September 17, 2019 // by Laura Malone
We all have those days when we know what needs to be done, but the weight of it all won’t let us lift our heads up off the pillow. Sometimes, it’s because our stress level is too much to bear and other times it’s just because we’re bored. Bored with life and the same old routine. Bored with our to-do lists and responsibilities. Running in the hamster wheel, day after day, burns us out and we become unproductive sloths as the world spins around us.
Benefits of Routines
People naturally create routines to chip away at goals they’ve set, like brushing twice a day so they can have healthy teeth or taking the same route to work every morning because it’s typically the fastest. Routines enable us to accomplish a task without putting much thought into it. Our brains have an autopilot mode that can be very helpful. Like the times I have actually sung all five of my routine bedtime songs to the boys while reading articles or making my to do list for the next day. (Ok, don’t judge. At least I’m not yelling, “Get in the bed!” from my bed.) Have you ever tried singing, reading and writing different things at the same time? I wouldn’t have this superpower unless one of those activities was automatic. Throw in a new song though and my multitasking is over. Autopilot disengages. It only works with the songs that are part of my routine.
Routines can be valuable. We encourage our kids to create them so they’ll become disciplined in making habits of the important things. But, did you know that too much routine negatively effects our brains?
Effects of Routines on Our Brains
Coasting through our day on autopilot weakens the parts of our brains that aren’t being used and life gets boring. We may learn new information, but the part of the brain that determines what’s important enough to store into long term memory decides that this looks like an ordinary day and there’s not much worth keeping here. So, it passes the new information on and we have trouble recalling it later. It causes that frustrating question when you lay in bed at night, “Did I brush my teeth?”
We can see this is true for ourselves. Wouldn’t it also be true for our children? Sitting in the same chair, at the same time, and using the same books every day would be torture for any of us. Right? Days blur together, new information gets lost and boredom, laziness and frustration sets in. If you find yourself dragging your child to the table and bribing him to just PLEASE complete one line of handwriting, it’s time for a change.
Change Helps New Info Stick
Changing things up keeps us energized and surprisingly, it also helps our brains to grow. New experiences exercise the brain. It notices we’re doing something different, so it decides it better pay attention. Areas of the brain that have been snoozing for a while get fired up as the change creates new synapses. The benefits are improved cognitive function, mood and long-term memory.
So, as we aim to maintain our children’s motivation and keep their learning memorable, let’s change it up every now and then. The freedom to shake things up is one of the beautiful things about homeschooling. And you might be surprised at how much the change affects Mama’s motivation, as well. If you don’t homeschool, some of these can be used for kids in traditional schools to revive homework time.
Here are 7 ways I motivate my lazy learners to make school time fun again.
- Change of Scenery – Grab the backpacks and go to the library, local coffee shop or park. We’ve spent many days at our neighborhood park in the Fall and Spring, breathing in the fresh air, getting our vitamin D and admiring God’s handiwork. We sit at the picnic tables and as each child finishes two subjects, they earn play time. Usually, play time is about 15 minutes and then we work on two more subjects. It’s amazing how quickly the work gets done when their reward is right in front of their face.
If getting out of the house doesn’t work as easily for you, simply move the child to a different room. One of my boys does his school at his desk in our school room on most days, but when he’s dragging his feet, he sets up a TV tray and chair in his bedroom and shuts the door. He sits by the window and the new environment transforms his mood.
One of my daughters went through a rut last Fall, so she had the idea to clean out her closet and decorate it to be her new study room. She creatively hung posters and twinkle lights on the walls and organized her schoolbooks on the shelf. That’s where she worked best for a couple of months until . . . . she needed another change.
- Child Teaches – This could be for one subject or the whole day. Your child could teach you or his younger sibling what he’s learned in science that week. He could use a white board and explain his weekly math concept. Not only does this allow the child to be in control (which we know they love), but it also helps them log the information into their long-term memory as they strengthen the recall connections and figure out how to verbally convey the information in their own words.
Field trip on the fly – If you homeschool like us, you may want to scrap the lesson plans and get out of the house for an educational field trip. A few fun and educational places to go without previous planning are museums, gardens, library story time, state parks, nursing homes, cemeteries to visit and hear stories about relatives that have passed away, animal rescue centers, zoos, aquariums, and pet stores.
- Just Add Music – When my First Grader wants to play instead of work, I pull out Spotify and play instrumental or nature music. It’s a special treat that keeps his mind focused. My older kids listen to instrumental music through headphones and it helps keep them focused without the extra noise causing interruptions.
Studies show that listening to music while studying maximizes learning and improves memory because it activates the left and right sides of the brain simultaneously.
- Daily Goals and Rewards – Sit down with your child and look over their assignments for the day. Get their feedback for reward ideas and then help them decide how many subjects need to be done before they get that reward. This works wonderfully for one of my girls (yes, the closet study-room gal, again) who has a difficult time staying on task. Somehow, time always gets away from her. I can usually find her in our music room. Piano and guitar consume her and before she knows it, the day is over, and her work isn’t finished. So, she has started grouping her assignments into reasonable chunks and choosing her rewards. One reward might be jumping on the trampoline for ten minutes after she completes her spelling and writing assignments. Then, when she finishes math and copy work, she may create a video with some of her dolls for ten or fifteen minutes as a reward.
Younger children could choose a special snack, a dance party in the living room, a Mommy playtime, riding their scooter outside, or simply putting stickers on a chart like this one.
Some ideas for the older kids could be fifteen minutes of tech time, practicing a sport outside, going on a walk or spending time on their hobbies. Some kids will need this tactic daily while others may only need it from time-to-time.
- Superhero or Princess Day – If there’s a particular day of the week that is repeatedly difficult for your younger ones to get through, make that the “Dress Up Day”. Discuss it at bedtime the night before and have them plan out which outfit to wear to get them excited. The next morning may go a little smoother as you put the emphasis on the fun part of the day. Doing schoolwork as a superhero or princess jazzes things up a bit and teaches the kids that learning is important, and we can find ways to make it enjoyable in the times when it’s not.
- Semester Celebration – Most children love to show off. If they know that someone other than their parents will see their hard work, they’ll be motivated to begin a task and finish it well because they want others to be proud. Our curriculum, Tapestry of Grace, recommends Unit Celebrations, and my oldest children still remember details from their presentations they did for their grandparents and great aunt a few years ago. A Semester Celebration could be a time to invite friends and family over for cookies and show off their greatest accomplishments for that semester. Guests will enjoy seeing their tests, writing projects, crafts, artwork and even listening to the music they’ve learned and narrative reports on the topics they enjoyed most. I love these because they teach the kids that learning is admirable and meant to be shared with others.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Col 3:23
As we seek to create an attitude of lifelong learning in our children, let’s teach them that learning is fun and when things get boring and new information is lost, we can change things up!
These ideas have been lifesavers for us at times. If you have lazy learners from time-to-time and have some techniques that have worked for you, let us learn from you! Please leave a comment and share these ideas with other homeschool moms.