One of the questions about homeschooling that people ask that always surprises me is, "How do you get your children to do their work?"
This surprises me because I wonder why people think it would be an option to not do their work. It's not a choice It's part of their responsibilities.
This is one of my favorite Bible verses:
"Children obey your parents in all things for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." Colossians 3:20 KJV
Homeschooling is an extension of everyday life. They do their work because they have to obey their parents, not just because I say so, but because God says so.
That, does NOT mean there is not the occasional whining, complaining, or procrastinating over school work, because there is (I'm going to talk about that more here in a minute), but generally speaking, I set the expectations and they do what they are asked to do. I try to make learning as fun as possible and allow the children to study things that interest them, but of course there are times when they have to do things they don't like and just get them done whether they want to or not.
I do believe in positive reinforcement. I think it is a good motivator to get things done and done in a timely fashion. In our house, the children have to get their work completed by 2 in the afternoon in order to earn 30 minutes on the playstation. If their work is not finished (and done well), they do not get to play. I have known other people whose children earn stickers towards some kind of prize, TV time, or even one friend whose boys get to go fishing every afternoon if their work is completed on time and done well.
So what if you are having trouble with your children doing their work or chores?
First let's take a look at the second half of that verse:
"Father's, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." Colossians 3:21 KJV
I actually like the NASB ,"Father's do not exasperate your children, so they will not lose heart."
Before deciding if discipline is necessary, I think about that verse and try to decide if it is really a discipline issue, or is it something else.
What kind of things can exasperate our children in a homeschool setting? I think about these questions:
Is the activity/assignment age appropriate?- This can be a hard thing to evaluate sometimes because age and maturity can differ in different children and some children are just not capable of doing things at the same rate as other children. But, overall is it a task that my 5 year old should be able to handle, or is it too much. The general time guideline I try to go by is 2-2.5 times their age for each subject. So expecting a 6 year old to do 40 minutes of math is not very age appropriate.
Are my expectations realistic?- This too will vary depending on the child. Sometimes we set our expectations based on our experience with a previous child. When my now 12 year old was 7 he could do the majority of his school work independently. But my 7 year old now needs a bit more hand holding and needs me to work alongside him. It is not realistic for me to expect him to do it on his own because his older brother did. I think too about the differences between boys and girls. My 5 year old girl will sit and color forever getting everything perfectly in the lines. But, I know many 5 year old boys that would put a few streaks on the paper and consider it beautiful and completed. Even though we want our children to strive to do the best they can, our expectations may be above what they really are capable of doing.
Were my instructions clear and understandable?- Ok parents. I will confess to being guilty of this and I know I am not alone. Have you ever given instructions that were not completely clear and then gotten annoyed when your child didn't follow them? I have. I have told the children to do something thinking they understood completely what I meant even though it wasn't what I said. Guess what? Children cannot read our minds. If we want them to do something correctly, we have to be specific in our instructions and not expect them to read our minds and know what we meant even though we didn't say it that way.
Another thing I wanted to mention here is that sometimes we give too many instructions all at the same time. I do that a lot. I will give a list of things that I want done. Unfortunately my 10 year old especially simply cannot follow a list of instructions ( it is part of his dyslexia) so if I tell him go upstairs watch you math DVD, then come down and finish your grammar worksheet, and then work on your writing paper, he will forget the 2 and 3rd item before he even completes the first one. That is not his fault and not a discipline issue. He is not deliberately disobeying, he just cannot remember a list of instructions. I know better and should not put him in a situation where he becomes exasperated.
Is the task overwhelming? Sometimes we forget what it is like to be a small child. We give them a task to do and think it should be an easy one. Then they have a meltdown and it completely surprises us. Why? Because what seemed to us to be an easy task was terribly overwhelming to your 9 year old. If you can, break it down into smaller steps or work along with your child. If it continues to be an issue, it may just be something they are not ready for and you may need to set that task aside for awhile.
Is it a matter of I don't want to, or is it really I just can't do it? When kids start acting out during the school day, it may not be a discipline issue, it may really be something they just cannot do. Sometimes it can be a readiness thing (they are not ready) or it may be a learning disability or difficulty, or a physical issue such as hearing difficulties, or vision problems. My nephew started throwing tantrums every day when it was time for school. At first it was thought to be a discipline issue, like he just didn't want to do his work. But discipline didn't solve the issue. It wasn't a discipline issue, the tantrums were because he has a difficulty with fine motor skills and is unable to do his work the way it was assigned. A tweak in his school day stopped the tantrum problems and some muscle strengthening exercises will help him develop his fine motor skills.
I am not saying you should not discipline your children if they disobey. There are times when discipline is necessary. I do not tolerate temper tantrums no matter what the reason. The tantrum thrower is sent to their room until they can stop and rejoin the rest of us. There should be consequences to disobedience and of course what is appropriate consequences depends on the family, the child, and the age. We should discipline in love, not anger and not by being harsh and it should not be done in front of others. But, I do think we need to look at the reasons behind what may be causing the issues and make adjustments as necessary. I want my children to love to learn and I never want them to "lose heart" because I am causing them to "be exasperated."
One more thought I am going to leave you with. Do not beat yourself up for past mistakes. What happened yesterday is over. Today is a new day. If there is an underlying issue in your homeschool, you can't do anything about how you handled it yesterday, but you can change today and make more changes tomorrow. His mercies are new every morning! " Great is His faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning." Lamentations 3:23 NLT