Mom-to-Mom Support/Lack of motivation and unschooling

Lack of motivation and unschooling

"What will be our new normal?" written on a napkin next to a cup of coffee


My 12 yo daughter is very smart but VERY reluctant to do her schoolwork. My 11 yo daughter is also very smart and is in the same grade as the 12 yo. I have them both in 5th grade now. I don’t want to keep holding the 11 yo back—she would now be ahead of the 12 yo, but I fear that that would make it even more difficult to motivate the 12 yo to do her work.

Any ideas on how to get her to do her work? She isn’t much for the “busy work”—she does a lot of the tests orally, or we wouldn’t get any done. The 11 yo loves the “busy work,” so writing isn’t a problem for her. I also have a 10, 9, 5, 3 and 18 mo to deal with at the same time.

Dad works 3rd shift, so is trying to sleep during the day. He tries to motivate, and he helps as much as he can. Should I just let the 12 yo “unschool,” but I fear that she is missing out on so much. Thank you.

Dear Mom,

Thank you for your question!

It is not really fair to hold back your 11-year-old when it is evident that she can spring forward in her schoolwork. One of the important reasons we homeschool is to go at the pace of your child’s learning abilities. The problem in public schools is that the students must all go at the same pace, even if they are ready to move on. So, if your 11-year-old is ready to move on, then I don’t see any reason in holding her back.

The motivation of your 12-year-old should be addressed separately from the needs of your 11-year-old. Your two daughters obviously work in very different ways, so your expectations of your two girls should be very different. The average student is not always motivated in everything, so what your 12-year-old is experiencing is quite normal. Your 12-year-old is academically a good student, and you know that she can do her work when she has the desire. This can be very frustrating.

When you are homeschooling, you really get to know your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and interests. This is key when you are helping your child become motivated, because you can incorporate incentives or rewards into her school day. For instance, if she enjoys drawing, you can allow her to draw for 15 minutes if she completes all her schoolwork within a reasonable amount of time. Or if she wants to read a particular book, allow her 5 minutes of reading time for every lesson she completes.

Rewards are the easiest to use, and they serve as positive reinforcement. However, you can also use punishment, or negative reinforcement, as well. For instance, for every lesson she doesn’t do, she has to do an extra household chore. Whatever you decide to use, it is important to “stick to your guns,” so to speak, and be consistent in the ways that you reward or punish.

Sometimes it’s so easy just to give into the child’s unwillingness to work. After all, you have many little blessings to raise. But in terms of your daughter’s future, you have to remember that ultimately you are preparing your daughter for adulthood in teaching her how to be self-motivated, work independently, and give 100% in all that she does.

It’s difficult for children to see the future, but your job as the parent is to prepare them for life. If you keep the same high expectations of your children, I guarantee that this will help them down the road. (Dr. Ray Guarendi provides many great ideas on both incentives and motivation).

As far as the unschooling method goes, it is important to differentiate the unschooling method with what I would call the non-schooling method. Some misuse the concept and choose the unschooling method because children will not behave. These children won’t sit down at a desk and do workbook sheets or take paper and pencil tests. The children pursue whatever they want, but nothing is demanded of them. The unschooling method rapidly dissolves into non-schooling, where the children are not taught much of anything.

There have been many parents who have successfully used the unschooling method with their children, and these children have graduated from Ivy League schools. In studying how these parents successfully used the unschooling method, I found that they expose their children to hundreds of books, their children are encouraged to research their interests, and their children learn to express themselves in writing as well as verbally.

Yes, the children explore their own interests and teach themselves, but in the process they must still produce evidence that they are learning the basic concepts—such as writing papers—in delving further into specific subjects. In the unschooling method, the students still learn math, grammar, writing, history, science even though they may or may not necessarily use textbooks.

The students are still expected to write, read, think, analyze, explore and produce. Therefore, when you consider the unschooling method, you have to remember that your child will still need to write papers and learn about subjects that every other student learns. As the parent, you will need to be highly organized and still have some sort of lesson plan that will help you as you guide your student further, even with the unschooling method.

God bless you and your family!

Laura Corrigan

About Laura Corrigan

Laura Corrigan is a mother of five. She was homeschooled through high school and received her teaching certificate from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has also homeschooled her own children.