There are no promotions for homeschool mothers—and the children don’t have assemblies to display their work. Are you struggling to find energy to keep everyone on task for school and chores? What will motivate you and your children to give your work your all? If nothing comes readily to mind, maybe it’s time to incentivize your children—and yourself.
Let’s start with motivating your learners. I learned one of our favorite motivational techniques from a mommy-n-me early literacy program we attended when my boys were little. The teacher had a shelf of “when we’re done” activities reserved for when the boys finished assigned tasks with time to spare.
For our homeschool, I keep little bins of activities for them when they are done with their schoolwork. Educational activities in our bins include puzzles that segment three- and four-letter words for them to practice spelling and reading, puzzles with anatomy or geography themes, or magnetic fishing rods for practicing fine motor skills. The bins also have activities with lots of little pieces that would get lost if they were released into the boys’ playroom or messy toys like playdough, glow-in-the-dark silly putty, markers, or finger paint.
I’ve borrowed another motivation technique from my middle school piano teacher. I wrap a package multiple times then let the boys take off a layer as they reach milestones. I have enjoyed this idea for longer stretches, rewarding the boys for an entire week of successful school days, or to get us over the final hump at the end of the school year, allowing them to unwrap a layer each day for the last ten days of school. I’ve occasionally done a package for each child with smaller prizes, but it can also be fun to have one larger family-oriented prize such as a movie, a board game, a puzzle, or a science experiment kit. The anticipation grows as they open each layer, and the same prize is stretched to encourage them for an extended period.
Another fun inspirational activity my middle school piano teacher employed is a music store, where we could spend plastic coins we earned during our lessons. I like to stock our music store with sundry dollar store items—and a few larger items for the boys that like to save and splurge. Music coins make the boys eager to practice on their own, or to run through their piano piece one more time during practice.
When I was a little girl, I remember my mother using a paper chain to help us pass the time my father was away for work. Motivational paper chains can have a sticker every several links to signify a special activity: maybe a pizza dinner, a trip to the dollar store, or a treat out of a candy bin. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can write a fun activity on each of the paper links. Whoever completes their work in a timely fashion with a pleasant attitude can participate in the activity of the day. By contrast, failure to complete assignments or a sour attitude means forfeiting participation in the special activity of the day. If you use the reward and consequence system, I think it is especially important to set reasonable expectations. I might only require math, phonics, and a clean playroom as a benchmark for participation in the daily motivation activity, not an entire day executed to perfection.
Special dinners or desserts can also be a motivational tactic. As a reward for a successful week of school, I may let the boys choose one of the dinner menus for the following week, or we may bake a special treat together to celebrate a successful week. After observing a special candlelight dinner I was setting up for a date night with my husband, my oldest informed me that he would love to have a special candlelight dinner sometime. I enjoy surprising the boys with a fancy candlelight dinner now and then just for fun, but a special family treat like a candlelight dinner can also be something they work toward by completing a certain number of successful school days.
Everyone needs a day off now and then. Sometimes taking a break from our normal routine is our reward for consistent school days. We may take a field trip to the science center or the zoo, or sometimes we will just take an extra day off to do what we enjoy.
To motivate myself, I like to keep a list of reasonable splurges and plan to purchase from the list at the end of the month if we have stayed on track. To keep from making all my splurges focused more on the children than on myself, I keep two lists. One list will be things to pamper myself—bath bombs, earrings, or a new book I’ve been wanting to read. The other may have interactive calendars, a globe, special flashcards, or charts. Depending on our budget, I can get an item from each or alternate between the lists each month.
Burnout and exhaustion can shipwreck the best intentions of staying focused; conversely, a little motivation can give your whole family something to look forward to and help everyone dig a little deeper to contribute his best to both school and household chores.