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Motivating Your Homeschooled Child

What Not To Do:

  • Don't purchase a full curriculum package and expect your child to complete everything included. Better yet, don't purchase a curriculum at all -- create your own. Read Choosing a Homeschool Curriculum for more information.
  • Don't encourage competition. In school, kids vie to receive the highest grade or be the best student. A real education is not about obtaining the highest grade or finishing first -- it's about learning to love learning. Focus on the process, rather than the results.
  • Don't compare your children to other kids. It doesn't matter if your daughter's seven-year-old friend knows all of her times tables, or the eight-year-old down the street is already writing script. Homeschooled kids have the luxury of learning when they're ready to learn. Enjoy this freedom.
  • Don't confuse rote memorization with real learning. Schooled kids reportedly forget 80 percent of the prior year's "learning" (i.e., memorization) over summer vacation. Kids (and adults!) remember things they love. If your kids are allowed to pursue their passions and interests, they'll be light years ahead in their learning without even trying!
  • Don't make it a practice of promising rewards for academic accomplishments. Your child may be temporarily motivated, but for the wrong reasons. Obtaining the reward becomes the goal, rather than becoming a truly self-motivated learner. Studies have shown that rewards can actually lead to apathy for or dislike of the rewarded subject, completely negating your original purpose
  • Don't blame your child if things aren't going well with your homeschooling. Step back, take a break, look at what you're doing, and find a better way to do it. Talk with other parents, read a good homeschooling book (try The Homeschooling Book of Answers by Linda Dobson), or stop by our How to Homeschool information center. Flexibility is essential. Be willing to let go and try something new.

What To Do:

  • Arrange your house so it is "education friendly." Be sure to have plenty of the following within easy reach: interesting books, magazines, and catalogs; arts and crafts supplies; writing and office supplies; science equipment (scales, thermometers, magnets); math manipulatives and calculators; cookbooks and measuring tools; musical instruments and music books (we purchased ours from yard sales); a microscope or telescope; a globe, and maps prominently displayed.
  • Turn off the TV or limit its use. Few kids (or adults for that matter!) can resist the hypnotic grip of a blaring television. Shut off the Game Boy and restrict mindless computer games.
  • Visit your library regularly and check out a variety of books on interesting new topics.
  • Gear your studies to your child's interests. Find a topic that inspires her, and follow her lead. Study science using insects, fractions by baking, horticulture by gardening, and geometry by building a birdhouse.
  • Provide a space for mess-making and have a table set aside for ongoing projects.
  • Establish specific guidelines of what is expected each day (we write everything out on a large, dry-erase board). Cooperative academic time earns unrestricted free time. Or as Jo Ann, a homeschooling mom from N.J. puts it, "To play hard you have to work hard. Both are great, but need to be balanced."
  • Allow for down time when kids aren't producing much at all. This "dormant" period is often followed by an intellectual growth spurt. Encourage and support this slow period.
  • Set a good example. Want your kids to read more? Let them see you reading. How often do you write letters, look up something you don't know, or play an educational game? Are you willing to try an unfamiliar activity or learn a new task? Kids mirror what they see at home. If your free time is spent vegging out in front of the TV, how can you expect your kids to do anything different?
  • Become your child's learning partner. Homeschooling is really a great opportunity to learn all those cool things you missed when you went to school. See your role as more of a facilitator... guiding, providing learning opportunities, and creating an atmosphere where learning is a part of living rather than something that takes place during "school time."

After nine years of home learning, I am still in awe of the whole process. When I am willing to let my two girls learn in freedom, they soar. If I become fearful and introduce rigid "school-type" studies into our lives, their creative juices just dry up and disharmony reigns. But when I find that balance -- a little math, music, then sharing a great book or science experiment -- well, what can bring more pleasure than watching two beautiful minds unfold? It's a gift to be a part of that learning experience.

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