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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources
Motivation and Home Schooling: Finding the Right Carrot

Motivation and Home Schooling: Finding the Right Carrot

4 minutes

Summary

I recall once going to my aunt’s house to baby sit for her three daughters. While in the kitchen, I was amused to see that she had a picture of a swimsuit model on her refrigerator. Before pulling anything out of the refrigerator to eat, my aunt had to look at the picture. This was clearly meant to dissuade her from eating, in hopes of having a figure like the woman in the picture. While the idea was amusing to me, it made some sense. Although my aunt had a general intention to lose weight, the picture gave her direct motivation at the time it was most needed.

I recall once going to my aunt’s house to baby sit for her three daughters.

While in the kitchen, I was amused to see that she had a picture of a swimsuit model on her refrigerator. Before pulling anything out of the refrigerator to eat, my aunt had to look at the picture. This was clearly meant to dissuade her from eating, in hopes of having a figure like the woman in the picture.

While the idea was amusing to me, it made some sense. Although my aunt had a general intention to lose weight, the picture gave her direct motivation at the time it was most needed.

We have motivations for and against different activities all the time. The most obvious motivations are spiritual and legal. We are motivated to do good and avoid evil because we want to attain heaven and avoid hell. Similarly, the civil law motivates us to avoid certain actions by threatening fines or jail time. The tax code is also a way that the government favors or disfavors behaviors.

Beyond this, we each have many motivations, whether social or internal. We are motivated to act in specific ways in order to gain social approval and acceptance.

In schools, there is a great amount of peer pressure to be “cool”. And we also have our own internal wants and desires. Like my aunt, we may want to lose weight because we think we will look or feel better. Or we may want to learn a foreign language, or become a better golfer.

When we are home schooling, there are all kinds of motivations at work. Children may be motivated to do their schoolwork because they want their parents to be proud of them, or because they want to finish up early so they can play, or because the parents have promised a reward, or simply because they find the subject matter enjoyable.

In high school, students might be motivated by taking a longer-term view of things—if they do their work well, then they may be accepted into a good college, which can lead to a good job in the area of their choice.

There may also be negative motivations. Students might have other things they want to do. They might not particularly like math, or science, or reading, or whatever subject is at hand. They might not see learning as anything worthwhile.

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We often think of motivation as being something only for the student, but there are motivations for parents as well. Obviously, parents are motivated to work diligently on their children’s education because they love their children and want them to do well in life.

Parents also may consider home schooling a religious calling or vocation. If home schooling parents were not inspired by some strong motivation, they would not bother home schooling in the first place.

But just as it is important for a child to be motivated to do the home schooling each day, it is important for parents to be motivated on a daily basis as well. If parents are not motivated to get the children moving along, then the home schooling can slide into a kind of benign neglect. Without parental prodding, encouragement, and involvement, students are not going to view home schooling as particularly necessary or important.

It’s not hard to let the home schooling slide a little, because there is no immediate bad effect. If you did not show up at a paying job for a week, you’d likely be fired, then you couldn’t pay your bills, etc. But if you let the home schooling go for a week or two, there are not the same visible consequences.

So how do parents stay motivated to stay on top of the home schooling? One good way is to keep a supply of motivational reading around. There are plenty of good books on home schooling— whether by Dr. Clark or by other authors—that can bring you up when you are feeling a little bit down.

Dr. Clark often suggests that before you start home schooling, you make a list of the reasons why you want to do it. When you have bad days, as everyone inevitably does, go back to the list. The reasons why you started are probably still valid.

You can also use more concrete self motivation. It often helps with children to say something like “If you all finish up your work by 2, we can go to the pool.” Why not try a similar motivation for parents? Something like, if all the children can finish up their week’s work by Friday, then Mom and Dad get to go out for a nice dinner at their favorite restaurant.

Or, you might try something more long-term for both parents and children. Start a vacation fund based upon each child finishing his work each week. For every week’s work, a certain number of dollars are placed in the vacation fund. When summer rolls around, whatever money there is can be used for a vacation—the more money, the nicer the vacation.

Another motivation is enjoying the learning. This applies to parents as well as to students. A parent is more likely to be heavily involved in teaching a subject if the parent enjoys the topic.

So, if one parent really loves science or English or history, then that parent should be the teacher for that subject. When choosing courses, such as electives in high school, parents should think about their preferences as well as the child’s
preference.

An often overlooked motivational tool is to make a schedule and stick to it. This doesn’t sound like a motivation, but having a set schedule can get you into a routine which turns into a habit. Habits are notoriously hard to break, and this applies equally to good habits as well as bad habits.

Further motivation can come from seeing the positive results of your work. One good idea is to use the computer testing and uploading system on your My Seton page as much as possible. This gives you and your child instant (or at least much faster) feedback on the work.

In any case, seeing comments from an objective third party can help you and your child to have pride in your work, which itself is an incentive to keep it up.

Remember, the basic principle is that you should create incentives for behavior you want and disincentives for behavior you don’t want. And while you are incentivizing the children, don’t forget to incentivize yourself.

Carrot or the stick? What motivator works best for you? What works best for your child? 

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About Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark
Kevin Clark graduated from Christendom College with a history degree, which he promptly put into use by working in the computer field. He has owned a software development company and now is the Director of Computer Operations for Seton Home Study School... Meet Kevin
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