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Having Trouble Motivating Your Child

By Dianne McLean

I believe all homeschoolers go through this at one point or another – kids aren't motivated, they sit for what seems like an eternity staring at the same math problem, they daydream, they throw fits when you try to get them to do their work, etc.  Even if you tell them they can't go play with friends until they are done, they just don't seem to care.

We parents tend to believe that playing with friends is the problem.  We feel our children "need" friends, when they are clearly telling us that family is more important to them because they aren't striving for the goal of being with friends. Even if  you are constantly arguing and being with family is a negative experience due to their own lack of obedience, they are still with family.  

So a 12 or 13 year old boy dragging his feet on his assignments and not caring whether he sees friends, should signal a big clue that the problem isn't your son, it's the relationship as well as a lack of accountability.  So how do you ease the tension in the home and instill accountability in your child?

I went through the exact same situations with my kids when I first started homeschooling them.  These are some of the things that I did:

  1. Find WHAT motivates them. For my kids, I couldn't tell them "you will see your friends when you finish your work" because they really didn't care or respond to that. They would dawdle until 10pm or later. They had my full attention, and kids will do that subconsciously – even if it was negative attention.
  2. Next, I had to SHOW them what they could receive – show them how wonderful that reward is, give them a taste.  Once they felt the thrill of freedom based on their own accomplishments, it became easier for them to strive for that.
  3. Instill ACCOUNTABILITY – I did it using these strategies:

    • Level of accoutability #1 – We began by scheduling Fridays off.  I created a policy which was that we did lessons Mon-Thurs, and we would schedule catch up time in the morning if needed on Friday, then we went to the park or on a field trip. But in the beginning, they would still whine and dawdle. So what I told them was this: "I teach Mon-Thurs until 2pm, during each lesson block I give more than ample time for you to complete your seatwork, if you do not complete it, we ARE moving on to another subject and your uncompleted work becomes homework. I do not teach after 2pm." (However, I was flexible, if they needed me as a parent after 2pm to help them with homework or they needed more instruction, I would certainly do so). If they chose to dawdle in the evenings, it no longer had bearing on me. I still went about the things I wanted to do instead of standing over their shoulder getting angry. This created accountability on their shoulders for their time, and it was immediately more peaceful in our home (remember not to get angry, it's their choice and their consequence).
    • Level of accountability #2 – This was in conjunction with the Fridays. Park day was also an outlet for ME. So I told them that if they didn't have everything done by the time we left, they would have to go and do their homework in the car or on a park bench and can't visit with friends – they are not keeping me from enjoying my day off. With my daughter, this happened ONE time and she learned to stay on task. With my son, it took two lonely park days doing his work while all his friends played basketball in the distance, and one benched baseball game (the coach benched him for being late) to teach him.
    • Level of accountability #3The next level was to let them decide on their rewards. Why should I plan the field trips? I let my kids make a schedule of field trips (within reason of our budget of course), it's good leadership training for them – AND it gives them a goal to shoot for. They think about the activity, they plan for it, they look forward to it.  They would even call their friends and invite them, so now they had an obligation to do everything in their power (which means their work needs to get done) to attend.
  4. I utilized my human support system – specifically my husband. They (my husband and son) are both very much outdoorsmen, so they like to hunt, fish, target practice, work on cars, ride dirtbikes, etc. I asked my husband to schedule one afternoon a week after work with my son. His contingency was that the previous week needed to have a 100% completion record (everything was done on time with no arguments). So he would check their previous week record on Sunday and then they would plan their outing for Tuesday or Wednesday evening.  What kid doesn't want to go dirtbike riding in the middle of 
  5. the week, even if it's just for an hour or so, with his dad?  Now, I ought to digress here by saying that family time was NOT conditional in our home as a general policy – don't misconstrue these "special events" as manipulation of love or relationship.  We prayed together, ate together, read scriptures together, and spent plenty of family time together doing really fun stuff without even mentioning their academics.  But the "extra" days were just that, "extra", and they were contingent upon performance.  And of course all of these things were great for my husband to release some energy after a long day at work, so he looked forward to it.  Taking the dirtbikes out for an entire Saturday might seem fun for a young couple or family, but when parents get older those Saturdays can get quite long, so a quick evening trip was perfect for our guys.

    With my daughter, she also loves to spend special time with her dad. So they would go have an ice cream cone, go see a movie, or go shopping (yes, he took her to Claire's, what a guy!)  They tried to put her on a dirtbike, that didn't work out so well, she's quite girly.  Sometimes they would just go and get haircuts together, go to the library, or paint a canvas of the sunset (yes, they did this too) anything to spend that extra time.


What about dinner time?  Because our family is really big on having dinner together, on the days they had scheduled for their outing I would crockpot some meatballs for quick meatball subs, or some pulled pork for BBQ sandwiches.  They would come in from loading up the truck, put a blessing on the food, and out the door they would run with their dinner in hand.  It would be the FASTEST family dinner, but it was worth it. They had to stop riding when it got dark anyways, so we would always make up for it with family dessert.

