Getting Kids to Do Their Schoolwork


Louisa and her cat

Okay, Moms. This is the crucial point.  You can have the best supplies in the world, but if you can’t get the kids to open a book, it isn’t going to do much good.  So the challenge is getting your kids interested so they are begging for more. And finishing their schoolwork eagerly each day!

Although not every subject is all fun and games, we can do a lot to make learning a delightful excursion into new ideas. Creating motivation is one of the greatest challenges of homeschool (and parenting!) I consider it my job as teacher to find the best materials to teach the subject so that it will be interesting and intriguing to my children. I also want to motivate my children to keep themselves focused, and to complete their work.

“The art of teaching consists in large part of interesting people in things that ought to interest them, but do not. The task of educators is . . . to invent the methods of interesting their students.”

         —Mortimer J. Adler, the chairman of Encyclopedia Britannica

coins-116465_1280We have tried a lot of different ideas to help our children be eager for homeschool. One that held some excitement for a longer while than most, was the “Dime on Time” game. I wrote the name of each of my children on a separate little baby food jar and put 5 “insurance” dimes inside each one. Every child that came to school on time, meaning dressed, student planner on their lap, sitting on the family room couch at 9:00 AM (precise), got a dime from me to add to the others in his little jar. If he was late, he had to give me a dime from his jar. At the end of the week, the children could empty everything out and keep the money (except 5 dimes as insurance to pay for being late every day for next week—avoids arguments and saves time!) Obviously, this works best with children that don’t have a money-earning job. Since I was struggling with stragglers at the time, it was worth 50¢ per child per week just to keep my sanity and start school on time!

Signing in and out of school works great with teenagers and older elementary children that are eager to get their work done and are aware of time. I have used a form taped it to the wall of our schoolroom. As the children began their schoolwork daily, they signed in just like an employee punching a time clock. If they needed a break, or had spent some time goofing-off, they checked out and back in when they were ready to get back to serious study. At noon (the end of our school day), they needed to have 3 hours completed and all their work finished. (I am careful to give them each an appropriate workload.) They quickly learned to manage their time and not spend the entire 3 hours just diddling through their math. If they didn’t finish all their assignments having put in 3 hours of study, it had to be made up sometime before Friday’s dinner time. (This kept our Saturdays free.) Older children will be honest and exacting on themselves when they can see it in black and white. This worked very well for us, and seemed fair to the children. It has also motivated them to put in some time early morning or evening so as to be free when they wanted to do something else. They knew exactly what was expected of them. A bonus: I noticed that my now grown children carried this practice over into the work world. If they talked to another employee for 10 minutes, they would mark it off their time card. That is honesty!

AmmonsChartFor younger children, I use a simple wall chart to help them see just what is expected and feel motivated to finish each day’s work. Together we draw up a colorful chart using stickers and making check-off boxes next to each subject. Then the chart is laminated and hung in our schoolroom. Each day as the children do their work, they are eager to check off each subject and know exactly how much more is required. When their work is all done, they not only have a sense of accomplishment but I can see at a glance that they are finished, or that I need to listen to them read or whatever else they might need to finish up. Having a chart also prevents me from shortchanging schoolwork just because of other demands. The chart reminds us that we do need to work on our math everyday, and reading, and etc. even if the doorbell rings or other distractions come up.

Although I was relieved to be rid of grades when we began homeschooling, I have since realized that some sort of grade or assessment does something positive for a child. I wish we all had enough internal strength to choose the right whether or not there was a punishment or reward, but such does not seem to be the nature of human beings. If you evaluate your children strictly according to their own abilities and against no one else, you give them something to reach towards. I would never give a child a low grade if he was trying his best. Effort is what I want to grade, not intelligence. In homeschool, we know our children well enough to know if they are truly trying, but without an accounting, it may be hard to feel for children to press on and work hard day after day. That is what interviews and employee reviews do for adults: it gives them an assessment that they can use to improve.

Charting progress makes us feel accomplishment. I learned this accidentally by having my children record the number missed on their daily math lessons. They kept them in their planners so no one else really saw, yet just having to write down their daily score suddenly made them want to improve. My daughter, Julianna, felt so motivated that she would work extra carefully hoping not to get even one problem wrong. She set her sights on 100% on her own. I had no part in inventing this, but I learned a lesson: everyone wants to feel challenged and see progress in their daily work.

piano-362251_1280Every child needs to be educated and literate, but take special care to nurture talents. Children are persistent in seeking out their interests, so if Mom just cooperates, their gifts can be developed. I know that in spite of any effort on my part to the contrary, at 15 years old, my son Mark would take engines apart and fix them. At 18, he practiced the piano constantly hoping to be a concert pianist. That was the driving force in his life! All I had to do is give him some time and cooperate with his need for opportunities.

One thing for certain: homeschool evolves constantly with the changing needs and ages of your children. It cannot and should not be static. Some years I have a baby whose needs prevent me from considering starting school at the same time everyday. Other years I have several older children who need the structure of an exact starting time. Sometimes a child is struggling and easily frustrated by a subject, and needs some “time off” for a few days or weeks, until he can approach it with new vigor. Catering homeschool to our children’s needs is a very fluid thing. As they change and grow, we have to motivate them in different ways.

Learning together is exhilarating! I love being in the company of my children. What a perfect chance to become each other’s best friends.My baby’s first steps taken, my 5-year-old’s first words read, my 10 year old’s first sewing project completed, my 15-year-old son’s first success at fixing an engine, my 18-year-old’s first musical composition: this is the best of life, and I am thankful to be in the thick of it.



May I recommend:

Advice to the New Homeschooling Mom

homeschooling-spoonful of sugar
A Spoonful of Sugar

Setting Up a Family Schedule

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