By Leo Babauta
One of the more difficult, and therefore more interesting, problems in unschooling is the problem of motivation.
In other words, unschooling is just like regular life (in fact, shh don't tell, but "life" and "unschooling" are the same thing!).
The problem that many unschooling families face is: if you don't force the kid to learn certain things in certain ways, that's all well and good, but what if the kid doesn't feel like doing anything? Can they just lay around and watch TV all day? What if the kid wants to do some things but isn't motivated to work hard on them?
So how to solve this problem?
You solve it like you'd solve a motivation problem in your own life. Which is to say, try a bunch of things to see what works.
But here are my suggestions:
- First, don't worry so much about productivity. It's not that important. The meta-stuff is more important -- are they learning how to get excited about stuff, how to learn anything, how to trust themselves, how to be self-sufficient? So how much they get done, and how fast they learn, is a worry you can let go of.
- Second, help them figure out what excites them. If they're watching TV, is there something about the shows they watch that interest them? Maybe good storytelling, maybe ninjas, maybe animals, maybe comedy. Those are good starting points for exploring their interests. Observe them, see what makes them excited.
- Suggest trying new things. If they like comedy, what about reading funny books? Or maybe they haven't shown an interest in geocaching yet, but you think they might if they try it. Trying new things might lead to something they're excited about.
- Challenge them. Sometimes I challenge my kids to do pushups, or pullups, or draw every day for a month, or try being vegetarian for a week. Kids seem to respond well to challenges.
- Talk to them about motivation. It's good for them to understand the problem, and possible solutions: rewards, finding things they enjoy, working on projects with others, sharing their progress publicly. The more they understand how to do this themselves, the less you'll have to do it for them.
- Collaborate. When people work on things together, they're often more motivated. You can collaborate with them, or they can work on things together, or with other people outside the house.
- Set an example. Be motivated. Be excited about what you're doing in your life. Share that with them.
- Help them blog. Blogging is a good way to reflect on what you're doing, but also to share your progress with others. And it's good writing practice.
- Ditch things that they're bored with. Yes, there's value in doing things you don't want to do, and in sticking with things instead of quitting. But it's also possible they're not motivated because the thing they're doing is boring, and so they're going to half-ass it, and that's not a good practice. Instead, find something that excites them more, and they'll be motivated.
There are lots of other solutions, of course. And to be honest, we're still figuring this out ourselves. Our kids aren't always filled with psychitude. We all go through periods of low motivation. And that's OK too.