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Friday, January 21, 2011

Time to Light a Fire

Here we are, just a few weeks into 2011 and I’m totally rethinking everything I planned for our homeschool this year.

I do this every January. No matter how much I research and plan, something doesn’t quite work out right.

But this year it wasn’t just the curriculum that needed an overhaul…but us.

I knew it when my dear hubby threatened to send our 10-year-old to public school last week. The 10-year-old with a 13-year-old mouth. The wise-cracking, eye-rolling, smarty pants that makes every conversation a painful lesson in just how the English language can be turned around on you. And he’s teaching his siblings.

This is my payback for being a sarcastic smarty-pants myself. (Sorry, Mom!)

He’s also lazy. Yes, I said it. I know you’re not supposed to say negative things about your children because it might permanently harm their self-esteem…but the child is lazy.

Again, I can probably blame my own laziness for that. The kid definitely has my genes.

But the conclusion I’ve come to is this: this child is not highly motivated and unless I put a fire under his butt, he will not succeed. He needs someone to lovingly hold his feet to the coals. Seriously. Because, left to his own devices, he will do the absolute minimum he needs to do to get by. And he is capable of so much more. And his attitude is beginning to rub off on his 7-year-old sister.

For the past four years I’ve read a lot of homeschooling books, magazines, articles, blogs, etc., etc. You know those articles that extol the virtues of being able to learn on your own schedule and not having to fit into a preconceived plan for this or that based on your child’s age or state standards. We don’t need to sit the little tykes at little wooden desks in a classroom full of 30 kids the same age with a chalkboard, a posted schedule, bells ringing every 30 minutes, assessments every month, etc., etc. We can do delight directed learning. We can even do unschooling. Our children are natural learners. They are motivated. They will learn all they really need to know. Let them lead the way. They have to learn how to organize their own learning to be life-long learners anyway. No time like the present. Give them the reins and they will show you what they can do, right?

Not every child.

Some children will choose not to learn. Or they’ll learn the absolute minimum.

Think about it. Man didn’t develop an alphabet and learn to write until he found that he needed to. Our whole human history is a testament to both breath-taking technological advances and merely getting by. Does the average person write a book, invent something or even find a new way to fold their clothes?

While most children have a natural curiosity and willingness to learn about the world in which they live, there are some things you won’t leave to chance. I can’t imagine Christian parents leaving their child’s learning the Faith to chance, can you? Our creator gave us our lives and our faith, but also our minds. He gave us the ability to embrace his creation and to inhale deeply the knowledge to be found there. But our fallen nature makes our ability to accept this imperfect. We need a push in the right direction. As my 5-year-old would say, sometimes we even need a “butt-kicking machine.”

We need external motivation. At least I do. And my children do.

I don’t disagree that some children are highly motivated and can thrive in an unschooling environment, choosing their own course of study, eventually learning all they need to know.

But they aren’t all like that. Some of them are simply not motivated to learn useful skills. Let’s face it, you’re not going to be all you can be if you want to sit and play Lego all day.

There is no earthly way my 10-year-old is going to voluntarily learn the times tables, for instance. I gotta get out my butt-kicking machine (I need to use it on myself, too). And yeah, I’m going to stick it to him with rote memorization. For some things it absolutely does work. We’ve tried to do it the easy way. We’ve tried to just practice here, there and everywhere, but the fact is that no matter how many cool worksheets or activities you come up with, there isn’t enough time in a life to learn the math facts that way, not if you aren’t truly motivated.

There is no way any of my children are going to be counting on their fingers when they get out into the world on their own. No way. We can talk up the convenience of calculators and smart phones, but there is true value in being able to do figures in your head. It improves the quality of your life. It improves your ability to reason. And these are skills that I have probably used every single day of my adult life. And I certainly used them with every job I ever had. I certainly use them while teaching, cooking, shopping for food…I won’t leave my kids handicapped in this area simply because it is easier than dealing with the eternal grumbling, crying, moaning and groaning. I won’t sit by and watch them fail.

Not all work is fun, folks. Sometimes the problem is not the work itself or even how you are doing it, but how you approach it with your heart.

I personally don’t like washing dishes. But it has to be done every day, multiple times a day. I can choose to approach it with a song in my heart…or I can be all resentful about it. My kiddos haven’t figured out yet that it goes much easier with a positive attitude. They think if they moan and groan enough, they’ll get out of it.

And that’s my fault, I’ve let them get out of it too often, because it was hard work to do otherwise. And I’m lazy. And weak willed. I need to be motivated and I’m finding that motivation.

