Friday, August 7, 2015

How to Motivate Your Homeschooler

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We are finishing up our first week back to homeschool for the year! We have accomplished a LOT this first week, and I have been so proud of how Big Brother has been able to stay on task and stay motivated with his 3rd grade schoolwork.

This does NOT come easily for him. Not only is he a 7 year old boy, but he also has some pretty noticable struggles with things like attention, concentration, impulse control, working memory, sensory processing, and such. He is a very smart, capable boy; he just has a totally different personality and learning style than I do! I have spent a great amount of time in prayer since we started homeschooling in preschool that the Lord would help me to teach him. Every step along the way, the Lord has been faithful to lead me to just what we needed.

When Big Brother started struggling with schoolwork in 1st grade while I was pregnant with Little Brother, I discovered the workbox system. It seriously saved our lives! We have tweaked it along the way to work for us. This year I wanted to encourage him to take more responsibility for his work and to learn to better manage his time.

I briefly mentioned our new motivational system in my last post. To keep Big Brother on task for 3rd grade, we are still using our workboxes along with a detailed schedule, a simple homemade assignment book, stickers, and a timer. I wanted to do a more detailed post on how our little system works in case some of you may be looking for ways to keep your own children motivated to do their schoolwork (or chores, etc.).

First of all, I have been trying to find ways lately to help Big Brother begin to realize the natural consequences for his actions. He needs to realize that making good choices brings him desirable consequenses while making poor choices brings undesirable ones. Often these kinds of consequences occur naturally and logically, and therefore they are very effective for teaching our children lasting life lessons.

So how does that apply to our homeschool?

Well, there is something Big Brother loves to do. He loves to watch DVDs. We do not have any kind of cable TV in our home, but we do have a DVD player with some family friendly and educational DVDs. He mostly loves old Western kid's shows like Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, and Gene Autry. If we did not place limits on his screentime, Big Brother would spend hours and hours watching his DVDs.

Last year, we made a rule that he was only allowed to watch anything on weekends (Friday night through Sunday). Even then he was only allowed screentime if he had good behavior during the week, had completed all his school work, and had no attitude probelems. BUT he still struggled with that system. If it was, say, Monday morning and he was dawdling with his school work; telling him he had already lost his screen time priveleges for the coming weekend was not extremely effective. The consequence for his actions was too far away. And to him, the thought of having to do every single thing just right all week long to get his reward seemed overwhelmingly impossible; so why try? And often we would go ahead and allow him to watch something even if his conduct during the week had been less than ideal, thus further weakening the effectiveness. There were no specific limits on how long screentime could last, and we often had battles over when to turn it off. It was obvious this was not working.

So after some thought and much prayer, we settled on our current system. And it is working amazingly well so far!

Here are the details:

I created this simple assignment sheet for Big Brother to use for his keeping up with his schoolwork each day. We keep these sheets in a simple 3 ring binder that stays in his desk. All of his assignments are written out in the same order they are arranged in his workboxes for the day.

We have created a detailed daily schedule using our Love My Schedule set. It is clearly placed on our fridge, and typed copies of the schedule for each day are placed in Big Brother's assignment binder as well. Each subject or activity is given a certain reasonable amount of time to be completed. There is also a designated time for "homework."

I purchased a small, cheap digital timer at Walmart for keeping track of his time. I also have a simple set of school-themed reward stickers from Dollar Tree.

So for a normal Spelling assignment, Big Brother is allotted 15 minutes. This should be plenty of time. Before starting the assignment, we set his timer for 15 minutes and place it on the desk beside him. I am available if he has a question, but normally he does his Spelling very independently. If he works diligently (without daydreaming or dawdling) and finishes the assignment before the timer beeps, he chooses a small sticker and places it in the "Done" column beside his spelling assignment in his assignment book. The textbook, notebook, or whatever he was working on gets placed in a plastic drawer beside his desk for me to review or grade. The workbox the assignment came out of remains empty so he can physically see at a glance how much work he has left at any time during the day.

Each sticker placed on an assignment earns him 5 minutes of screentime for that evening. No more waiting all week long for his reward/consequence!

If he chooses to waste his time in some way and the assignment is not finished at the end of his allotted time, he does not receive a sticker (nor earn 5 minutes of screentime) for that assignment. It gets placed back in the workbox it came from to be completed during homework time that afternoon. He then goes on to the next subject or activity with the eager hope that this time he might earn a sticker.

Homework time occurs after the school day should already be over. Thus it cuts into Big Brother's free time (a natural consequence of making poor use of his time earlier in the day.) When a homework assignment is completed, he simply places a checkmark in the "Done" column. The books are then placed in the drawer with his other assignments. When all workboxes are empty, school time is over.

After school and any homework has been completed, we count up Big Brother's stickers for the day. Then if his laundry chores are done for the day, he gets a bonus 10 minutes of screentime.

Right now the most time he can earn for one day is an hour. A couple days this week he has earned the whole hour, but on other days he got 55 minutes. We use the timer again to make sure he gets his full reward but does not go overboard. The limits are clearly set. He knows when the timer goes off, so does the DVD. So far he has been very agreeable to this. He seems to see and appreciate the fairness of it all.

There are several reasons I feel this system is working:

- The reward is something he really wants and is willing to work to earn. Watching DVDs is a big deal to Big Brother! You know your child, and you know what that one "thing" is that would motivate him or her. Use it to your child's advantage! Watching DVDs might not seem very novel to your child, but perhaps he or she would really enjoy getting to play computer games, talking on the phone, or texting friends for a certain amount of time as a special privelege.

- His goals are clearly defined and reachable. He knows exactly what he has to do in order to earn his screentime. And goals are broken down into managable chunks. No more stressing about having to get it right all week long. All he has to worry about is the current assignment. Every assignment carries the hope of earning a little privelege. So if one time deadline is not met, he still has a shot at meeting the next one!

- The ball is in his court. He quickly realizes that I am actually making up to an hour of daily screentime available to him. How much (if any) of that privelege he gets to enjoy is up to him and the choices he makes. He has a sense of being in control of what happens.

- He's happier because we actually have time to get to all his favorite subjects and activities during the school day! The timer helps to keep the day moving along. No more spending "forever" on an assignment he does not want to do or that is a struggle for him then not having time to do the fun things. When the timer goes off, the assignment is put away and we move on. Also by the time homework time comes along, he is looking at the assignment with fresh eyes. Knowing that freetime or a more enjoyable activity is coming up next really helps him get it in gear!

- There is a huge sense of accomplishment by the end of the day. There is nothing quite as motivating as knowing you have accomplished something and worked hard to earn something that is valuable to you. Getting to choose each little sticker is a little celebration of another job well done! By the end of the day, he can see that he truly has a lot to be proud of!! His confidence soars because he knows he can do it!

He is learning so many valuable lessons with this system. Being able to manage his time wisely, focussing on one task at a time, taking responsibility for his own choices, and feeling confident in his abilities will all serve him well as he grows into manhood.

I highly recommend the book Motivate Your Child for more great advice and practical parenting tips related to this topic!

Click here to download My Assignment Sheet!. For only 10¢ you can download once and print/copy as many as you need. The cost simply helps me to be able to create more helpful printables for you! :)

Have you found this post helpful! Do you have a similar system at your house for motivating your children to do schoolwork, chores, music practice, etc.? I would love to hear about it! Please feel free to comment!

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