Issue 57 | August 16, 2013 | Motivating students (and boys in particular)

Newsletters Archive

How does a home schooling mom motivate her high school son to produce work that matches his potential?  

In response to this question, we received insightful emails from Peach Smith, a home schooling mom from New Jersey.  Read her two contributions below. 

INSIDE NARHS: Helping the Struggling Math Student

It is not uncommon for homeschoolers to look for remedial math solutions when the student shows signs of gaps in the foundational skills.    By the time a student reaches algebra or above, if concepts such as fractions operations or the division process are not mastered, moving ahead with math learning becomes frustrating and sometimes impossible.  What we recommend in many cases is the Key Curriculum Press units on FRACTIONS, DECIMALS, PERCENTS and MEASUREMENT.  There are 3 or 4 booklets in each unit which move the student's understanding, in small increments, from the initial basic concepts to higher levels of processing.  The work is laid out on each page in a user-friendly way that does not overwhelm a struggling student.  We regard each set of workbooks as a .25 credit, so once all units are complete and the tests are taken, the student has earned one full credit in "Foundations for Algebra."  We only wish Key Curriculum would come up with a unit on division.    

Featured this week: Homeschool Mom Peach Smith

In our last newsletter (August 2) we asked the question, "How does a home schooling mom motivate her high school son to produce work that matches his potential?"  Among the answers we got were these two ideas from Peach Smith:



Give him an idea of what he is working towards!  First, ask him what kind of life he envisions: have a family, run a business, own a home, a car, what kind of clothes, how often does he expect to eat out, etc. Then, help him calculate what kind of income he needs to sustain that lifestyle.  My oldest son immediately wondered if he should change his choice of car, and my youngest insisted that he was going to have that Porsche anyway, he'd make the money!  Then, take him to a job fair - show him what jobs are out there, what the earning range is, and what kind of an education is required to apply. One of my sons is now determined to get his PhD as a result!  Next, take him to a college fair, and let him talk to the colleges that have areas he may be interested in - whether or not they are the same as yours - and be sure to have him ask what requirements are needed for admittance, scholarships, etc..  One of my sons came away with stars in his eyes after talking to the Air Force academy, and I got to hear about this and that airplane for hours that night.  The result is that you have a young man who has a much better understanding of why he is doing Algebra and yet another English class!     



One of my sons has a range of special needs: dyslexia, eye teaming, spatial orientation issues, auditory processing, hearing challenges, sensory integration disorder, allergies, just to mention a few.  He has gone through intense therapies, has been hospitalized numerous times with life-threatening conditions, and we almost lost him twice. When he was a young child, his pediatrician sat me down to insist that I 'face facts': my son would never read, write, or understand what was going on around him. He would be a cart-pusher at the local supermarket, and the sooner I understood that, the better for both of us. In time, I should even consider an institution for him.  In my heart, I knew that he was wrong, and vowed that, with God's help, I was not going to let my son down. We were already a homeschooling family, and so not new to the concept of going against the grain. The last 15 years have been a most interesting journey. It has been very hard at times, and more than once I have wondered if I should give up - but it has also been 15 years of beautiful memories and miracles. Thanks to an amazing husband who worked two jobs and took every side job he could in-between, I could stay at home. With God's help I was able to develop programs for my son, find therapies for him, study him to figure out new and untried ways for reaching such a child.  At the same time, I was also homeschooling a highly precocious daughter who needed to be driven everywhere due to her music and competitions, homeschooling an adoptive daughter through high school, and homeschooling our youngest - a completely normal boy who delighted more in taking toys apart to figure out how they worked, or building model airplanes than doing math! Now, my special needs son is doing very well as an honors student.  His vocabulary surpasses college level, and he can debate college professors into the ground. He still struggles in many ways, but we developed processes to help him figure his way through new situations, and few people even realize that he has any issues at all. Outgoing, cheerful, the consummate gentleman, my son now towers over me, and I know that he is going to be all right. However, when people ask me a question such as, 'how do you motivate your son', I must say that the key is: understand and know your children. Have a close relationship with them, and yes, that is work, but if you know your child well, that is most of the battle.  There were so many times when my son wanted to give up.  The poor kid worked so hard. He fought and struggled every day to understand and to learn, he struggled with learning how to do simple things like walk through a door without hitting himself, or take the stairs without falling.  He watched his siblings excel in academics.  At homeschool co-op, he watched his friends read aloud in class.  In public he saw the stares when he tried to read a sign out loud.  And sometimes he just wanted to give up. 5th grade was the worst year. He just sat at the table with tears welling up in his eyes, simply unable to figure out how to go on.  That was the year he didn't do any 'school' at all. - I knew that doing school in any traditional way would break him completely. I gave him the task of digging a WWI trench in the back yard. He went at it with a passion, and dug almost the width of the yard and deeper than himself while I read stories aloud to him and we talked about history, counted feet, yards, calculated how much barbed wire he'd have to buy and how much it would cost.  We re-enacted WWI stories with his siblings, led charges and pretended it was that famous Christmas Eve all over again.  He went to bed every day tired and supremely happy.  His self-esteem returned, as well as the will to try again.  It would take three more years before he was reading properly, but he never lost hope the same way again.  In 9th grade there were times when he would panic at what seemed like an overwhelming sea of words, facts and materials, but he came through each time by taking a break, a walk or a little outing in which we would just talk. Parents have such power when it comes to being able to uplift their children, I wish more could see how much they can do! And all the time - we talked about his future: what he would do in the years to come, encouraged his dreams.  At the same time, we gave him reality checks regarding what he would need to face, to learn and to do to accomplish those goals - and that he would need to do this on his own - his parents would not be there for him for the rest of his life! Whenever possible we sent him out into the world: to scouts (he is almost Eagle now!), to events, Church work, helping and working for the elderly, the poor, the hungry, earning life guarding and first aid certifications. By 8th grade this boy who can barely see properly understood what kind of income he would need for the lifestyle he wanted as an adult, what degree programs he'd need for that, how to apply to college, leadership, speaking before an audience. Having spent so many years encouraging him to reach his potential, it has been so much easier in high school to remind him about where he is heading. I encourage every parent, but especially parents of children who have their unique challenges: always, always maintain a healthy relationship with your children so that you can talk to them and reach them. Don't isolate your children. Yes, the world is insane and getting ever more so, but if they never learn what realities they must face, how will they build up the strength to live in the world the way it is now? Teenagers have their own worlds, we all know that, but a teen - especially a boy on his way to manhood - needs to know what he is working for, and what his end goals are.  Sometimes 'school' seems like an endless futile journey to a young man who is physically ready to be a man and do something. Treat him like a man: show him what his responsibilities will be, show him that school is the training ground, make sure that he has physical work to do, and expect him to act like a gentleman at all times.  Lastly: always pray for God's help, we can never do it alone....