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Motivation, Reluctance, and the Circus

Jul 28th

Motivation is such a wonderful thing. It gives us energy to pursue our goals. Motivation can urge us onward toward of a myriad of accomplishments. It makes us excited to achieve and keeps us on track and purposeful in our actions. When one is motivated, there is less need for external prompting because there is an inward drive and desire that needs no supplementation. If only we could bottle it up and pull out motivation to dole out as needed!

Homeschooling a motivated student is exciting and rewarding, providing a sense of the joy of teaching and affirming our efforts to help our children learn. If homeschooling is supposed to be a wonderful experience, why are so many of us lamenting the fact that our students not only do not eagerly pursue learning opportunities but appear downright unmotivated and reluctant to learn?

If a motivated student reassures us that we are successful teachers, then the converse is also true. A reluctant, unmotivated student can cause us to question our ability to teach our children well. This doubt can lead our thoughts down other paths, where we wonder if we are up to the calling of homeschooling and if we will somehow be holding our children back if we continue. Before you go too far in questioning your ability to homeschool, please allow me to share some of my experiences as a homeschooling mother of a very reluctant, unmotivated student.

I am not a high-energy, easily-excited mom. Nevertheless I worked hard to be enthusiastic when I presented lessons and I tried to make the work engaging and interesting for my children. Imagine my dismay when day after day I called my children to the table to begin our school work and without fail the first words out of my son’s mouth were, “How long is this going to take?”

He asked me that question no matter what the subject matter was, and in fact without even knowing which subject I was about to introduce. In response, I would plaster a smile on my face and try to exude exhilaration for the lesson. I tried to be funny. I worked at being more animated in my presentations. I used up a lot of energy, as if I were auditioning for the role of inspiring homeschool mom. Inwardly, I berated myself for my inability to stimulate a love of learning in my children.

I have always loved learning new things, and I had carefully selected my curriculum. Night after night I strained my brain to come up with something I could do or change that would eliminate the reluctance my son felt toward schoolwork. I was beginning to despair. I had a heart to homeschool my children, but I questioned whether I had the energy and ability to do the job for the long haul.

Then, one day, the circus came to town. Yes, I thought about running off to join it, but once again I didn’t seem to have the right skill set! I was already abysmal as a performer, judging by my child’s desire to get schoolwork over with as quickly and painlessly as possible despite my antics. So I took the children to see the circus, hoping that at last my son would be adequately engaged and intrigued by the novelty of the acts.

My son watched the tigers with great interest. He was so intent while watching the trapeze artists that I’m not sure he even blinked during their entire act. Just as clowns appeared in one circus ring and horses began trotting around a second ring, my son turned to me and said something that changed me forever.

“Mom,” he asked, “When can we go home? I’m bored.”

Of course he had told me on many prior occasions that he was bored. All this time I thought it was my fault for being inadequate as his teacher. Hearing him say he was bored at the circus astonished me and gave me a valuable insight that helped me realize more than ever that homeschooling was the best option for my family. When my child informed me that he was bored at a three-ring circus, at first I was just plain shocked. Once the shock wore off, a sense of great relief came over me because I realized that even if I chose to wear feathers and swing from a trapeze while teaching, this child would become bored within about 15 minutes!

The difficulty my son had with school was not because of any lack on my part as a homeschooler. Rather, it was the way he was wired that led him to be easily bored and inattentive. Once I realized that the attention and motivation challenges were essentially stemming from inside my son and were not due to my ineptness as his teacher, I was freed up to concentrate on ways to help him learn to motivate himself and deal with his frequent feelings of boredom. I began to focus less on critiquing myself and instead became more observant of my son.

I noticed that there were certain times of the day when my son was more alert, and that it did not always coincide with my own states of alertness. I observed that when he was physically active for a short burst of time he was then able to attend to his lessons for longer periods. My son showed me that when he was emotionally upset or over-excited about something that we tended to have less productive days and my attempts to push him usually backfired. As my self-doubt regarding my ability to teach my child receded, I was able to direct that mental energy into finding out what my son truly needed.

In addition to my great revelation at the circus, over time I became more and more convinced that homeschooling was ideal for a learner like my son. I could accommodate his needs and give him the attention he needed to stay on track and learn. Each year of homeschooling I was better equipped because of the previous year’s experiences. My son came to understand that even when I didn’t understand some of his challenges I would steadfastly believe he was capable of learning, and I would never give up.

There will always be people with more impressive credentials, but we do not need to compete with them. As homeschooling parents, we are more invested in our children than anyone else. We have the motivation to help our kids, year after year, to teach them and show them love. Homeschooling can be challenging, but it can instruct the teacher as well as the students as situations arise. In my case, I always tell people that with all the learning and motivation challenges I faced, my children made me be a better teacher than I wanted to have to be. In the end, though, I am a better teacher and mom because of the things I learned while homeschooling my children.

3 Comments

  1. Ken Wiley

    Wonderful article, Melinda.

  2. Thank you for the encouragement! I needed to be reminded as we start school.

  3. Thank you so much! I am dealing with this right now with my son and your blog is a wonderful resource.

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