All I want for Christmas is for my child to finish the year strong. If this sounds like your wish list, you’re not alone. The three weeks leading up to that Holiday break is prime time for your child to come down with a serious case of distraction in school. What can you do to keep your child motivated this December?
The key is to remember that kids are motivated by different things, because kids are interested in different things. “Every topic can be made boring,” says Alice Thomas, President and CEO of the Center for Development and Learning in Metairie, Louisiana. “And every topic can be made interesting.”
Human beings are, by nature, motivated to learn. “The question is: are they motivated to learn what we want them to learn? It is up to adults to understand what individual children are most motivated by and to use that as a teaching experience,” Thomas says. “It’s the job of adults to make subjects active and exciting to children.”
Teachers do this by giving students choice, building confidence, and relating the subject to areas of student interest. During times of year when students are likely to be more distracted, teachers often plan in advance to make their curriculum particularly exciting, such as a semester-long project that culminates in a group presentation.
Charles Smith, Professor and Extension Specialist in the School of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University, says a decline in student motivation is normal before winter and summer break. “It’s hard for kids to keep the same level of enthusiasm and intensity all year long,” Smith says. “But an experienced teacher knows how to engage students in the learning at the end of the semester or end of the year. And there are ways parents can engage their children, too.”
When it comes to motivation, children are similar to adults: the work must be meaningful. “Holidays or no holidays, children need to be interested in the topic in order to be motivated to do their homework and participate in the classroom,” Thomas says.
Here are a three pointers for working with your children to stay motivated and interested in school, even with holiday preparations under way:
Help children feel in control.
Parents can help children take control of their learning by giving them choices. Children can choose which homework assignments to do first, whether they will play before or after their homework, and how many breaks they will take and when. Children can also gain control by recognizing that they can negotiate homework assignments with their teachers. If, for instance, your child is assigned to write about a topic she isn’t interested in, you can encourage her to think about what they she like to write about and then talk to the teacher to see if that would be acceptable. Thomas says nine times out of ten a good teacher will recognize the value of children being excited about their learning. If writing about a topic of interest achieves the same goals for the teacher, why not?
Help children feel confident.
When children feel confident, they are more likely to be motivated. Parents can help boost children’s confidence by having them teach about what they are learning at school. “This doesn’t have to be artificial,” Smith says. “Often times, parents don’t know about some of the subjects, and the kids can actually serve a valuable role in teaching their parents.” At-home debates and educational games are also helpful when it comes to confidence building, as they provide a forum for discussion and allow for close interactions with parents. This in turn serves to strengthen children’s confidence as individuals and as learners.
Help children feel connected.
Just like adults, children are more motivated when they feel a personal connection to something. Personalizing is an important critical thinking skill teachers work to develop in their students, often by asking open-ended questions that help students connect to text. You can take this to another level when it comes to your child’s school work. If your child complains about an assignment, ask open-ended questions to prompt her to think about how the assignment will be useful. Encourage her to think about how she can relate to the subject, or how she might use the skills she’s learning in other aspects of her life. Making learning social is another strategy regularly used in the classroom to help children feel connected, and parents can facilitate social learning at home, too. Talking to family members or neighbors about her experiences with a subject can serve to keep the learning interesting for your child.
Children and adults need to feel in control, confident, and connected. With these three Cs lined up, motivation is sure to follow.