How to Keep on Keeping On: Ideas for Motivating Struggling Students and Tired Teachers

It's a beautiful day & I can't stop myself from smiling

The Day is nice. The sun is shining. Flowers are blooming. Summer is coming!  I am reminded of a poem by Richard Le Gallienne-

I meant to do my work today—
   But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
   And all the leaves were calling me. 

And the wind went sighing over the land,
   Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
   So what could I do but laugh and go?

Homeschooling is a marathon.  And while it is wonderfully flexible, able to bend and bow with life’s ebbs and flows and seasons, you also do have to actually do it.  Mostly every day.  Whether you (or your kids) feel like it or not.

I’ve been faced lately with many temptations to forget about school.  A couple of weeks ago, it was Easter and we had company.  The six weeks preceeding that, I was recovering from a C-section and caring for a newborn.  The few weeks before that I was dealing with preeclampsia and being nearly nine months pregnant.  And before that it was Christmas.  Now I have a 2 month old and with all the activity of the last few months, I am tired out.

With summer break just around the corner, it can be hard to be faithful to finish well.  It has been many months since the enthusiasm of beginning a new year has worn off.  With the end of the year in sight, it is a challenge to keep the motivation for doing school every day alive.


So, how do we keep on keeping on when faced with chaos and fatigue and students who’d rather have full days of free time all of the time?

First of all, I pray.  I beg the Lord for strength and the motivation to keep going.  The Lord says in Isaiah, Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

After that it comes down to two principles:  change and choice.  Here are a few ways this plays out in my house:

  1.  A Little Scheduling Autonomy– My (schooled) kids are in 2nd and 3rd grades, young enough that I need to be involved in much of their schooling.  Most of the time, I order the day’s lessons.  This ensures that we are following Charlotte Mason’s very wise principle of short and varied lessons. However, when I just don’t have it in me to drag the kids from their own pursuits to do their lessons, I will list the children’s tasks and lessons for the day on a card or white board and put them in charge of fulfilling their tasks.  Some tasks are independent and some require me (to read to them), so with the latter, they must confer together and decide when they want to ask me to read the lesson.  I have found that when given the power of choice, their attitude and willingness is much improved. And then I am not in charge of initiating school and I have found that to be a very nice break.DSCN1753
  2. A Project- The other day for math, instead of doing workbook pages of review, I assigned X-man a project.  He was to look through the grocery store ads that came in the mail, cut out pictures of things he wanted to purchase and paste them on a piece of construction paper.  He had $100 and he needed to use it mostly up without going over.  I gave him a scrap paper to work out his sums, the ads, scissors, construction paper, and glue and he went at it enthusiastically.  He barely recognized that he was doing math.  In January, we did a flower dissection project.  The evening before, my husband had come home with flowers.  My kids asked what they were for and my response, “A project for tomorrow,” engendered much anticipation and cries to know what it was!  They were so excited. A project is a change of pace that fosters interest and therefore, motivation. So when I have the energy for it, it is a good thing for getting my kids excited.
    Math Project

    Math Project

    Flower Dissection & Pollen on the Nose

  3. A Craft or Creative Endeavor– Today when I was listing the day’s tasks, X-man sighed in discouragement.  The last task I listed said, “Craft or Something Creative.” Instantly he perked up- you could see it bodily and in his face.  He was intrigued as much by the idea of a project as by the fact that he could choose what to do.  We discussed options- building a lego creation, inventing something outside, making a game or a book of mazes for his siblings.  He ended up being intrigued during our history reading about the introduction of new numbers to Europe during the Middle Ages that made math easier to do (these were the Arabic numerals we still use today) that he decided to create his own set of numbers.

    Math in a Bucket

    Math in a Bucket

  4. A Change of Scenery- History reading on the trampoline, math on the back porch or in a bucket.  Reading while all snuggled up in bed.  A nature walk around the neighborhood.  A trip to the local park- maybe bring bikes or a ball and call it P.E., or just enjoy all enjoy the fresh air together.  A change of scenery- especially when it is outside- can be fun and refreshing and invigorating.

    Math Outside

    Math Outside

  5. A Change of Method- Similar to the idea of a project, using different methods than usual for your daily lessons can help add interest and motivation.  Using new manipulatives for math, an art print for history, a visual aid for science, or a movie, a puzzle or a board game in place of regular lessons can be very exciting for students.  Lately, we have been using new math manipulatives and we’ve been watching the Acts Visual Bible for our daily Bible lessons.  The kids have been really into Bible especially, begging to watch more every day.
    Pretty Math Manipulatives

    Pretty Math Manipulatives

    So change things up or give the kids some extra choices and see if that helps inject a little enthusiasm to keep on keeping on so you can finish out this school year strong. What other things do you do when your motivation is running low?


