All parents wrestle at times with helping motivate their children. The children may sometimes enjoy the benefits of school, chores, and being forced to play with their little brothers, but they don’t always happily choose those things on their own. That sentence sounds like a parental goal developing, eh?
On a whim, I suggested to Bethel that she use some of her night time after bedtime to do her schoolwork. She was complaining that she didn’t have enough time to play, and that she was always the last person doing school EVERY day. It’s true, but mostly because she is distractible, not because her work is particularly difficult.
She was interested, and I set up some parameters. It meant that she would be working ahead at night (not postponing the day’s work until evening). She would still be responsible in the morning for any school discussions, corrections, or things she decided she didn’t want to do at night. And it meant that she would start by doing double schoolwork one day: today’s work in the morning, and tomorrow’s work after bedtime. An hour after bedtime, she woke us up looking for a calculator to check her work. We had to add a rule: she wasn’t allowed to wake us up to ask questions!
Today I checked her work and discovered that her accuracy was improved, particularly with her grammar assignment. She likes that she gets credit for reading at night (something she does anyway most nights). She said, “I like working when it is quiet. I got distracted a few times, but then I told myself to get back to work.” Right now she is happily playing with playmobil while her brother wrestles with math.
Why is this working?
First, I’m letting her use her best thinking hours to accomplish her work. I don’t understand it, but I can see a difference. In the process, I’m also teaching her to be aware of how she thinks best. We call this metacognition (thinking about thinking– one of the valuable concepts I learned in school).
Second, I’m giving her some autonomy with her schoolwork. While not all parents are willing or able to let their children do school at night, most of us can find creative ways to give our children more autonomy: deciding which subject to start the day with, or even whether standing up to do homework works better than sitting down. Shifting some of the autonomy helps her understand that school is her job, and her responsibility. I should do more of this in other areas.
She might decide she likes doing school during daylight hours after all. Last night she said she was too tired to stay up and went right to sleep at 8:30. That’s okay, because again, evaluating and making decisions based on our assessments is part of maturing. It’s all good.
Of course, you do realize that letting a child do school at night isn’t the important idea, right? It’s a fun illustration, but its small stuff, and might not work with any other child or family. What’s important is learning how our children are motivated, and gradually helping our children shift their way of thinking from one of dependence (mom or teacher takes full responsibility for this part of my life) to independence (I am responsible for my choices). Those goals can be accomplished in a million ways, all best suited to individual mom and child personalities and schedules.