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How Do You Motivate Kids? Great Advice!

By Heather Idoni

Added Monday, April 4, 2011
Vol. 12 No. 18, April 4, 2011, ISSN: 1536-2035
2011, Heather Idoni - www.FamilyClassroom.net

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Notes from Heather
-- Back from Conventions!
Helpful Tip
-- Online Countdown Timer
Winning Website
-- Mission US
Reader Question
-- Unmotivated Teen Boys
Additional Notes
-- Newsletter Archives
-- Sponsorship Information
-- Reprint Information
-- Subscriber Information


Notes from Heather

We are back from our Greenville, SC and Cininnati, OH conventions. Whew! It was (as always) a lot of work, but SO wonderful to meet so many great families on the road... and we gave out over 3,000 of our Sugar Creek Gang CD stories! Yay! We also got to spend time with good friends in Tenessee and family members in southern Indiana in between 'work' days. We so enjoyed the beautiful mountain scenery and early spring weather! It was a nice trick to avoid the final weeks of winter in Michigan and come back again to dry ground and warmer days. ;-)

-- Heather

PS... Our newsletter issues should be a bit more regular now that I'm home again, too. Our next convention is SHEM in Springfield, MO the first weekend in May. Hope to meet more of our readers there! :-)


Your feedback is always welcome! -- mailto:heather@familyclassroom.net



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Helpful Tip

Timer Countdown

"I'd like to recommend a resource:


"It is very simple. It creates a customizable timer for use with teaching or any project that needs a timer." -- James

Winning Website

Mission US - http://www.mission-us.org/

"Mission US features interactive adventure games set in different eras of U.S. history."

Reader Question

"Hi, I have been homeschooling my 14 and 15 year old boys for the last four years and they are not motivated about anything! I read the newletter on motivating and I am at a loss! Our boys were struggling in school (the same issues as with us at home: not motivated, refused to do school work and too busy socializing). I am burned out most days and I am chopping everything into short lessons... short days... lots of breaks... lots of activities -- and nothing changes. How do you motivate kids who do not want to be homeschooled nor successful in regular school either?" -- Shimmy

Our Readers' Responses

"Shimmy -- I have a 12 year old son who is sometimes unmotivated.

I set up a lesson plan for the day/week. Usually this will take him until approximately 3 pm to accomplish. Some lessons I offer to sit down and do with him; if he has an attitude, then I let him do the lesson without guidance, BUT, we go by the adage --

'You're done (your school day) when you're done (your work).'

If that means he finishes his school work by noon, great! He's done his day's work. If it takes unitl 5 pm, well then, he has forfeited any social events/time off... He is learning that a lesson is faster if mom teaches; if he gets up on time and doesn't fool around during the day, then he has time with his friends and his hobbies.

I also have built into our week a co-op day and about once per month an academic fair, Recitation Day, or field trip with the support groups we are involved with. Even on a 'bad week' he is not totally isolated (but on a 'bad week' we would not spend as much time socializing after these events as we would on a 'good week'.)

Developmentally, it is a time for our sons to start to draw away from mom and dad... But not into an 'abyss'. Foster friendships with their godly peers and their families. If they are pulling from you, then set up the situation that they would be pulled toward families (or church leaders, coaches, scout leaders, teachers, relatives) whom you trust. In 3 and 4 years, your sons will be 'facing the world'. In these precious few years, parents need to bolster and deepen their children's faith, core values, life skills and independence so they may thrive in a world that does not always have their best interest at heart, as we parents always do. God bless you." -- Tricia


"Shimmy -- Your last line is key: One thing I had to recognize when beginning homeschooling is that my children would not essentially/internally change into different people just because we were homeschooling. What is different is that because I am their teacher it gives me a closer look at who they are and then the ability to change my approach based on what I see and what I learn in reading more about homeschooling.

From your question it sounds like your boys are very social... they like people, like being around others, talking, laughing, etc. Use that motivation as your base and begin to build your 'school' around that. Drama, movie making, movie watching, athletics, 4-H, audubon classes, church camps. When you really look closely, you will be surprised at the amount of reading, writing and math that naturally comes out of most of these 'social' activities.

My son really wanted to play card games but I could not drive him an hour each week to where a club was already set up. He began one in our little town, which evolved into an afterschool program at the library for a couple hours one afternoon a week. He kept records, organized, set up, and read about the latest things he could offer... reading, writing and math (adding points, etc). This was not pre-planned or controlled by me, but came naturally over several years as I went with his intense desire to 'play' with other kids. Now he is applying to college and it looks really good on his 'extra-curricular' activities as well.

