively impacted me? Ummm… maybe. I think that’s a problem for most moms; we see exactly how whatever we used to do has hurt us in the long run and are determined that our children will benefit from our superior insight. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of those lessons are ones that people have to figure out for themselves, even our beloved offspring. It’s like learning about fire. Fire burns. It’s always hot (unless you have access to some space-age, NASA fire that for some reason burns cold, in which case STFU – I’m not talking to you) But EVERY kid will, at some point, touch the flame. Why? Even though Mom and Dad and the neighbors and his best friend have all said countless times, “Don’t touch! HOT!”, he will still reach out and try it for himself because he must. Because no amount of telling is worth the doing. And some lessons have to be learned a couple of times before they sink in.

I guess my dilemma in writing this is because it’s hard to figure out at exactly what point to stop ‘babying’ him. Sure, we could sit together on the floor all day and work on math or spelling and it would be great – but at some point, he’s got to learn how to study something or complete a task all on his own, without Mom sweeping in with reminders and cheerleading to help him complete his assignment – whatever that may be.

For now, setting a timer is working. We had a discussion yesterday (when it took 3 hours to do 40 math problems – different math problems even; it wasn’t like it was 40 subtraction with borrowing – which as you can tell is my worst nightmare) about why it took so long to finish. He came to the conclusion that knowing in advance that he had FOUR PAGES ahead of him made it seem like a mountain the he could never climb. In effect, he was mentally defeating himself before he ever got started. Knowing that he is expected to do both a spelling word search-a-word AND have to write words in his spelling list that rhyme with ‘spent’ was just too much to think about. So we agreed that in addition to the timer (which we have used to keep us on-task from the beginning), I would only assign him part of the work and when he was finished with that part, I would tell him what the next part would be, and that he would say things to himself that were encouraging, like “This is easy. I know how to do this”. Breaking his work up into smaller ‘bites’ today, and using positive affirmations has helped. He doesn’t get overwhelmed in thinking about how much there is to do.

In a way, I can relate to that. When I was younger, I remember sitting at the beginning of a math worksheet and seeing a whole page full of blank problems that I was supposed to figure out and it just seemed like SO MUCH and SO HARD. As an adult, I have learned that the only way to get through such things is to start working. Cover half the page (or all but the one I’m working on) so I don’t get distracted by the rest and do them one step at a time. As a kid though, I lacked that knowledge –  that problem-solving ability and no one really helped me work through that. And I admit it – it’s hard to put myself back into the child-like frame of mind when math was the biggest problem in my life, even knowing how much it would have helped to have someone not get frustrated with me for not ‘just DOING it’ and showing me strategies to get through it… I still have trouble scaling back to that mindset.

Upon further reflection (because it takes a while to write these posts, and I’m often distracted by kids and the need to refill my coffee mug), I can liken his terror at facing an insurmountable mountain of math or spelling with planning for homeschool. I’ve heard lots of moms talk about how they ‘would’, but it’s just so overwhelming. There’s so much to consider, and so much to keep track of and so many options – where do you start? For me, it’s just like getting through math – one step at a time. Just START – start somewhere! Pick up a book and start with page 1, chapter 1. If the method is wrong, you can change it later; and who is to say it’s “wrong” anyway? It’s almost always going to be DIFFERENT, but if we’ve learned anything in the evolution of history, it is that ‘different’ does NOT equate “wrong”! Homeschooling is most definitely different from institutionalized schooling (and thank goodness for that, right?!). Your kids will learn different things, at different times – the time that is right for you and for them. Some things will be learned in ways that make more sense to your kids – I know for us, history along the timeline, in chronological order makes much more sense than learning about your city, your state, your country and then working history backwards. Your mileage may vary, but that’s the beauty of it. You can take your trip however is right for YOU.

Back to my super special little boy… his solution wouldn’t work for me. Even as a child, I don’t think that would have worked for me. I would have gotten annoyed at thinking I was done and then finding out that there’s still another page to do. But it was his solution; one that he thought of himself. The affirmations might have helped. I’m bad about psyching myself out of (or into) a problem. Maybe I should take his advice, yeah? As for long-term effectiveness, we’ll see. If we get into a few days and he starts getting frustrated, we may have to brainstorm ideas again, but still. I’m so proud of him for thinking up a solution to a problem that we’re having and being willing to implement his ideas. I’m proud of myself for slowing down and letting him thing through the problem and come up with a way to help the situation.

Now, I’m off to mix up salt dough and gather materials to complete our history/art lesson at a friend’s house and make lunch to bring with us.




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