This past week has been a pretty good week for us. I’ve been getting up earlier. We’ve been starting school around 9 am each day and finishing before 2 pm. We’ve even revamped the workboxes idea and we’ve been getting so much done! In fact, I’m going to add more to their workboxes next week. I’ve seen the light. A couple of months ago I thought the problem was that I was pushing too hard. Turns out I wasn’t pushing hard enough. I’m finding the strength through prayer to deal with the grumbling. Making myself into a morning person is a real struggle, though. Staying organized, is a pain…but very much worth it. The simple fact that I’m prepared, completely prepared, every morning, with their assignments ready in hand has greatly cut down on the battle-of-wills. Juggling 3 different levels of learning, plus a toddler who’s trying to tear the whole house down, definitely a challenge. But, through the Grace of God, I can do this. And so can you.

What tips do you have for keeping your kiddos motivated?


  1. I loved this post and completely agree. I think all of us have areas where we simply are not going to voluntarily choose to learn.

    One motivation tip (somewhat on the mean mommy side) is to stop their world. What I mean is nothing they like to do, including games, Lego, reading a book for fun, crafting, none of it happens until they have done that day's assignments. Math, history, spelling, science, whatever it is that must be done that day happens before they do anything else.
    We do allow breaks after a chunk of subjects, but this would be go to the bathroom, eat a snack at the table, and get back to work.

    Once they get used to this and stop fighting you they will get a tremendous amount done in the morning.

    Workboxes are a great step in that because they have everything ready and know what to do next.

    Good luck finding what works for your kiddos!

  2. I admit it. I use bribery. Or maybe I could call it motivation : ). My 11 yr old son loves video games. He gets one hour per day if he makes an A on his math (Algebra this year.) If it takes him 2 hrs then he's not going to have any free time left, even if he gets an A. This way he's motivated to finish in a timely manner and do well. My 9 yr old daughter is not a careful reader. She tends to rush through and then has trouble remembering the details. I took away her incentive at rushing through. She has to read for a set time. If she finishes her assigned chapters then she reads something else until reading time is up. I think it varies kid by kid, but my kids do need that motivation to keep them on track. Are there some things they naturally want to learn? Yes, but so far none of my kids have desired to do math or read biographies. These take work.

    I think that's a big part of our job as homeschooling moms. In public school there is peer pressure to succeed. We provide the motivation at home.


  3. Tristan,
    Thank you for the input. I don't think that's mean at all. My kids know they are not allowed to run off and do their own thing until the schoolwork is done.

    We take a break for a snack in the morning and a "run" break after lunch (they go run around outside if the weather is nice, otherwise they do something inside). I find my boys in particular need a physical break from doing schoolwork. One issue we had, though, was that if I was working with another child, and the oldest finished the assignment I gave him, he would disappear. Usually he was just reading a book in his room, but it totally broke up our momentum because I had to go chase him down. I thought at first it was a discipline issue, but I've come to realize he just needed help staying on task. The workboxes help with that because he knows what he has to do next.

  4. @ I am blessed!

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    Bribery is such a dirty word:-) I prefer to think of it as teaching them that in order to get the things they want in life, there's a price to pay.

    I disagree that peer pressure in ps pushes kids to succeed. As someone who graduated with honors from ps, I would say that the pressure is in the opposite direction when it comes to peer groups. There is an incentive to please a person in authority who is not one of your parents, though.

    And of course, some parents, reward their kiddos for getting good do we reward our kiddos for doing well with their school work? I think that's an important part of the equation. Much as I expect them to do well, human nature is such that when the rewards are small or non-existent, we tend to not do those things, unless they are things we enjoy, kwim?

    You've got me thinkin'.

  5. did you steal my children to write this? seriously, we have the same problems DAILY with attitude and motivation. #1 problem in our house right now is complaining. it's so bad I get exhausted just listening to it all day.
    I suppose my kids would maybe get motivated if they didn't own a wii, movies, or toys but the fact is we don't live in the woods and they have a ton of stuff.
    *sigh* anyhoo, it's comforting knowing there are others in the trenches with you. : )

    we have the schoolwork first rule here as well, but that doesn't stop the complaining. they just complain until they finally get it done. and I have one that runs away after every assignment too. this infuriates me as he knows full well he's not allowed to do this! grr.

  6. ((((Susan)))) WOW~Loads going on there! BUT IN THE END~your kiddos are going to benefit and so will you! I've struggled and struggled myself over the past 10 yrs with mine~AND IT'S JUST a deal of~ THEY GOTTA DO~

    My son for instance is a reader b/c I've pushed-pulled-tugged &towed and not let HIS FEET OFF THE FIRE~even when it broke MY HEART to do it..and today, we are looking into online classes for both children~Sometimes you just gotta be the MEAN MAMA!