Delightful Chapter Books for Read Aloud Time


Read Aloud Time!

It is good to read aloud to your children.  It is good for their vocabulary and reading skills.  It is entertaining and it develops relationships and creates beautiful memories.  I have wonderful childhood memories of my mom reading us tales of adventure and excitement to us every night before bed.

I started reading to my children when they were babies.  I read all of those counting books and word books and started hating reading to my kids.  There were a few good board books- as opposed to ‘bored’ books (thank you, I’m here all week)- but so many made my eyes glaze and just put me right to sleep. I did get rid of a lot of the really boring books and kept the good ones (you can read about those here), but I also rejoiced when my kids got old enough for chapter books!  Books with interesting characters and actual plots!  I was so excited.

Listening to Five Children and It

Listening to Five Children and It

So here is a list of chapter books I’ve read aloud to my children that we all loved:

  1.  Five Children and It This story is our current read-aloud.  I saved it for just after I had my fifth baby- I figured the kids would really identify with the children in the story and thus really get into it.  I was right.  It is about four siblings (and their baby brother) who find a Sand-Fairy and get wishes.  So far, their wishes haven’t turned out so good.  And their adventures are quite amusing.  X-man and Princess K wish that this was all we did for school and they never want me to stop reading, even though the chapters are quite long.  I highly recommend it!
  2. Detectives in Togas–  This one (and its sequel, below) is one of the favorites of my oldest son.  He and Princess K both always objected when the chapter ended and I put down the book.  They couldn’t handle the suspense!  It is a great story- a mystery set in Roman times- with all kinds of surprising twists.
  3. Mystery of the Roman Ransom– The sequel of Detectives in Togas and its equal in fun and twisty mystery.
  4. Mr. Popper’s Penguins– A delightful and very funny tale about a man who dreams about the poles and gets penguins sent to him by post.  It is an outrageously ridiculous story and all of my children absolutely loved it.
  5.  Trumpet of the Swan– My five year old’s favorite story was this one.  He even has a little stuffed swan he named Louis.  It is a story about the adventures of Louis, a trumpeter swan who learns to use a musical instrument to win the affection of his love, Serena.

    Z-urchin & his swan Louis

    Z-urchin & his swan Louis

  6. Ginger Pye– We like funny stories around here and this is another one.  The kids were drawn in by the story of Jerry and Rachel and their intellectual dog, Ginger, who gets dognapped and how they find him again.
  7. Pinky Pye– The sequel to Ginger Pye sends the Pye family on an island vacation where a cat joins the family and learns to typewrite and discovers a secret in the attic.
  8. Charlotte’s Web– This one was one of my daughter’s favorites.  The story of the pig who doesn’t want to end up as Christmas dinner and the spider who helps him is well-known.  We also watched the modern movie with Julia Roberts as the voice of Charlotte and we really enjoyed it.
  9. Little House in the Big Woods (and others of this series)- Another well-known story about the life of the Ingalls, a pioneer family who lived in the midwest United States, as recounted by the second oldest daughter, Laura.  It is charming and sweet and has great detail about life in that era.
  10. The Boxcar Children– This is a tale about the adventures of four children who end up living for awhile in a boxcar in the woods.  We only read aloud the first & second stories of the famous series, the subsquent books can be read by my children themselves for independent reading.
  11. Happy Little Family (and the rest of the series)- The Fairchild Family Series is a charming series of four books about the Fairchild family who have five chidren- four girls and a boy.  They live in the mountains of Kentucky in the early 1900s.  The adventures revolve mainly around the youngest daughter, Bonnie, who goes ice skating, raises ducks, feeds lambs, visits far-off neighbors and goes to school in a one-room schoolhouse.
  12. Betsy-Tacy– I read this book to my daughter last summer and she loved it.  This is her favorite book I have ever read aloud to her.  She enjoyed it so much that she recieved this and the three following books of the series for Christmas and has devoured them all- on her own.  It is the story of the friendship of imaginative Betsy and shy Tacy and the fun they have in their little town of Deep Valley (also in the late 1800s to early 1900s).

*The Chronicles of Narnia -the Focus on the Family Radio Theater version of these books is amazing (as is The Christmas Carol done by them). We listened to this series a couple of years ago and plan to revisit the series again when the kids who were too young to remember get a little older.  We really enjoyed their dramatization of this excellent, classic series.