And really it didn't take long before the conditional part was no longer an issue, my kids saw the fruits of their labor – because not only did they get the extra outing with mom or dad, they also had free time to do a lot of other things like go be with friends, explore personal interests, and just relax without mom breathing down their neck about their assignments. They saw what would happen if they just buckle down and do the work.  We stopped having motivational issues – and arguments – once all of these things were in place.  My husband came home to a happy wife, instead of a stressed out mess.

Spending time w

ith their father one day a week, and having a pleasant outing with mom on Fridays, developed something in my kids that I presumed we might lose when they become teens – and that was a love for family time.  It was extremely valuable and now that they are adults, they express how grateful they are that we instilled these family values in them and encouraged them to succeed.

If you don't have a father (or mother) in the home, is there a family member or a close friend you can lean on for support? What about other homeschoolers?

I hope this was helpful for you – and would love to hear your ideas and suggestions for motivating your tweens and teens while homeschooling them!

Transcript Seminar

High School to College – 
*If you have a child entering middle school this year or higher (6th grade or higher), this workshop will have important college preparation information you will not want to miss!!  Does preparing your children for college absolutely terrify you? Are you wondering how you are going to get your kid ready for college? Can your homeschooled child even go to college? What are you going to do about transcripts? What is a transcript and how do you make one?  Getting in to college is not the same for homeschoolers as it is for students who attend accredited schools.  It’s actually easier – yes easier!  You just need to learn the language that colleges are speaking today and PREPARE EARLY.  Things are NOT the same as they were even 2 years ago, the admissions requirements are changing rapidly.   I have helped hundreds of homeschoolers each year apply for the toughest admissions, and they all get accepted.  As a result, I am on top of every change that is occurring in college admissions.   In this 90 minute webinar, we will cover everything you need to know about the latest college admissions changes and how they affect homeschoolers.  You will understand what a transcript is, why your child needs one, and how to complete it.  You will understand everything your child needs to do to prepare for college, including early preparation and eliminating redundancy in academics so you can save money and time.  And you will learn how you can accomplish all of it with ONE checklist and a transcript.  

Here is the replay of the September 27th session with Dianne McLean- Note: this is a 90-minute webinar, and the offer contained in this presentation has expired.

However, Dianne has created a 12-module course that goes really in depth on the topics which were presented in this webinar.  Check your email for the announcement! 



Handouts for this seminar:

Generic Transcript (with errors as noted in the seminar):




Honors Transcript (with notable errors):




Language Arts – types of essays:




Seminar NOTES:








Dianne McLean

Dianne McLean has been homeschooling since 2003. She has worked with thousands of homeschoolers and hundreds of homeschool groups to pioneer social activities, help form group policies with leaders, and participated in issues which affect the homeschool community as a whole. Her approach is always practical and effective. She also specializes in working with middle to high school level groups to help prepare for college entry and is familiar with the latest developments of Common Core and how it is affecting future college students. She directs a national support organization, Home Education Council of America; and has developed numerous other websites to help home educators in their efforts. Dianne has been leading online seminars, webinars, and classes online in an innovative online setting to offer live interaction no matter where you live in the world.


If you would like to continue to work with Dianne on transcripts and college planning, please upgrade your membership to Plus level.


Beating Reading Difficulties

by Judy Waitley, past board member of HECOA Special Needs Advisory Board

Approximately 10 million children in the United States alone suffer from reading disabilities.  Not only does this affect their ability to learn to read but it affects every area of their lives.  Out of the 10 million children that are diagnosed with reading disabilities, only 2% of them actually go on to finish a four year college degree.  If intervention is sought early, these same children have a 90-95% success rate of overcoming their diagnosis thus giving them a greater chance at success later in life.

A reading disability won't "magically" go away but it can be managed successfully.  For many children suffering from a reading disability, the problem lies in decoding; converting single sounds such as the word "bag" into smaller pieces of sound.  Decoding is a skill that is unconscious and automatic for most but when it isn't, problems result.  Decoding issues can also lead to comprehension problems and converting sounds to written language.  When specific reading disabilities such as Dyslexia or Visual Processing Disorder are thrown into the mix, parents end up frustrated and frazzled trying to figure out how to help their children.

Dyslexia is a reading disability that causes difficulty in reading, writing, and spelling.  It has nothing to do with a child's intelligence or the "want" to learn.  In fact, many dyslexics have an above average IQ score.  With that fact in mind, can you see why early intervention is so important?  A child that has the mental capability of being challenged academically but does not have the language component of those abilities will become even more frustrated as time goes by.  Writing essays, understanding textbooks, and even grammar skills are all harder for a student that has dyslexia thus making it harder on the homeschooling parent trying to help their child succeed.  Dyslexia is not a sentence of failure.  Great minds such as Henry Ford, Patricia Polacco, and Stonewall Jackson were diagnosed dyslexics.  Your child just may be the next great inventor or children's book writer despite their diagnosis!

