Whenever I look to a new school year, I think about curriculum, and I think about mapping the year out, starting dates, holidays, and oh yes, homework. It is the dreaded “H” word! No matter how or where you are schooling your dear ones, they will, inevitably, have homework. You may feel some or loads of push back on getting that done too! In order to help our children best succeed in this area of schooling, you may need a little creativity, a TON of consistency sprinkled with patience and grace everywhere!
Please know that intrinsic motivation is a very difficult skill to teach, but it is absolutely essential to the success of getting homework done without constant nagging, pushing and bribing by yourself! Intrinsic motivation is that ability to get things done because the person wants the internal reward of satisfaction of a job well done, or a sense of accomplishment. With any skill, this can come naturally to some, while it may never be fully developed in others. Remember, that is okay, and taking your student from where they are to any new height in this skill is a win for everyone (look for a blog post on the how to help build this skill soon)! One way to get started is to look at the why with your student - why would they benefit from this? What can they get from doing this homework? If they can answer those questions, and stay focused on them, it can help move that homework along.
Another key aspect to getting homework done is the amount of positive energy, words, thoughts, you name it, that surrounds the task! Homework can feel like the equivalent of cleaning a public toilet for your student. It is dirty, and yucky, and not at all appealing. The brighter, and more positive spin you can put on this, the more likely you are to get it done and before you know it, that public toilet cleaning mindset has become a quick and painless counter wiping type of mindset! So first, change the name. This is no longer homework. Here are a few other things you could call it:
No matter what you call it, make sure it is fun for your child, and brings a little smile or laugh from them. Next, be a cheerleader when you can, and a firm standing wall when they are pushing on you to get out of this job. Cheer them on to get them started. If they begin to refuse, have in mind two options for them so they can make a choice, and then stick to the options. Saying things like “I love that you want to go to your friend’s house to play, but you have Bonus Skills to complete. You may complete the skills and go play, or you may choose to not complete them and sit here with me,” lets children know that they have a choice in the matter, and gives them the power to decide what they really want. Knowing those are the only two choices is also motivating to many.
In the moment, try to remember the power of yet and the noticing! When we use the word yet, we leave the door open for something else to happen. When your student hears that word, they can feel empowered to change the course of the task/action/behavior. Sprinkling this word in, can also bring an announcement to your child and yourself. I use this when I feel frustration or anger coming on. I announce that I am not angry or frustrated yet, but I am getting to that place. Then I notice what I can do first, and what they could do to help change emotional environment. This warning is usually enough to help my children take on a new behavior/action plan and it helps me remember that it may be time for me to move towards a de-escalation behavior so I don’t get into the anger or frustration zone too far.
Sometimes, homework can become overwhelming, and motivation is not the problem. Some children need to have a very clear, tangible, simple goal plan. This is a great time to begin to show your student the power of a planner (look for Yellow Wood’s planner to be released soon!), or a “to-do” list! At Yellow Wood, we have found that many students need more than what a traditional “to-do” list has to offer. They need a detailed list they can cross things off of that includes a space where they have help seeing what materials they need, if they were struggling with the assignment and need help to complete it, and maybe some notes on how to help themselves get this done. We have included a free printable for you to use or modify for use in your schooling. However it looks, a list of things to do has been proven time and time again to organize the brain, and improve completion rates in people of all ages. It may take a few trials, and re-visits to get comfortable with this list, but remember, change is sometimes just what we need to keep things interesting enough to get it done! Also, remember that people love stickers, markers, and other tools for recognizing completion at all ages!
One other thing to remember with homework, if you are assigning it. Make sure it is purposeful. Giving 20 practice problems is counter-productive to most learners. If you chose 5-10 really good, really purpose-filled practice problems, you would be more likely to get them completed (because who doesn’t like looking at those lower numbers?), and the learning would be stronger because the practice was more pointed at the skills that needed help. If you are not the person assigning the homework, this is not something you can change, and that is okay.
One more thing that can help homework move towards completion is to think of this as a bonding time with your student. Here you sit, one on one with them, either arguing about doing the task, or you can talk with them about favorite numbers, nouns, verbs, names for purple elephants, whatever the homework relates to - maybe you set up forts and hold a nerf war because it is about a famous battle, and then write answers to the questions, but talk with them and creatively make time for bonding and fun. This time can be beautiful, if you can find a way to bond with your student.
Homework is an essential component of learning and must get done. Try to remember these key points while you are working through it:
Remain positive about the task
Make a list that allows for the recognition of completion
Remember the power of the word yet and a good noticing
Get the tools ready to cross off the to-do list that will best motivate your student
Keep it purpose-filled as possible
Remember this can be beautiful bonding time - not every time, but sometimes
Make it a personal goal to really enjoy your school year: curriculum, curriculum map, students, homework and all this year!