Getting the Betsy-Tacy series for Christmas

Our School Room: Where Learning Happens and So Does Mess

When we moved into this house two months ago, we made a lot of changes.  One of those changes was our schoolroom.  My husband’s step-dad decided to build us a schoolroom in the garage and I was so thankful and so excited.  He took the wood from the deck we tore out to help build the floor so that the floor would be level with the kitchen, instead of a few steps down.  It also means that our schoolroom floor is nice, rather than a concrete floor and he gave us storage underneath the schoolroom!  He also gave us a window and it is a very nice little room where we can do all of our learning and then shut the door on the mess.

Not that the rest of the house is free of mess at this time.  Or any time.

Anyway, I would like to give you a little tour of our schoolroom.  We also do school at the kitchen table (I like to read while the kids are eating and are therefore more quiet than at other times) and we do some reading cozied up on the couch.

1 Circle Area

This is where we do our “Circle Time.”  Circle time includes practicing our verse or passage (right now it is Psalm 100), practicing our Spanish series (from Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francios) or poem, and then an activity from our daily focus.  On Monday, we focus on geography (right now we are learning the continents and the oceans of the world), on Tuesday, we focus on music (right now we are learning about Vivaldi), Wednesday is poetry day, Thursday is art day (Renoir is our current artist, as you can see), and on Friday, we read a chapter from Wisdom and the Millers.  We finish Circle Time with reviewing our phonograms and playing phonics games.

Underneath the easel, I store GeoSafari stuff, clothespins for pinning cards to our clothesline timeline, and dry erase boards and activities.

2 School Supplies and Kits

Here is where I store our art kits and some of our school supplies.  In the baskets we have a loom, door plaque kit, a flower box kit, perler beads, pony beads, a bracelet kit, pastels and special art supplies, an aquadoodle mat and magnet letters.  In the plastic drawers, I have all the normal office/school supplies: dry erase markers, pencils, pens, highlighters, tape, printer ink, label stickers, notepads, a labeler and things like that.

The basket on the top has our phonics cards and things I use for Circle Time.  And we love having an electric pencil sharpener easily accessible for all to use!

3 Teacher Desk

I sit here (right now, as I type this) often to plan, prepare, print, and pray.  Underneath the desk is a lot of stuff that is only barely organized.  I know where everything is, but it is not efficiently organized like I would like it to be.  I just have not had the time to devote to that yet.  Right now, I am keeping a huge box of stickers ,drawers with pens, pencils, and markers, a file box for school records, my laminator, a box of stationary and my three-hole punch.


4 Student work area

Here are where my students sit.  Each of my older two students have a set of drawers and a basket for their school supplies and books.  The whiteboard is magnetic and the perfect size for our needs.  The table was made especially for me by my sister-in-law’s ver skilled brother.


In this corner, we have our main craft supply cabinet. Way up at the top, we keep paper bags (for puppets), paint sponges, a wood working kit, and our math balance.  The next shelf contains books, special markers, and a ship-in-a-bottle kit.  The next shelf down contains our math manipulatives and supplies (for RightStart Math).  The middle shelf contains a spice rack of little art supplies (including pompoms, googly eyes, sequins, brads, and glitter) and paper of all kinds.  In the lower shelves, we keep paint, do-a-dot markers, big pompoms, craft sticks, stencils, pipe cleaners, and a puppet making kit.

5 Preschool WallI would really like our world map up here, instead of our USA map, since we are doing ancient world history this year.  However, due to several moves happening between my last use of the world map and now, I cannot find it.  Yet.

We also have a chore chart up here.  I haven’t started using it yet, but it is up in hopes that I will be reminded to start that soon.

The pocket chart holds our preschool project.  Z-urchin and I are going through the alphabet and putting stickers (from my big sticker box that is under my desk) on the cards for each letter.  Z-urchin loves this activity and it is sweet time with him.

6 Shelves

Finally, this is our wall of shelves.  We have our nature shelf and nature board, ready to fill with nature things.  We are focusing on learning about birds (through Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Zoology 1: Flying Creatures), so we have some bird guides and pictures up, with our other science books and nature tools.  Then all of our current curriculum and some art books are on the other shelf so I have easy access to them.

We also keep our Child Training Bible and Virtue Training Bible on this shelf.  These are resources we love, designed by a dear friend from college.  Her system reminds me very much of how she liked to study and our study sessions together!

We are now in our fourth week of school, using our new little schoolroom and it is great!