It never fails. The kids have soaked in the lazy days of summer, particularly the lazy part, and they are facing with dread going back to school. The thought of waking up early, sitting through school all day, then coming home to do homework just seems like the last thing they want to do after pools, summer camps, and vacations. So just how are you supposed to motivate your student again?
From the youngest to the oldest in your household, they all have unique and individual motivational factors. For the younger, it may be simply looking forward to getting a new backpack. The older ones may be motivated to see their friends or to be that much closer to “getting it over with.”
Tune in closely to how your child responds to motivational cues and adjust your encouragement accordingly. Remember that excitement spreads quickly and easily; so if you’re sharing a positive attitude about the upcoming school year, it will have a definite impact on your children.
Try applying some of these ideas for motivating your student below—whether it’s addressing back-to-school, a mid-year slump, or any other evident lapse in motivation.
Be Real About the Importance of School
Kids’ abilities to understand larger concepts can be surprising. Be upfront with them about the importance of school.
Younger: Talk about how reading can open up a whole world of fantasy and exploration for them. Math teaches them concepts they can use in sports and playing with friends. Learning science helps them develop a better understanding of the world they live in. Create a positive correlation between learning and being able to do fun things in life.
Older: Sometimes when the “fun learning” element is no longer a motivation for a student, straight talk is what they need. Explain how they will not be able to go to college without getting a certain grade in a class—so they’ll need to do the work and do it well, or forget about college. Provide real-life examples of how the classes they are taking now will directly be used in the career field they are seeking.
Challenge Strengths and Reinforce Weaknesses
Just like adults, children can become defeated and overwhelmed when classes are difficult, or they become bored and disengaged when the schoolwork seems too easy.
Younger: Many times, simple things can easily prompt younger learners to overcome obstacles. If they are having trouble with a math worksheet, provide a reward if they focus and listen to your help in working it out. Let them know that you will be there with them to help explain and solve the problem, and then applaud their efforts.
If they are doing really well in a class, provide more supplementation to continue to test their learning in that area and let them know how proud you are of their success. Capitalize on competitive spirits and challenge them to set and accomplish goals for themselves.
Older: Older students may need a little more reinforcement in areas in which they are struggling. It may take getting tutoring help from a peer or teacher they admire or through online courses as an educational supplement. The important thing for older students is to not destroy their spirit—they are not stupid or unintelligent, and it is important that they are not made to feel that way. There is no shame in getting help.
It’s important to provide challenges for students who are unmotivated because they find their courses too easy. Encourage them to find other ways to expand their learning. Visit galleries, museums, or landmarks that relate to their areas of excellence. Part-time jobs or volunteer opportunities relating to these subject matters are a great way to challenge them. For older students, college or AP classes may be a great way to engage and motivate them.
Maintain Consistent and Clear Objectives
A student can easily lose motivation if they don’t even know what to be motivated about. Clear and consistent objectives should be established so a student can know how to measure successes and failures.
Younger: Give them realistic goals based on their strengths and weaknesses. Being able to read a book, achieving As and Bs on a report card, completing an oral report, such small and realistic objectives help to motivate them to then achieve larger goals along the way.
Older: As with younger learners, older students need to know what is expected of them. If they are stressed because they think that perfection is what’s expected, they are more likely to be unmotivated because the goals are impossible. Keep your expectations clear—turned-in homework, passing grades, class participation, etc. When objectives are defined and attainable, students are much more likely to be motivated to accomplish them.
Encourage Socialization and Participation
As with most things in life, school is simply more fun with friends. Socialization is an important component to motivating your student.
Younger: At the beginning grade levels, students are excited to see their friends in class and love their teachers. Seeing each other at drop-off or in the lunch room and recess is oftentimes enough to keep them going to school each day. There may be drama over who sits where or who isn’t sharing, but for the most part, the social aspect of school is motivating. For those days where your younger student seems to be lacking in motivation to go to school, remind them of their friends they will see and how they will be missed by the teacher.
Older: As kids get older, though, the issues with friends become bigger and more severe. Sometimes, it’s because of friends that students don’t want to go to school. This becomes a complex issue, but encouraging your student to focus only on those friends who truly care about them is the key to surviving these years. Sometimes, the motivation may lie in proving peers wrong and holding heads high in spite of the negativity. This serves to not only get your student to school, but also provides an opportunity for significant life lessons.
Facilitating and supporting sports, clubs, part-time jobs, and after-school activities helps to motivate your student by providing outlets to engage socially with those peers with similar interests and to allow for a release and distraction from the stresses of school. When they are able to participate in these avenues daily, it is easier for them to re-approach their schoolwork with renewed enthusiasm.
Everyone has those days where motivation is lacking, but consistent and perpetual lack of motivation in a student is definitely a concern that should be addressed. In some cases, parents may want to consider alternative school choices such as online school for their kids. As each child is unique, strategies to overcome lack of motivation will vary, but maintaining a positive attitude yourself and applying the above methods are great starts.