It is a difficult thing to wrap your head around this and I am still working at it... since I am still homeschooling 'unmotivated' children. :)" -- Carol


"Although I do not have teenage boys, I have learned a few things about motivation. If your boys are not motivated to do school, they are motivated to do something in their day. What do they enjoy doing? Maybe you can find engaging activities and experiments that could tie into their hobbies and interests. Make homeschool less about school and more about family. Play games together, go on field trips, make learning fun! If the work is not meaningful to them and they don't see any point in it, no matter how much you force it they are going to learn very little.

The best learning is done through self motivation. Can you make a compromise with them that they will do X amount of math and language and then you will allow them to do something they want? Stick to the basic skills they will need -- reading fluently, math skills, and writing coherently -- and let them lead the way in the other subjects. If they like video games, then have them design their own game. My girls (ages 10 and 6) love Little Big Planet 2 and I have them create levels for creative thinking skills. If they like computers that can turn into a science/math course. In a nutshell I am describing a form of unschooling where you allow your children to pursue their own education rather than forcing a standardized set of facts. Here are some websites for you to consider:



This is meant for school settings, but it has great thoughts on motivation and learning:

Choices for Children

A site for Christian unschoolers

I am not a full-blown unschooler as I do assign work in subjects. However, our sit-down school time lasts about 2 hours in the morning and the rest of the day we either do unit studies as a family or the girls are free to pursue their own interests. I do not consider what I assign to be any more important than what they are learning when they are playing Legos, whittling wood in the back yard, pretending to be princesses or unicorns, or watching Pete and Pete for the thousandth time. Children do not have a switch that turns on during schoolwork and off during free time. They are learning, consuming, and thinking at every moment of the day, just as we are. They are not passive wells that we dump knowledge into -- they must be involved and interested for any real learning to take effect. External motivators are going to do very little -- and might actually cause them to do poorer work (as you have probably found out). Here is an interesting video about motivation:


We have to think about how education can be self-directed, focused on mastery, and have real purpose. I can almost guarantee that your boys are not mindless and 'lazy' as our society has labeled teenagers. What is missing is a sense of purpose, of having control of their choices and their growing responsibilities, and the expectation that even at a young age they can master skills for work and life. If you allow them some freedom you might be surprised what they can accomplish." -- Aadel in KS


"Hi, Shimmy -- When my kids are 'under-motivated', my husband and I remove one privilege after another until motivation returns! It's magic! First it might be TV/video games, then spending time with friends, special activities they enjoy, and we've even taken TVs out of the house for a month while restoring motivation to do the right thing. Another privilege that you might not have thought of is the privilege of privacy -- we've removed bedroom doors off of hinges when necessary, because teens will sometimes retreat into their rooms out of sight when they are supposed to be doing a chore. If all that sounds draconian, just think for a minute how the military or other highly disciplined groups handle lack of motivation, and you'll see that losing TV for a day or two isn't so bad.

If you tie doing their chores and schoolwork (done at an acceptable level of effort) to their privileges (i.e., no TV until room is clean, chores are done, assigned school work completed at 'B' level effort, etc., or no Facebook/videogames/cell phone use until rooms are clean, chores are done, schoolwork complete, etc.), you'll probably see some attitude change soon. In addition, the kids will RESPECT you for holding them accountable, and will soon feel good about doing the right thing. Once they start driving, you can withhold driving privileges as well. My husband has talks with the kids about privileges being rewards for being responsible about taking care of their obligations (chores, schoolwork, etc.), and lets them know that they are not allowed to talk back to me without losing something.

Another option is to use rewards to motivate (but I would be very careful they don't turn into bribes, and I would combine it with losing privileges). Every 6 weeks can be report card time, and with good grades (or grade improvement), they can earn special rewards (new videogame they've been wanting, shopping trip at the mall, pizza party with friends, etc.). The key is to set standards, establish consequences/rewards for the behavior you want, and consistently apply the consequences/rewards calmly, without yelling/emotional outbursts/etc. Also, try reading Kevin Lehman's book 'Have a New Kid by Friday' -- great ideas." -- DJ in TX


"Dearest Shimmy -- I'm sending you a hug! :) I have two boys and we have and are fighting some of these same issues. We haven't found all of the answers, but I will share a few of the tactics we have tried. First, I have discovered that I MUST have Dad much more involved in the boys' lives starting at about 12-ish. That isn't to say my hubby wasn't involved before, but I've shifted more decisions into his lap, and depended on him more to check-up on chores done, practicing done, etc. Thankfully, my husband is willing to do this even when he is tired in the evening. It is also very motivating for my boys to have Dad give them a stern 'talking to' if they've not done well in their schoolwork or practicing. My hubby has told me to not wear myself out trying to get them to do their schoolwork; if it isn't done by supper, he will sit down with them after supper (this has only happened a couple of times).

