I sat through the homeschool conference yesterday particularly inspired by the talk Andrew Pudewa gave on motivation. He shared four types, three laws, and two keys of motivation that made so much sense in the context of homeschooling, raising kids, and dealing with employees that I have to pass these on to you.
For a person to be motivated there is an intangible thing called relevance that must be present. If something is interesting, meaningful, practical, and valuable to a child, they will be motivated to learn about it and do it. Conversely, the absence of relevance makes it difficult to teach a child.
Pudewa defines four forms of relevancy:
Intrinsic Relevancy. Most of us are innately curious and interested in particular topics, activities, and pursuits. For example, my son, Edan enjoys playing the piano. I don’t have to remind him to practice for his weekly lessons. He goes down every morning and plays his pieces without being asked to because he is interested in learning how to play the piano.
To capitalize on the natural curiosity and interest of my kids, I give them the liberty to go in-depth into subject areas that they want to explore further. (Of course this implies that their curiosity and interest is NOT directed towards harmful things.) But take for example, chemistry. When Elijah expressed a liking for chemistry as a 5th grader, I didnt wait for him to be the appropriate school age to learn it. I bought him books on chemistry and he devoured these. He even memorized the periodic table of elements without me requiring him to.
If a child is able to explore a subject they like, they learn more about it than you can ever imagine they will. In the process, they also learn concepts related to the subject that cover other areas of study.
Pudewa said something like this: Learning should bring children to the subjects. Subjects shouldnt dictate when learning ought to take place. Our problem is we want to cover all the bases, which is impossible. If a teacher attempts to cover all the bases, a child will be a mile wide, and a quarter deep, and will know nothing about everything. Therefore, whatever seed God has planted in our childrens hearts, let’s water it.
Inspired Relevancy. Even if we don’t have a natural curiosity or interest in a topic, activity or pursuit, this changes when we spend time with someone we love or respect whose interest is inspiring.
Growing up, I didn’t have as much a love for the word of God as I ought to have. However, I saw my father pouring over his Bible for hours every morning. Because I had such high regard for my dad, I wondered why in the world he committed so much time to reading his Bible. His love for Gods Word inspired the interest to develop in me. I thought to myself, If the Bible is so important to dad (and mom), then there must be something about it that is meaningful enough to matter to me, too. Today, I read the Bible because it is relevant to my own life. But it began with inspired relevancy and not intrinsic relevancy.
Some years ago, Elijah, our eldest son, became interested in investing in stocks. He discovered investing when he watched one of Edrics TV episodes on personal finance. So at 9 years old, he asked his dad if he can learn more about stocks. Edric took Elijah to a seminar where he learned how to research about stocks and how to set up his own fund.
Edan, our second son, was never interested in stocks, even when he saw Elijah get into it. However, when he realized that Elijah was making money through stocks investing, he wanted to compete with him. As a result, he developed a curiosity for stocks as well. Today, Elijah and Edan are both “young investors.”
Intrinsic relevancy can be positive or negative, especially in the peer-influence-sense. If our children associate with other children who are bad influences on them, they will adapt their values. So we need to pray and teach our children to select friends and surround themselves with peers who love God and seek after Him.
One of the challenges of inspired relevancy when homeschooling is motivating our kids to learn a subject that we aren’t excited about or experts at. This is where we have to utilize other homeschooling parents or resources that will inspire our kids to learn. I’ve had to do this with my kids Filipino subject. I don’t know how to teach this subject well and my own struggles with the language put my kids at a disadvantage. So I invested in Rosetta Stone Tagalog program. It’s an online program that my kids actually enjoy doing, And because they enjoy it, they are learning much more effectively than when I was teaching them.
Contrived Relevancy. This form of motivation is about taking something that is not relevant and using the mechanics of a game to make it relevant. The components of the game have to include two things: The possibility of winning, and the potential of gain and loss (an economic principle that works in real life).
One of the ways I do this with my kids is giving them incentives for completing their work. I’ve explained this in previous posts. I use a tab system for the kids. If they complete X number of pages, they get a tab (those colorful Post Its). Their books are marked with tabs for the quarter or semester. So they can go as fast as they want to in order to earn more tabs or they can do just the minimum (2 to 3 pages), to get at least one tab for that subject, for that day. If they don’t do at least 2 to 3 pages, however, they cannot claim a prize from the mystery jar. By the end of each week, the kids can turn in their tabs to redeem prizes and draw from the mystery jar. If they don’t get at least 20 tabs, they don’t get to draw.
