One of the very real aspects of homeschooling is freedom. But, with freedom, comes the need for self-motivation. Onlookers often ask us, “How do you stay motivated?” They question our ability to get ourselves out of bed and be productive without oversight. I have come to realize that self-governance is one of the most beautiful results of homeschooling. I believe that if you can raise children that care for the sake of caring, then you have been successful. They should not wait to engage with the world until they are forced to by an outside force. As Christians, we are called to practice Colossians 3:17 which states, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” I want them to desire to grow and mature because that brings them closer to Christ and develops their minds that God gave them. He created passions within them and only He can fully transform them to be able to use it for His glory. So, how do we discipline ourselves to work without anyone lording over us? How do we create an environment that drives our kids to thrive within the walls of the home? And, realistically speaking, how do we keep the dull out of our days when the mundane wants to set in?
I would suggest that it starts from the top down. Leadership in the home is important. Learning has to be valued and treasured by the adults first. Parents that read and learn, have hobbies, or seek to try new things will set an example for life-long learning. If we get excited about what we see in the world around us and share that enthusiasm with our kids, it will create a positive experience with learning. My kids often make fun of me when I “ooh and aah” over things I see in nature, learn something new, or find a topic interesting in a book. Secondly, I believe an attitude of gratitude is essential. Teaching our kids that being able to study and use our minds to improve the world around us is vital. When I pray with them, I thank God for my ability to stay at home and teach them. I express thankfulness for being with them, for the wonderful books we are privileged to read, and the many opportunities they have to learn through outside classes, mentors, and life experiences. They see the joy it brings and find contentment in the journey.
Here are some practical ways to set a tone for a successful day of learning and life:
I have found that getting up before the kids and opening the blinds, opening the door on a warm day, and filling the house with music starts us off on the right foot. Making our beds, getting dressed, and meeting in the dining room to eat and have morning time help us to establish a routine and discipline in our days. Sunshine and music does wonders for the soul!
When the kids were in elementary and early middle school, I would write messages on the white board in our office for the kids to find. They would get disappointed when they would get up one morning and there was nothing there. I tried to use alliteration and write positive affirmations such as:
If I saw someone was kind of lethargic, I would sit down and read to them from some of their studies or from the Bible while they lounged a little while longer. Then, I would pass the book to them to read to me. Investing a few moments of one-on-one time is often all that was needed to spark interest.
One of our favorite mid-afternoon pick-me-ups was to send them outside and have them complete an obstacle course of sorts. I would make up a sequence of things for them to do in the backyard and would time them. They would have to try and remember the sequence properly as well as beat their previous time. They would get fresh air and some exercise and then be refocused for afternoon studies. An example: run and touch the back fence, then climb up the rock wall on the swing set, slide down, run around the tree three times, do 5 jumping jacks, etc. Depending on the age, you can increase or decrease the sequence steps.
On beautiful days, an impromptu walk around the block at lunch or a trip to a local park for 30 minutes or so worked like gold. Sometimes we took our current reading books and just sat in the sun and read for awhile in between playing.
A very rare treat was to walk up to the Sonic near our home and get a drink or have an ice cream cone.
Healthy competition has always energized my kids. They loved to try to beat mom at a math problem, puzzle, or sentence diagram. They each had their own small, portable white board that they would use and then turn to reveal their answer. On occasion I would reward the winner with a Hershey’s kiss or other special treat I already had in the house. Two of my favorite memories of our younger years are the bread making contest and the dinner competition. I had received a new cookbook for teaching kids how to cook and bake, and they were dying to turn it into a contest. They each followed the directions and made a loaf of bread throughout the day and then had dad judge without telling him who they belonged to. Another time, they wanted to each make a dinner of their choice and worked at finding a recipe, gathering ingredients, shopping, and cooking a main meal. My son chose lasagna while my daughter made quesadillas. Then, they presented them both to us for dinner that evening. It was fun to see them so proud of their accomplishments, and they were both delicious! We set aside the regular studies so they could have this day to create. But, it more than covered math, reading, and comprehension skills as well.
Sometimes my kids were just plain fidgety, because they are just kids. They needed to change the location of where they were working and sitting. My son often chose to stand and work instead of sit. Other times we carried our work outside. Many days included kicking or passing a ball back and forth while practicing memory work, math drills, or spelling words.
In the midst of a long, dreary, frigid winter, I would set aside an afternoon each week to make messes with special art or science projects. They loved feeling like they were just having fun instead of the regularly scheduled schoolwork, and I loved hearing the giggles as things exploded or they created something unique and interesting!
As they have grown older, the methods have changed, but the basic principles still apply. Playing music through the house is a daily ritual that wakes us up and prepares us for work. We have occasional impromptu lunch dates, donut runs, and nature walks to break up our afternoons. We pray together, try to be thankful, and keep conversations going. They intrinsically know at this point that work is important. Their character and respectful conduct signals that they are well on their way to being able to self-govern and care about the things that matter.
How do you keep your family motivated and joyful in their homeschooling journey?