I've also tried very hard to pull their interests/abilities into my curriculum planning. For instance, my oldest is cross-dominant which makes writing very difficult. So I searched and found an English grammar curriculum online that he simply needed to 'click' the correct answers for. This worked wonderfully! It didn't mean he loved grammar, but it became 'doable'. This same son was CRAZY about cars at about 13, so I searched for great books on how cars work for Christmas and allowed him to do this reading for school. You could add an interest -- art, mechanics, birds, technology -- as a school subject at this age. It may just perk up their day.

I run a motivational program every 3rd/4th quarter each year. My kids love it. It is called the 1000's Club. They get to put up a star for every 100% they get and there is a prize for every (10) 100's. Some years the prize was a 'free assignment' or candy or breakfast out with dad or a $1.

We also try to get at their hearts. We teach our kids that they are here on earth to glorify God and therefore EVERYTHING they do is a reflection on that.

Funny that my daughter has never struggled with these issues!" -- Deb H.


"Shimmy -- I too struggled with this issue, in reverse. Our son was homeschooled from 4th to 9th grade. He decided in 7th grade that he had 'learned everything he would ever need to know', and had absolutely NO motivation to do any schoolwork. Due to a variety of circumstances, he went to public school for his last 3 years of high school. Things went from bad to worse -- he quickly figured out that he could do nothing, and no one would encourage or force him to do his work. Since he didn't care about his grades, he was satisfied. However, we noticed one thing -- he did much better in classes taught by male teachers than classes with female teachers. In my reading, I found encouragement for young men to, wherever possible, to be taught by another man. I think there are some personality types that especially need that influence during their transition to manhood. That being said, you could try some or all of the following:

If you have a husband who will help out...

... have your husband take over at least some of the teaching (evenings/weekends)
... have your husband give out the assignments (even if you've prepared them) and be the one who holds the boys accountable for finishing their work. You are available during the day to answer questions, but it is not your responsibility to make sure they finish the work.

If the boys have any interests, capitalize on them. Carpentry, auto mechanics, sports, music -- look for hands-on opportunities for them to get involved via volunteering, apprenticeships (formal or informal), or projects. Look for opportunities for them to expend lots of physical energy each day -- it's amazing how much better their brains can work when their bodies are tired.

Last, but far from least, involve your boys. Pray with them and for them. Ask questions, and really listen to their answers. (Hopefully you get more than 'I don't know'.) What do they want to do after they graduate? What don't they like about school; what changes would make it better? If they need some help with understanding reality, do a unit on what things really cost. We found Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers helpful.

Another book that might be helpful for your boys to read is 'Do Hard Things' by Alex and Brett Harris." -- Laurie


"Shimmy -- Your boys are at a difficult age. By the time our older son (who had always been homeschooled) reached the teen years, we found that we had to make a certain amount of schoolwork non-negotiable. Once he got his schoolwork done, he could do the things he wanted. No, he wasn't motivated but he had no choice. He couldn't play basketball with his friends or play on his computer until his schoolwork was done.

Something happened during the year he turned 15. I don't know if it was just maturity, or having his first job in a grocery store, but by 16 we had a young man who got his schoolwork done without a problem, joined the leadership team of our church's youth group, worked hard at his job, etc. In college he ended up being president of Student Ministries and graduating with honors. He's now a hard-working young man, age 26, happily married for four years.

So pray for your boys, make sure they do their schoolwork and their chores, but stop worrying about motivating them. Motivation has to come from within, and it will come in time. At this age, you're lucky if you can get them to do their laundry once a week, much less be motivated to do so. ;)

-- Barbara Frank, Cardamom Publishers, http://www.cardamompublishers.com

Editor's note: Barb is the author of Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers, which was recommended above! :-)

Answer Our New Question

Grammar for Auditory Learners

"I was talking to a homeschooling mom several years ago and she said she was using a grammar (English?) curriculum that used a singing/music CD with it. I was wondering if anyone would know what resource that might have been? Thanks." -- Anna


Do you think you know what audio resource Anna is looking for... or do you have another suggestion?
Send your email to: hn-answers@familyclassroom.net

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