Comments 10

Q&A – Student Ownership of Studies

How do I encourage my homeschool student to take ownership of his work?

What can I do to get my child excited about learning and desiring to take ownership of his own schooling?

– Nicole

This is a tough one, a dilemma I struggle with regularly. I think boys may naturally wrestle with this a little more than girls, particularly as they reach understanding stage, so I will speak toward the male gender quite a bit in this post.

Here are some ideas we are working with in our home to help our sons and daughter grow to become life-long learners.

1. Help them set goals.

Everyone needs something to work toward – a finish line, a stopping point, an achievement. Each child should have short-term and long-term goals. Short-term goals are daily tasks – chores, studies, jobs that are done daily.These should be achievable yet strenuous, so the child feels he has put in a hard-day’s work (I am so for child labor).

Long-term goals are especially important for late-knowledge and understanding age children. These make weeks worth living, studies worth doing. Examples of long-term goals my children have going right now:

  • finish my grammar workbook by my birthday
  • complete pre-algebra by the end of the calendar year
  • begin saving money toward my first car (like his mother will ever let him drive)
  • learn congregational-style hymn playing, so I can play for church services
  • demonstrate responsibility with my studies, so my parents will let me work a job/apprenticeship and take college courses when I am 16
  • master bread-making

Long-term goals seem to be most effective if the child makes them himself, or feels as though he has set them himself. A wise parent knows how to prompt a child in the right direction, but the young person benefits from setting his own goals and shooting toward them.

2. Teach them to make lists.

I quit making lists for my children years ago. Quite frankly, I can’t keep track of my own lists of my lists.  So, I downloaded a smarty app on my smarter-than-i-phone to keep track of my lists … and then, I forget to look at it and update it. So, my children are on their own.

I have taught them to make 3 kinds of  lists: their goals, and their habitual tasks, and the occasional daily list. My daughter, who was born with a pen in her hand, screaming fully-formed sentences, did not need to be taught to make lists. I have to tell her to stop making lists and get back to work. But the boys have their habitual task lists sticky-tacked to the back of their doors. Their lists remind them what to do. So, any time they ask, “Mom, can I go out and play?” I say

Have you completed ALL your responsibilities?

And inevitably, no matter who it is or how old he is, he runs up and re-reads his private list.

Once, my 12-year-old got too big for his jeans and, when he cleaned his room, he tore down his habitual list and did not replace it. Over the next week, I began noticing tasks going un-done, chores neglected, and schoolwork sub-par. So, one morning, I asked him about it. “I’ve got it all up here,” he replied, thumping his own head with a pencil.

“Prove it!” I challenged, and handed him a sheet of paper. Sure enough, he listed 70% of his daily tasks. With a red pen, I listed the 30% that I had been reminding him every single day that week.

“Put the list back up,” I instructed. He hasn’t argued with that. And things are running smoothly again.

3. Teach them sound study skills

It used to be that this was the area that homeschooled students excelled, but more and more home educators are becoming lax now. In the digital-, convenience-, information-age, we are tempted to neglect teaching our children the discipline of studiousness, thinking that education should be equated with entertainment or ease. It is not. It is work.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not talking about early learning right now. The early knowledge stage, particularly pre-reading, is primarily about obedience, character, and building a love for learning. This is a fun-to-learn time. But by the time our children have entered late-knowledge, definitely by understanding stage, they should understand that learning is their #1 occupation.

Notice, I said “their occupation.” It is their job to pursue knowledge, understanding, and wisdom (cf Prov. 2:1-5) just as much as it is ours to lay it out there. This is contrary to the care-free childhood culture that they live in, but it is God’s model for wise youth.

Our children should discipline themselves to learn from a variety of means: visual, aural, and experiential. Most children will gravitate toward one learning style, and a wise parent will capitalize on this to both instill a love of learning and impart important truths. However, as the child grows, he must discipline himself to learn from all means God will use to teach him. I can’t say, “I may as well sleep through church, because I am a visual learner, not an aural learner. So, I’ll just read the passage, then take a nap while Pastor preaches.” No, my visual children and I must discipline ourselves to pay careful attention and learn.

4. Make them follow directions.

Why is this suddenly a problem with my understanding-stage son? Suddenly, he knows everything, apparently, yet can read no directions nor follow them. I am chalking it up to his age.

I don’t think there is any skill so important in life as the simple ability to read and follow instructions. Rarely ever are directions wrong, and we can’t know unless we follow them to the letter. Maybe that is the “first-born-rule-follower” in me, I don’t know. But I am a stickler for that right now. If directions aren’t read and followed – the vacuum assembly; the math lesson; the game instructions; a recipe – it is all trashed and started over. It is a flunk. It is …

It is IRRESPONSIBLE not to read and follow the directions!

Can you tell this is a big issue around here? I will try to spare you the rant and rave.

