7 Tips for Inspiring Unmotivated Students

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Families in homeschooling circles like to talk about fostering a love of learning in their kids. This phrase evokes visions of smiling children gathered around the school table eager to complete their work.

That vision can make those of us with rather unmotivated students wonder if we're doing something wrong. That usually isn't the case. If you have a less-than-enthusiastic child, try these tips for inspiring your unmotivated student. 

Select Engaging Materials

One of the best ways to ensure that your student is a motivated learner is to make sure that you’re using engaging materials in your homeschool. Create a learning-rich environment that captures your student’s interest and invites personal exploration.

Encourage your child to play an active role in choosing homeschool curriculum and carefully consider his input. It’s important to remember that this is your child’s education and to select materials that he finds engaging. Those choices may differ drastically from what you find engaging. That's okay.

I think workbooks are tedious and boring, but both of my teenagers opted to use them for most of their school subjects for two years. I would have chosen a textbook for my daughter’s astronomy course, but she preferred an online class. Ultimately, the best homeschool materials are those that interest and motivate your student.

Tweak Your Curriculum

Sometimes a curriculum-induced lack of motivation can be rectified by making some minor changes to your existing curriculum. Remember that curriculum is a tool, not the master of your homeschool. Use it in the ways that best fit your family’s needs.

The math curriculum we used in the early years of our homeschool had a lot of practice problems each day. It was overwhelming to my oldest. I learned that she worked much better and was much more motivated to complete the page in a timely manner if I assigned every other problem. If she did well with the problems she completed, she was finished with the assignment. If she didn’t, we worked through the other half together to help her understand the concept.

Your student may prefer to do more hands-on activities than the lesson includes or to do an oral presentation rather than a written one. Tweak your curriculum to make the adjustments that work best for your student.

Establish a Predictable Routine

Establishing a predictable routine for your homeschool won’t magically create enthusiastic students, but it can help with the grumbling often associated with unpleasant tasks. I like to make our homeschool as engaging as possible, but some things have to be completed whether they’re fun or not.

I explain to my kids that those subjects are like cleaning toilets – that’s a task I will never want to do, but it has to be done. If I know that I’m going to clean the toilets every Saturday afternoon, for example, I just do it as part of that day’s routine. I’m not excited about it, but I don't grumble about it. I just do it and move on to more pleasant tasks.

Similarly, in our homeschool, we have a predictable rhythm to our days. My kids may not especially enjoy a particular subject, but they do it when it’s time to work on it because it’s become a part of the daily routine.

Adjust your routine to take advantage of the ways in which your children work best. Some like to tackle the most difficult or least enjoyable subject of the day first thing to get it out of the way. Other students may prefer to ease into the school day with some subjects they enjoy. For most students, it’s wise not to leave the most unpleasant subjects for the end of the day because that makes them easier to put off. I try to sandwich the less-appealing subjects between more engaging ones.

Schedule Breaks

Unmotivated students can often be encouraged by the incentive of a break after completing subjects that they find difficult or unappealing. Schedule breaks into both your homeschool day and the semester. If your student finds grammar tedious, allow a 10-15 minute brain break after completing it or include it in your daily routine before a normal break time such as lunch.

We school year round on a six weeks on/one week off rotation with longer breaks for summer and Christmas. Knowing that there is always a break in the not-too-distant future makes it easier for everyone to dig in and work hard on those days we’re feeling unmotivated.

Include a Catch-Up Day

A built-in catch-up day can be a great incentive for unmotivated students. Staying caught up during the week means that their catch-up day is a light school day or one that will include fun enrichment activities or a field trip.

We reserve Fridays as our catch-up day. If all their work has been completed during the week, my kids only have to complete assignments such as quizzes and the government co-op class we do with a few friends. It only takes one or two Fridays of muddling through uncompleted school work to provide incentive for working diligently during the week.

Implement a Rewards System

Many parents don’t care for external rewards systems when it comes to their children and school. While it is optimal for students to be intrinsically motivated, a rewards system can be a fantastic tool for encouraging diligence, particularly for young children.

When my oldest was in 2nd or 3rd grade, math was not her favorite subject. She could drag out what should have been a 20-minute assignment to an hour or more. I finally decided to start a reward system.

For each day that she completed her math assignment before a set timer went off, she got a sticker. Once she earned so many stickers, she could cash them in for a small prize, such as candy, or save them for a bigger prize such as a dinner date with her dad or me.

We started with twice the amount of time it should take to complete the assignment so that she had ample opportunity to be successful and gradually reduced the time until she was completing the assignments in the 20-25 minutes they should have taken to complete.

Within a few weeks, we both forgot about the timer because she realized that she could complete her math in a reasonable about of time and move on to something she found more enjoyable.

Be Firm with Deadlines

When you homeschool, it can be easy to become soft with deadlines. Because students work at their own pace and one-on-one with their parent, we may lose the sense of urgency that comes with due dates.

Put a system in place that allows you and your students to keep up with assignments and due dates. That may mean a large wall calendar for the school room or individual planners for you and your students.

Then, agree with your students on the consequences of missing their due dates. This is where having scheduled catch-up days and break weeks really comes in handy. Missed deadlines may mean working through what would have otherwise been a light school day or a week off.

Some students may never be eager learners when it comes to formal learning and seat work, but these tips can help you all power through with what needs to be done each day.