Enforced Relevancy. This method of motivating kids is what we often use to get our kids to do their homeschooling work, but it is the least effective at producing real learning.
Most kids who go to school are terrorized by the idea that they can’t fail on their exams because these exams carry so much weight both for their class standing and for the approval of their parents. As a result, they study painstakingly for exam week in order to get a good grade. However, little is retained afterwards. They simply study for testing season.
Homeschool kids can be forced into the same mindset when we require them to learn just because they have to.Theres zero inspiration for the child. Since they aren’t engaged, they arent likely to recall what they learn either. They may appear studious and busy at work but nothing is really transferring into long-term memory storage. As much as possible, we need to avoid enforced relevancy.
Let’s move on to the 3 laws of motivation:
Children like to do what they can do, what they think they are good at. I’ve complimented Titus many times for his natural capacity to understand math. He now believes it comes easily for him so he claims that math is one of his favorite subjects. If I hand him his math book, he will readily take it and complete the pages he needs to, rarely asking me for assistance. The trick is, we need to give our kids plenty of opportunity to do what they excel at.
Children want to do what they think they can do. Elijah does a whole lot of complicated programming on the computer. He began with a basic understanding of programming and moved up to higher levels of coding because he experienced enough successes to convince him that he could actually do this. I never said, “That’s way too hard for someone your age to attempt.” I let him believe that he could do it because I saw that he had a bent for it. Hes built a couple of apps since he first started learning the language of computers.
Children hate and refuse to do that which they believe they cannot do. This is usually due to a record of failure, as Pudewa likes to call it. I didn’t like math as a student, primarily because I didn’t think I was any good at it. I struggled in this area in high school. As a result, I had mental blocks. Even if problems were explained to me clearly, I didn’t have confidence in my ability to solve them. However, as a homeschool mom, I’ve had to revisit many math concepts and relearn them. Since I had to start with preschool, I got myself a more solid foundation in arithmetic. And Ive come to realize that I can actually be good at math after all, that I can actually like math! What changed my perspective on math? My level of competency and filling in the gaps that I missed out on as a student.
As a homeschool mom, I cannot force my kids to move on to more difficult concepts, especially in math, unless I help them master the preceding ones. I’ve had to do this with Edan. When Edan doesn’t like to do math its usually because he feels like he can’t do it. So I have to spend time going over every topic he doesnt like until he realizes that its not as difficult as it seems. Then his face will light up and he will say, Thanks mom! I get it now! and I can leave him alone to finish the lesson.
Tiana had a hard time understanding how to decode words in order to read. Instead of forcing her to be at her level, I had to patiently work her up where she ought to be by going back to learning letters and their sounds. We had to practice and practice these until she memorized them, and then we moved on to attempt reading. Now, she is an emerging reader who has experienced enough successes to read not just her leveled readers, but signs, posters, and words she sees in her environment.
In Pudewas words: If you can spend most of the time allowing kids to do something that they can do 60% of the time, and 40% of the time doing what they think they can do, you will have a 100% motivated child.
Lastly, the two secret weapons of motivation are my favorites! Pudewa tells parents to acknowledge and appreciate, and then to smile! If a student knows that he or she is loved, they will be motivated.
When Pudewa was a violin student under THE Mr. Suzuki in Japan, he marveled at how often his teacher commended students, even for the little things. My mom used to say that parents ought to have a detectives eye for positive character in their kids. Whatever we can compliment in them, lets be generous about it. When we deposit into their emotional bank accounts, we build up enough principle to live off the interest, says Pudewa.
Homeschooling parents have a great opportunity to communicate messages of security to their kids because of the time factor. We have so much time with our kids which means we have so many moments to speak life into them and affirm how much we love them. Lets make those moments count, and lets do so with our brightest, sincerest smiles. A smile while homeschooling our kids will put them at ease. It communicates the message, Im enjoying this time with you. What child wouldnt be motivated by that?!
If you want to read more about Andrew Pudewa’s insights on motivation, check out this link:http://iew.com/sites/default/files/article/fileattachment/art_and_science_of_motivation.pdf