Homework: building motivation in children

They’ve been running, jumping, reading, painting, playing, listening, learning and speaking, and socialising. Then they come home, armed with more stuff to do. Ahhh, homework. How we all love thee. 

A big part of homework is having the motivation to get it done. Let’s be honest, after a big day of learning and playing, it’s hardly surprising that our children aren’t really feeling pumped to pull out the books again when they get home. I’m not sure we parents are feeling particularly motivated either!

Motivation is something we can learn and grow, which is great news! Not so great when it’s missing and you have homework to do though. Here’s some quick tips to help move things along:

Be a Robot

Sounds weird, right? Think about how robots work - they just get in and get stuff done. They don’t think about it, they don’t hesitate. They are programed to just go, go, go. That’s what we need to do sometimes when our motivation levels are low. 

Turn it into a novel game with your children. Pretend to be robots, talk about what robots do and how they don’t stop and get grumpy about jobs, they just do it. So when your children get home from school, have them come in, get their homework books out and pop them on their desk straight away. Don’t think, just do. 

Once they’ve got them out, they can go and have some afternoon tea, then they switch back into ‘robot’ mode and head back to their desk and open a book. Quite often, once we get started on something it’s not so bad, it’s the actual ability to get started that holds us back. So have your children trial being a ‘robot’ for a week, and get them to keep a tally of their homework completion rates in ‘robot’ mode versus non-robot.

Start with the most fun first

Homework can be a total drag, for children and parents alike! It’s hard to feel motivated to do something that you might detest. So have your child rank what they can tolerate or enjoy the most, and work back from there. Sometimes by kick-starting with something enjoyable, motivation can grow as they get on a roll, and the not-so-fun tasks seem more manageable.
girl doing homework at desk

Regular breaks

A lot of the time, our motivation dwindles if we think we’re going to be stuck doing something we don’t particularly love for a long time. Help your child set regular breaks, a 10 min stretch and snack for every 20 mins of work.

Sometimes if they’re really engrossed in what they’re doing, they won’t even notice the time fly by and may not require a break, but just knowing that it’s there can often help with motivation.

One thing at a time

When we say ‘go do your homework’ that can conjure up all sorts of overwhelming nightmares for our children. Racing thoughts of multiple subjects and assignments, or lots of projects and books can send them running for the hills.

So rather than just calling it ’homework’, before they get into ‘robot mode’, sit down with them and list out what they need to do for the day. Cover the rest of the tasks up and just focus on the first one. “Time to read 5 pages of your book” sounds much more feasible than just doing all that homework that stretches in front of them. 

Rewards for effort

Now, of course we don’t want our children growing up thinking they get a gold medal for doing their homework every single day, but when we want to encourage the development of motivation for a task that isn’t terribly enjoyable, it’s good to have a little carrot to dangle in front of them (like time at the park, one-on-one time with Mum and Dad, it doesn’t have to mean material rewards!) to kick-start motivation.

Over time we whittle it back. If we think about it, we all operate for some form of reward; we work to earn money, we save up to earn holiday time, we renovate to improve our house- we all set little rewards for ourselves.

Give them some choice

Sometimes we can help build motivation by allowing our children to feel like they’re in control of their homework. Allowing them to choose what they want to work on first can help get the ball rolling. We might make it a ‘closed choice’ by offering them ‘option X’ or ‘option Y’ but they still feel that they have the ultimate say in what they’re going to start on.

Help them to find their own motivation

Chatting to our kids about what interests them and what they feel excited to do can go a long way in building motivation for things like homework. It may be that your child enjoys more creative pursuits, or they love doing sums. 

Motivation grows and changes over time, and even as adults we understand that it is always a work in progress. If we can support our children to learn a few tricks to jump-start their motivation now, hopefully in years to come it will be easier to find their mojo and get back on track when they need to.
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