I was asked this question quite often when we home educated our children. Usually by parents struggling to get their kids to do their homework every night.
But when you’re home educating it’s totally different.
For a start, the children had far more say and control over their activities. We didn’t see the point in doing endless academic exercises for test passing that were of no inherent purpose at the time. The things we studied were of interest, usually involved an experience of some sort and were decided through discussion. This gave the children a sense of being in charge of their education rather than being at the mercy of teachers and subjects that you saw no point to. That victim-type feeling destroys motivation faster than anything. Our approach was to keep alive their natural desire to learn and discover. If you have that, motivation isn’t a problem.
Most young children are naturally curious. They want to see everything, try everything, and know the ‘why’ about everything. We felt that all we needed to do was be a bit ingenious about guiding that desire towards the knowledge and skills we felt they should have. Mostly we could incorporate skills and subjects needed into the children’s everyday lives in a way they saw a point to, even if enjoyment was the point – they always learned something from what they did. But when subjects are laid out academically as they are in schools, usually for the purpose of testing, it can make them dull and seemingly pointless.
Another motivational approach we used was to tackle their learning through practical application and activity.
For example, say we were learning about food chains; rather than just study it via a book or online, we would go out for a picnic at a park or anywhere we might see some wild life, plant life, or birds, chat about what we saw in relation to the topic. Discussion is one of the greatest tools for learning. Through first-hand experience and discussion of a subject, children’s understanding grows and any academic study is more meaningful and readily absorbed and remembered.
Most learning could be incorporated into daily activities with youngsters. For example; we count, budget, talk about percentages and decimals, amounts, distances, time, so often during a day. We use language in various forms and mediums. We are involved with science all the time; you can’t get through a day without exposure to some scientific theory that comes up on the National Curriculum. For example; the properties of things, (heavy or light – the starting point for a discussion on atoms), experimenting with changing states (think freezing, melting or cooking), the physical and natural world (around us all the time). And then there’s geography to be discussed (when you visit different sites), historical concepts and how they’ve affected our world today (by visiting museums), all sorts of creative activities to be explored (which extend thinking skills among others) and any amount of physical activity (also develops mental capacity). Opportunities for learning are as endless as experiencing life.
Through this practical and hands on approach to their learning there was never a problem motivating the children when they were home educated.
And as the children become older and are in the habit of working in such a way it’s a natural progression into perhaps less appealing activities. But by this time, having had discussions about why, what and how in relation to their ongoing education, and having had some control over what they do, they are more motivated to take on any more tedious parts of their study for themselves as they become inspired to reach certain personal goals, like qualifications for example.
Generally speaking, we didn’t really need to coerce our kids into their education because children have a natural desire to learn anyway. Our approach was to see that we never switched that desire off!