Often the greatest challenge parents face in homeschooling after the basics are mastered is motivation. How do you make a child do what he doesnt want to do? The instinct is to resort to bribes, which parents prefer to call rewards or motivators. However, they are just bribes if they are promised in advance.
Always avoid the use of food as a reward. Nearly all experts agree that bribing children with food sets a pattern of unhealthy eating, since food is seen as something the child deserves for good behavior. In the same respect, don´t use food as a punishment either. Simply leave food out of the process entirely.
The use of toys or outings can be just as dangerous in a long-term context. Perhaps your kindergartner will work hard for a small car that costs fifty cents. As the children get older though, and more accustomed to being "paid" for their work, the price will get higher. By the time your child is a teenager, you may not be able to afford the price of the bribes. The toy car may have become a real one.
The goal of homeschooling is to teach children to be life-long learners. Help them learn to learn just for the fun of it, for the thrill, joy and satisfaction of gaining knowledge. This is especially challenging when children come from a public school environment, where they are accustomed to getting grades, candy and visual behavior charts as a way of behavior control. You will have to wean these children from tangible rewards. When I began homeschooling my children, I refused to give out grades. We went over papers together and corrected mistakes, but they never got a grade. At first, they were furious and wanted to know why they should do the work if they weren't going to get a grade. At the end of the day, they were angry to find out there would be no candy for good behavior either. It took over a year for them to rediscover the joys of learning that they had lost with the first A and the first bag of candy.
So, if you cant use candy, grades or toys as rewards, how do you get a child to do his work?
Children will do amazing things for a parent´s attention and approval, and initially, this will be your reward. When a child is working hard, staying on task and having a good attitude, praise him. That evening, tell his dad about it. If you call his grandparents, mention what a good worker he is. You don't want to overdo this, of course, and over time, you will want to ease up and praise a little less elaborately. After all, a child can become equally dependent on praise as a motivator. This requires careful monitoring, since you want a child to be able to work without recognition, but you also want to show how proud you are of him.
Gradually reduce the amount of praise you give so that you are not praising him all day long. Try to reach a point where you praise him at the end of a task and the end of the day, with an occasional comment thrown in when you notice particularly outstanding behavior or work. Always praise a child who has just completed something very difficult, and offer more in-progress praise when the task is especially frustrating.
Children can be rewarded for outstanding behavior. The differences between rewards and bribes are that they are not promised in advance and are not consistent. You might tell a child that you have been very impressed with his work this week, and think a trip to the park is in order. Since he didn't work to get the trip, it is not a bribe. You can also use natural consequences to provide rewards. Mention to a child that you have a really fun craft planned for the end of the school day, but that unless you work very efficiently and well, there just won´t be time for it. Taking the craft away is simply a matter of not getting that far down the list. The craft isn't really a reward. It is a planned part of the curriculum, but you don´t always get to the end of the list. (Be sure your list is realistic.)
Monitor your child's ability and desire to learn and work without prizes. As you see that he is progressing in this area, praise him and point out that he is becoming very mature. Being self-motivated is a very adult quality. Help him to see that this is a desirable goal.
Be sure to spend time talking to your child about his studies. Let him share with you what is exciting and special about what he is learning. This helps him to see learning as special. Ask him about the ways he learns and let him help you choose methods of learning. The day he says, "I'm not sure I've really mastered adding with fractions yet. Do you mind if I go back and redo that section?" you will know you have won the game.
Article by Terrie Bittner
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