Champion of Achievement
All other factors being in place, a loving Christian home, hardy theology, well chosen curriculum and biblical discipline, there might still be a problem in reaching high achievement levels. Even the best intentions and right reasons for home schooling don’t always produce the results that we want. Entering by the back door, that old subversive, attitude, may neutralize love and concern. This treasonous infiltrator is often attended by an empty-headed, but cogent side-kick, the lack of motivation.
Here are some countermeasures that help. They were inspired by one of Covenant Home’s sharpest grade auditors, Ruth Green, of Bethlehem, PA. Ruth and her husband manage their own homeschooling program with their four boys. She shows a special empathy with her auditing families and encourages many through her letters and articles.
The following particulars are important to consider in dealing with a child who needs a hotter fire in his boiler or more tension on his bow string.
- Rule out physical reasons for the lack of motivation.
It seems too simple, and it shouldn’t be happening, but adequate sleep and proper nutrition are elements that can be overlooked. In a fast-paced household certain basics sometimes can be discounted. Disorganization may creep in and derail the learning train. Ruth tells of a niece who was thought to be getting lazier by the day, until she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. She says that conditions such as mononucleosis or seasonal allergies will have a serious effect that must be taken into account as well. Puberty may cause a child to lose his accustomed drive for a time. Rapid hormonal changes also take their toll in more ways than one.
- Take advantage of your child’s daily energy rhythms.
Some children get up early and work before breakfast. Others can’t be pried out of bed without threats and ultimatums, then don’t work well before noon. Putting the kinesthetic learning projects first may draw out the best response. Working in a physical activity, calisthenics or other physically demanding program may help a sports-minded child to jump start his day.
- Keep in mind that boys and girls differ in their learning styles.
Boys aren’t more sinful than girls, but they often do account for more disciplinary problems. Why? One reason is that boys are more "action " oriented, they tend to need more space, want to move around more. A lot of learning is done in a sedate, quiet, female-oriented atmosphere. Try doing math drills while marching around the room. Try scheduling shorter periods with more action breaks.
- Controlled, creative competition is a wonderful motivator for some children.
A missing ingredient for most home schoolers is competition, the mysterious factor that propels many children to strive and push themselves beyond their comfort zone. Competing against yourself grows dull, especially if grading is slow and up-to-date records are not kept. A colorful chart may be a help. Special rewards can also add to the spirit of rivalry. Presenting book reports, speeches and other projects at a support group will also help to add challenge.
- Use the carrot, but don’t be afraid of the stick.
The Word of God is clear about disciplining our children. A corollary to Parkinson’s Second Law goes something like this: "Lack of motivation often increases to fill the tolerance quotient of parents." Failure in desire to work hard in our God-given studies is sin. It should be dealt with as such. Ruth says, "As a mother, I find punishing my children genuinely difficult, but trying to teach undisciplined children would be even worse."
- Evaluate the reasonableness of the work expected.
A work load that is too difficult can kill motivation. Likewise, one that is too easy will also be unmotivating. Covenant Home has always been very open to tailoring, making proper adjustments in order to get a perfect fit. It is important to be "professional" here. A child who claims that it takes until midnight to finish daily assignments may be troubled with another preoccupation or daydreaming.
- Understand and communicate the purpose of the assignments.
Kids may say, "This is stupid!" This may be a valid complaint unless you really do know why it isn’t a dumb idea. Being required to do pointless assignments does drain motivation. Learn to think in terms of practical applications. Be ready to give your child the purpose of what he is expected to do.
- If all else fails, remember that it ain’t over till it’s over.
Many children can’t reach their best potential until later in life. This doesn’t mean we stop trying to inspire them, but it may mean having to back off for a while. Winston Churchill went through the third form three times and was considered an embarrassment and failure by his father. Some children have been given novel ways of perceiving the world. Some are frustrated with physical limitations or a discrepancy between I.Q. and their learning methodology. As parents we must keep hoping and believing the best for our children. We must continue to teach them in the best way we know how. God will honor this in His own time.
- Keep yourself motivated.Motivation is contagious.
The attitudes driving your children will have their origins in you. Your children can see right through any facade you might have erected. They usually are maddeningly efficient reflectors of temperament. Mothers and fathers should pray for one another in this regard. We get tired, need a day or two off. We are dependent on each other and, ultimately, on the Lord for the fuel of motivation.
- Make use of the power of words.
Praise and encouragement are hard to beat when it comes to motivation. Scripture verses are the most authoritative for providing needed rebuke, exhortation or applause. Obedience to God brings its own reassurance. Mrs. Green recommends another source as well. She draws on the beauty and insight of excellent English poetry that reflects the same intuition.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But, to act, that each tomorrow
Finds us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, ... act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
From: Longfellow’s poem, A Psalm of Life
Rev. Dale K. Dykema