Let's Get Motivated!

Encouraging Self-Motivated Learners

by Tamara Eaton

How do we raise responsible, self-motivated learners? Some say rigorous, structured academics will teach our children self-discipline and perseverance. Others counsel us to turn children loose to follow their interests and eventually they will mature and become self-motivated. Is motivation taught, caught or inborn --or a combination of all three?

While some children are more naturally self-motivated than others, all have some degree of inner motivation (although it may not be obvious at first). All children also need training to help them become more responsible and self-motivated learners.

Parents can and should be training their children in these areas far before it's time to introduce academics. The principles young children learn through character-training can be applied to academics as they mature --so there is no need to rush young children into formal, structured academics before they are ready.

From the time our children were tots we began to give them opportunities to learn to do a job well, pay attention to details, be faithful in the little things. We did this by both modeling the correct actions and attitudes and by allowing them to work beside us.

As they showed interest in learning new things, we taught them using relaxed, fun, and enjoyable methods. It was never "you have to do school now" but "you get to learn some new things now!". A big difference! We didn't have to bribe them --instead we allowed them at an early age to follow their own interests with regards to academics and we never pressured them. At the same time, we continued to teach them to be responsible and faithful in the small tasks we would require them to do around the house --mostly working right with us.

By starting off on the right track with good training, so many poor habits are avoided, but it's never too late to put good motivational tips into practice in your home!

A Few Cautions...

It's important to avoid the snare of placing too much emphasis on accomplishments --you don't want to have your child equate his sense of self-worth with how much he has achieved. Children need affirmation, unconditional love and acceptance demonstrated at all times, regardless of their "performance".

It's not just the results that count, but the process of learning new things is important, too! Don't become so preoccupied with the goals that you lose sight of what God is doing in the process. Excessively motivated, driven people are often obsessed with achievements, never satisfied, and never take time to enjoy the process of learning and life --definitely not the ideal Christian family or homeschool environment!

There is always a danger in extremes --whether it be requiring too much of children or too little. Inexperienced parents may be tempted to despair of ever knowing balance but God has the answer and promises to give you His wisdom in homeschooling and parenting your children. You'll never go wrong trusting in Him! Allow Jesus to be your Ultimate Motivator and let pleasing and obeying Him be your Ultimate Motivation --the rewards will be of eternal value!

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." --John 10:27

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." --Philippians 4:13

"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him,..." --Colossians 2:8-10

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." --John 15:5

A Few Tips for Grades 1-3

* By working with your child in math, you can help him develop good, efficient work skills and avoid bad habits such as dragging his work out over long periods of time. You can also see right away if he is having problems understanding concepts or instructions --another beautiful advantage of homeschooling: "one-on-one" instruction. You don't have to necessarily do all of the problems and you can help him by writing down the answers or by doing it orally at times.

* Keep a notebook or journal of your child's writing on a daily or weekly basis then let him see how much progress he's made after a period of time.

* Don't confuse creative writing with handwriting practice. When practicing handwriting, neatness counts. It's better to do a small amount of work neatly, than a large amount with many mistakes. When doing creative writing, allow the child a chance to edit his work later and don't get bogged down by mistakes. Remember, even professional writers use editors! Allow your child to dictate his story to you at times, too.

* Keep a log of all the books your child reads. If he is a beginning reader, allow him to make a chart and add a star each time he finishes a book. Let beginning readers read aloud to you, then you read aloud to them from interesting or exciting chapter books as a "reward".

More Tips on Motivation:


* Don't compare one child to another --children are all created as individuals and vary in abilities. Some children never develop skills to the degree their parents desire, or they mature at different rates than the arbitrary timetables set by traditional schools. Encourage your child to reach his own level of maximal achievement without pressure or stress.

* Don't stress competition! Children need to be taught to view objectives with God's perspective instead of comparing themselves with others or becoming obsessive about obtaining perfection. (Frustrated perfectionists have a tendency to give up even trying to complete goals because they fear they can't achieve perfection or "measure up" to others.)