    BTW~NOBODY can claim who did poorly in life THAT IT PLEASED THEIR MAMA~NOBODY! BUT LOADS SAY, "Thanks, Mom!" instead!

    You go girl! Keep up your prayers and look toward the times when you can take those much needed breaks. HUGS!!

  7. Hey,

    I don't have any tips, but the Math Rider from TOS has helped James a lot with the math tables. Are you on that review. Addition was super easy for him, but the standards are high and he has really had to work at the other tables.

    We're praying for you!

  8. Awesome post!!! I love the conclusion you came up with.

    The comments here are also wonderful!

    I am inspired to work harder with my own children.

    As for rest, there's always the weekends. It really is a full time job - being a mom and homeschooling. No, wait, that's two full time jobs!

    Mrs. White

  9. Susan, I have been down the same road and came to the same conclusions. There are some things you just have to do and there are some parts of our schooling that fall in that category. Ironically my oldest sounds similar and he is David too.

  10. Fine! Fine!!!! I'll go load my dayplanner with this week's plans. Get off my back already!!! What? You say this wasn't a post to make fun of me not planning last week? Oh. Sorry. . . . . ;)

    I'd love the idea of being in one of those families of self taught briliant violinists, quilters and computer scientists, but truth told, I really don't think that happens. They can't really get to the No-Teaching stage, even if the No-School-Type Schedule is going on. I do need to sit down today and figure out where they are in their math/grammar/spelling this week. We NEED to do our geography lesson. I have to get ahead of it. In my boys, if I print out their to-do list with Homeschool Tracker or Homeschool Day Book they will race through their items willingly. you'd think a bright mom would print them every day. Ya, and then I'll eat less sugar too. . . . Love your post! All kidding aside, hugs to you while you pull up the bootstraps for that swift kick. :)

  11. mrs. White posted this on her facebook page and I clicked onto your post.

    I appreciate your frankness!
    Very refreshing!

    Two things, you are half way there. As the saying goes confessing the problem is half to the solution! Second, January is a tough month for any of us to stay motivated.

    I do have one self-motivated learner. She is ten and I LOVE her to pieces! God is so other two are less.

    I did the butt kicking thing with my 15 year old and I have paid the price. All it did was turn her angry. She exhibited similar behaviors to your ten year old son. If given the chance she still will, but she has learned that school is her responsibility. If she wants privileges she must completely her responsibilities with a sweet spirit.

    I am doing our February planning today. I know that I have to plan for some fun in there. I also highly believe that I have to incorporate some movement in our days. When my daughters are getting sleepy or lagging they get up and do jumping jacks or push-ups.

  12. A.W.E.S.O.M.E. post - thank you. Many words here I needed to hear as well. Blessings!

  13. We are at this stage right now, too, Susan!

    I completely feel your pain--right down to the Legos underfoot!

    I've come to some of the same conclusions, and I'm about to lay down the law. One thing I'm going to do is allow my kids on the computer for their school-related work only after about 2:30 PM and that will be ONLY if their other school work AND chores are done. Computer-based schoolwork gets done LAST.

    Another thing I'm thinking is that I'm going to totally have to model this for them, too. They've come to think that getting on the computer is just something they should be allowed to do during the day, and they have lost their focus during their other school subjects. Since Dad works on the computer from home, I must be the one to model not getting on the computer. I'll have to have certain hours I will allow myself to check email and do work. Then I'll be done until after schoolwork is complete!

    A new schedule is in the works here this weekend, too! Oh, and I may address this topic on my own blog this week sometime and link back to you. :)

    Again, thanks for speaking out. :)

  14. Thanks for this awesome post, HUGS and prayers for you!

    For motivation I like to keep my kids guessing. They sometimes seem to not care about set rewards or privileges. So I started just doing things out of the blue, like making a surprise trip to pizza hut, just because they have been so good and helpful. They never know what might happen, but they want to be sure they will get to go so they try a little harder.

  15. Wonderful post and wonderful comments. I have some of the same problems and I can see it rubbing off on my kids.

  16. Thank you for all the encouragement and thoughtful comments:-)

    I'll keep you updated.

  17. So nice to see a mom willing to "hold their feet to the fire". Some days, I wish I didn't have to. It's hard, but then I see how worthwhile it was when I get excellent results from it--and a happy kid who knows he can do hard stuff, even when he doesn't want to.


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