In the previous two blogs, we have explored four of six principles for motivating our kids.

  1. Really ENGAGE with your kids.
  2. VERBALIZE praise and respect.
  3. LISTEN earnestly.
  4. LET THEM make choices and take risks.

Another way to motivate our kids is to:


When they are young, give them their own to-do/check-off list; they will love that sense of accomplishment as much as we do. When they are a bit older (3rd or 4th grade?), with your assistance, let them create their own to-do lists. Rough out a plan, set measurable goals, and estimate times of completion to be sure you aren’t overscheduling. We want them to be challenged, but not feel loaded down with too much work, so let’s help them find the right balance. We also want them to exhibit initiative and not waste time waiting for us to solve their problem or answer their question. When the student sees the big picture and has their own schedule, they will be more inclined to figure things out themselves and move on without us. We want to create a stimulating environment, not a demanding one.

Capitalize on your children’s interests and passions. Let them alphabetize their favorite baseball cards or do fractions while cooking. If they are into art or drama, they could illustrate or reenact an historical event. Science will come alive for your baker as they make this edible cell model. Also, be sure to include older children in curriculum decisions: What science topic is she interested in? Would he rather write a paper or do a project? What foreign language appeals to her?

Help them see the value of what they are learning. Physics might make more sense AND be more fun if they are studying how roller coasters work. If you have a student that likes to write, grammar might not be so tedious if learned in the context of story writing. Math might make more sense if they are helping you at the grocery store to buy food on a budget or making money at their own lemonade stand.

Create an environment that is conducive to learning by eliminating distractions and establishing and consistently enforcing clear rules and the expected progress. Determine and share with your kids how you are going to grade, realizing that some kids are motivated by grades while some are actually discouraged. When our kids were young, I completed a short, narrative, year-end evaluation for each child, and then dad and I discussed it with them individually. We focused on what they had accomplished AND what they needed to work on instead of just a grade.

Additionally, talk to them about what it means to work efficiently by staying focused, breaking a task down into small steps, and applying good study practices. Don’t assume kids know how to be organized; specifically teach them how to organize their time and schoolwork. With these skills, they will be motivated to take responsibility and work independently.

Make it worth their while. On a day when your child gets his work done in an efficient and timely manner (without any reminders), head out for some impromptu ice cream (read about “catching them doing good” in “Igniting the Fire”, part one). Let him know that you are pleased that he completed his work so that there is time for spontaneous and fun things like this. Rewards of computer or TV time for timely work well-done can be effective as well. Years ago, my kids were very motivated to get their chores and school work done by 3 p.m. so they could watch Wishbone, a dog’s re-enactment of classic literature (they loved it so much that they didn’t even realize that it was “educational”). We are not talking about bribes here, but incentives do motivate kids and build their self-confidence!

And on the flip-side, let there be natural consequences for wasting time—maybe miss out on some family fun time or losing their video or free time so they can get caught up (in our case, Wishbone).

Joanne Calderwood of says she has found “the secret to homeschooling freedom.” In her PDF article, she offers an in-depth and insightful discussion of parent-led vs self-teaching. In her experience, once a child understands and believes that they can learn independently, they will be motivated to do more on their own. She accomplishes this by giving each child their own planner and letting them establish their own goals and systematically trains them in this process from a young age. To find out more about this method, check out her book, “The Self-Propelled Advantage: The Parent’s Guide to Raising Independent, Motivated Kids Who Learn with Excellence.


Now, roll all the things we’ve already discussed in our previous 5 principles and think “team.”

Family = Team. (YAY, TEAM!)

Sadly, we often get into the “us (parents) vs. them (kids)” mode, when instead, our kids need to feel confident that we are on their team and will help them accomplish their greatest desires.

Many kids naturally tend to be optimistic idealists, and we seasoned and sometimes weary parents can unwittingly steal their spark with a bit too much of a reality-check, when instead we should be encouraging them to try new things. Remember, if it doesn’t work out, it is okay, there will always be something to learn from their mistake. Here are just a few suggestions for creating a family team environment:

  • CREATE FAMILY TRADITIONS; they build family unity. In our house, the kids looked forward to dad’s banana pancakes every Saturday. Ask for suggestions, especially from your older kids.
  • LEARN IT TOGETHER! Be creative and use “wasted” time, like in the car. Get them excited AND reinforce learning by adding in some games, activities, musical learning, or history on tape. We loved Lyrical Learning and Audio Memory. Besides enhancing their learning, the cheesy songs will get you all laughing together.
  • INVEST. When they are older, get them invested in their own learning by letting them make some choices. Make a point of asking for their input and coming up with their own goals and plan-of-action.
  • SECURITY. Make sure your home is a safe and trusted environment where your kids can discuss and wrestle with thoughts and ideas without fear of being laughed at or ignored – including from their siblings. Let them know that the family always has each other’s backs. You could have regular family meetings where the kids feel safe to bring up anything. I know of families who have a weekly blessing time where each person says something they appreciate about each family member.
  • CELEBRATE their efforts together, not just their achievements and milestones.
  • BRAINSTORM. If something isn’t working for them or school is too challenging, brainstorm together to find the solution. When you are discussing a problem, ask them to come up with a solution. Then we need to be good listeners AND be flexible and willing to try a new approach.

From an early age, by encouraging and equipping them, as well as allowing them to make choices and mistakes and take risks, they will be inspired to be self-motivated independent learners.

By igniting this fire of self-motivation, you will further their chances of success in school and throughout the rest of their life. So, happy motivating!


More resources:

“Listen earnestly to anything your children want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.” —Catherine M. Wallace, cultural historian, literary theologian, and college writing professor