* Don't be discouraged if all your plans for motivating your child seem to fail -- don't take it personally and don't give up! Seek the Lord for creative ideas and wisdom. Add variety to your homeschooling. Search for ways to use your child's interests and talents as a bridge to his academic development. Take time to explore his interests with him. It may be reading biographies of football players and writing them letters --it's still reading and writing!

* Don't equate learning responsibility and self-motivation with using a structured "traditional" learning style --it's possible to approach learning in a variety of ways and still learn faithfulness and efficiency in covering academics. Be flexible --if the curriculum you're using isn't working: simplify, supplement or substitute!

* Don't kill your child's natural curiosity and interest by too much rote learning --this can be a fallacy of the "strict textbook" method of homeschooling. We want our children to be motivated to think beyond the textbooks and learn to apply what they're learning to "real life" --otherwise they fall into the trap of studying material for the purpose of passing the test at the end of the chapter and then promptly forgetting it.

* Don't criticize your child in public --admonish him privately in gentleness and meekness, demonstrating your unconditional love.

* Don't expect perfection. No one is perfect in every area--exercise mercy and grace in your homeschooling. Then gently help your child learn from his mistakes.

* Don't go overboard! Seek balance in encouraging your child to be motivated. Examine motives and objectives to make sure they are worthy from God's perspective. Too much pressure and "drive" can result in destructive stress --which benefits neither you nor your child!

DO ...

* Do become your child's partner in learning. Be enthusiastic! Help him discover his interests and find good books and projects. Raise questions and help him discover the answers but don't allow him to see you merely as "the answer giver" but as an example of a lifetime learner and co-partner in his education.

* Do provide the necessary support for your child even as he learns to work on his own. Let him know you are available if needed and check in on him regularly to make sure all is going well.

* Do make the work challenging and useful. Avoid busy-work. Cover the basics as efficiently as possible so your child will have time to explore studies of interest. These self-motivated studies encourage children to enjoy learning and enable them to practice principles they will use all their lives!

* Do reward diligence with more freedom (bestow freedom a little at a time so the child isn't overwhelmed) and let there be consequences for lack of responsibility and faithfulness.

Ruth Beechick says, "When children have inner discipline, let them use it. When they don't, impose discipline for them. As they mature more of the learning responsibility should fall on them instead of on you." [You Can Teach Your Child Successfully: Grades 4-8 --available from most homeschool catalogs as well as chfweb.com's Homeschool Bookstore.]

* Do demonstrate your support and interest when they talk about their interests! Take time to listen to them --REALLY listen to them --even if you're not particularly interested in the same subjects.

* Do help them apply areas of academics to real life experiences so they understand the need to study and learn new things --even when they're not interested.

* Do set goals. Break down your larger goals into small steps. Work on achieving one step at a time. (Remember the old adage: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!)

* Do teach your children (and model before them!) the importance of integrity so they don't stoop to unethical or unchristlike "short-cuts". Sometimes the long way to a goal is far better.

* Do demonstrate confidence in your child. Solicit his suggestions and allow him to help in the decision making process when appropriate.

* Do help older children see how much can be accomplished if they apply themselves --perhaps early graduation is a goal or a new job or career. Perhaps they'd like to take classes at a local college or via distance learning.

* Do appreciate your child's work! Don't overlook what he has done. It can be so discouraging to work hard at something, only to have it ignored. Give positive feedback!

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer." --Psalm 19:14

[Note--If you don't know the Lord in a personal, saving way--find out how you can be set free from all condemnation and receive Eternal life, as well as His daily help and guidance! (Knowing God)

Copyright Tamara Eaton 1994-2000, all rights reserved.

Permission is given to reprint any of Tamara's articles in non-profit publications as long as the article is reprinted in full and contains the copyright information and website address. Please send a copy of the publication to :Deeper Life Family Ministries, P.O. Box 909, Killen, AL 35645.

We have always homeschooled our six children (elementary through high school and beyond!) and enjoy encouraging other families in their homeschooling, parenting and in the Lord! For more help and information, please join us on the Christian Homeschool Fellowship Message Board.

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"And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord;
and great shall be the peace of thy children."

Isaiah 54:13