5. Give them a carrot reward.

No child, especially not a boy, works for free. I learned this from marriage. Motivation is everything. Boys and girls have to do something for some reason. Else, they won’t. (Life is simple).

The reward could be something so obvious:

Finish your daily tasks, they you can play. The sooner you finish, the more play time you have.

Now, that seems just ROCKET SCIENCE to us moms, but it really did take a little while to get that through to my boys (I don’t think we are dumber than the average bear, but boys don’t think long-term. That is why they stare out the window and wish they were playing instead of actually finishing their work so they CAN play).

After a couple of days, they will begin to wisen-up and work a little smarter, a little harder to get done early and play more. A smart Mommy doesn’t reduce the work load or cut back on studies to allow for more play time; she lets the boys work for it.

A bigger reward could be

If you get 100% on your math page, you can skip the review problems on the next lesson.

That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But, believe it or not, my son who had been averaging 75-80% in math brought his math up to 96-99% every paper in one week. Boy, is he mad he can’t get that 100%. But I am tickled pink he has brought that math grade up.

I have used

If you get a ____ on your ____ you can have extra screen time.

If you finish all your work for the week a day early, you may stay up an hour later.

Long-term goals should be linked with rewards, too. My children have begun asking for them, now, automatically. One child asked his father if he would give him a reward if he won the music competition he was practicing for. My daughter has announced she gets first taste of her own baking. My son has begun dreaming what his first car will look like and where he will go in it (again, he is deluded into thinking I will allow him to drive).

6. Spare no consequences.

I am a firm believer in consequences. They are great teachers. Children who do not suffer the consequences of their own actions and mistakes grow up to become, in our vernacular, “bums.”

Let them pay their own library fines. Replace broken dishes. Re-do wrong studies (my children correct their grammar, logic, and math daily). Clean up their own messes. Apologize for their own wrongs.

He will have “terrible, horrible, no-good-very-bad days” when everything is wrong and he is re-doing, fixing, cleaning up constantly. Good. That’s life and he is learning from his mistakes.  The next day, he will probably do a little better.

Besides, it is already tomorrow in Australia.


  1. Right on.

    The biggest thing I have to remind myself of daily is to not give in. I’ve got 6 who are constantly trying to impose their will on me. We must be more stubborn than our kids. 😉


  2. Food is a VERY strong motivator for my 3 and 4 year old boys. All toys must be picked up and put away (not thrown in a pile in the closet) before they can eat lunch. I let them know to start cleaning when I start preparing lunch, that way when they say “But it’s too hard, will you help me?” I can respond with “If I help you, there will be no food to eat for lunch. You are the kid. The kid made the mess and the kid will clean the mess. I am the mom. The mom takes care of the kid and I will take care of you by getting your lunch.” (Look at that, I even sneak a logic lesson in there!) By the time lunch comes around they are HUNGRY and motivated!

    The other struggle I often have is getting them into the car without dawdling. I’ve always got an armful of stuff to bring with me wherever we are headed, so it’s hard to hand-hold the whole way to the garage. Any boy that gets into his carseat with his straps on (to the best of his ability) before I get there gets a tic-tac. The power that one little orange tic-tac holds amazes me! I call them my “scooby snacks.”


    • I love your ideas, Twighee. You are like a preschool Jedi mind-master.

      And what a great principle you are teaching your sons – “If any will not work, neither should he eat.” We have the same rule here, too.


  3. Hi Lea Ann,

    These are some wonderful ideas to get the children to do what they need to do, whether it is their studies and/or their chores.

    I appreciate the ideas. I especially like the one about if they get 100% correct, they can get a wonderful reward.

    A while back, when I used to watch Dr. Phil, he mentioned that we should figure out what our children’s currency is. Some children like computer time; some like money. As long as we figure out what they like as a reward, we can get the children to do the things they need to do.

    I can tell that you care about your kids. You always give quality content. Your kids are blessed to have you.

    Rebecca G.


  4. Kinda like currency, another author calls it a “love language.” But it all comes down to knowing your child. Some children are motivated by just a kiss or more one-on-one time with mom. But some want a tangible gift. Each child is unique, so we should treat them to their unique desires.

    Well, I have quality readers, too. And they have quality children, too. : ) Thanks!


  5. Fabulous post! I do/have done most of these ideas, but I needed a shot in the arm to get back to them right now. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for kids AND mom to be more lax in the spring!


  6. Nicole says

    Thank you, my friend, that was most informative. However, on behalf of poor G, I think it is only fair if he does all the gas pumping for his mother, that she should at least CONSIDER letting him drive one day. 😀


    • Hey, his father and mother let’s him ride in a van he never bought, which runs on gas he never purchased, to places he will likely not pay for admittance nor food. He is in no ways deprived. ; )

      That said, every time he pumps gas, he gripes how in the wolrd will he afford to put gas in his car if the prices keep going up. (That imaginary car he is saving up money to buy, which Texas will license him to drive in 3 or 4 years but I’m still not sure I will give him permission to do so).


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