Visual Processing Disorder (VPD) also affects a child's ability to read but this diagnosis is a bit different in that it is a reduced ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes.  There are many specific sub-categories of VPD but all usually affect reading in some way.  VPD is more common than most people think and many times a child will be diagnosed with other issues such as dyslexia only to find out later it was VPD causing the problem.  Children with this diagnosis many times have 20/20 or greater vision which is why VPD isn't always thought of first.  As with any diagnosis, it is not a sentence for poor reading and language skills if intervention is sought early and treatment is consistent.  Even if the issues aren't found early in childhood, a student can still have success in managing the issue with consistent treatment.

There are many simple things you can do during your homeschool day to help your student with dyslexia or visual processing disorder.  Although they are two different diagnoses, they share many similarities and many of the same tips and activities apply.

  • Practice reading from many different types of materials
  • Use adaptive technology such as screen readers and text to speech capabilities
  • Seek out curriculum that will play to your child's strengths
  • Adapt curriculum to fit your child's needs by allowing answers to be done orally or using audio books and movies for literature
  • Use large print books and magazines
  • Highlight important information so the student knows what to focus on
  • Use color coded instructions

A reading disability does not mean a child will never become a good reader. It does not mean they will never enjoy reading.  Seek help early on if you feel there is an issue.  If you have a diagnosis or an idea of what your child is struggling with, be consistent in treatment.  Most importantly, remember that you are not alone in this.  HECOA is more than happy to answer any questions you may have concerning reading disabilities.  Remember, we are not physicians and cannot diagnose your child's issues but we can provide resources and encouragement to help you in your homeschooling journey.

To get you started, here are some resources recommended by HECOA's members:

National Center for Learning Disabilities – Dylsexia

Homeschool Reading Programs for Dyslexia

VPD in Detail

National Center for Learning Disabilities – VPD

Zane Education (video-based therapy)




What is a Unit Study

We frequently get asked about various methodologies of home education.  Unit Studies is one way that home educators incorporate many academic goals into one area of interest.

Unit studies entice children to learn about history, write essays, and perform scientific and mathematical equations using topics they are already interested in, and can be built around nearly any focus. If your child prefers to spend hours playing with a favorite toy, drawing pictures, playing a musical instrument, playing outdoors, watching sports, or playing video games, you can build a unit study and cover nearly all of their academic subjects from one area of interest. Units can be as short as two weeks to more lengthy durations, such as spending a few months or a year studying the Renaissance, Ancient Egypt, or the Exploration of America. Create a unit study to prepare your children for an upcoming family vacation, for example studying the rainforests (trip to Hawaii); marine ecosystems (tidepools, or a trip to Sea World); forestry and North American wildlife (trip to a national park); American Government (trip to Washington D.C.); the possibilities are endless. You can even do a unit study on an area of compassion or service, such as caring for a relative.

What is needed to create a Unit Study? How do you cover all the subjects with just one topic?

All unit studies begin with questions. Everything around you will provoke some level of curiosity. Who created the toy your child is playing with? What country is the creator from? What is their history? Once a child is talking about the history of the toy, what questions could be presented about the culture and geography of the inventor’s homeland? What is the monetary system of the country they lived in? What is their government like? What do they eat? Assign research to answer these questions, immediately immersing a child into reading. Be sure to read aloud with the child for part of the time, even if they are a teenager, as this will help assess their vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation. Younger children can identify pictures, read fictional stories that bring the topic to life, and even write their own versions of stories.  This is how the veteran home educators do it – but you may wish to purchase unit studies that have these things already lined out for you.  There are many available on the internet – some are even free!

Some English teachers would say that writing is broken down into four main structures: Narrative Essays – describing a sequence of fictional or non-fictional events – essentially a story; Expository Essay – informing, explaining, describing, or defining the subject to the reader. An expository can also be a journalistic news story; Persuasive Essay – guiding the reader toward an idea, attitude, or action by rational means, relying on “appeals” rather than coercion; and finally Technical Writing – translating complex concepts into simple language to enable the reader to perform a specific task in a specific way.

Whenever teaching a unit study topic, incorporate at least one assignment from each of the four writing structures throughout the study, whether it be over several weeks, or a year. This will ensure a child has knowledge of these structures as they get older and prepare for college.

Math and Science are easily adapted into unit studies, and the examples we introduce from time to time on HECOA reveal that nearly anything has some mathematical or scientific aspect to it. From the mechanical to the chemical composition, there is always an inference to how something works, how people do things, and what can be done to make it better and improve the world around us. Measuring, counting, deducting, graphing – from simple addition to calculus and trigonometry – math is truly in all things. If it is uncomfortable branching outside of a textbook with math, simply substitute your topic for the examples used in your current curriculum. For example, your textbook says “When Jane purchased two shirts with a $20 bill…..” You could instead say “When Jane purchased two sets of Legos with a $20 bill…” and pique the interest of the child who loves Legos. While perusing such topics as Legos, or maybe even Chocolate, one can see how easy it is to incorporate individual interests and ideas into a unit study, and become more excited about learning.

This is just a brief explanation of what a unit study is, and certainly all unit study designers are not alike.  At HECOA, we like to see parents designing their own units of study – or at least altering a unit study that they have purchased or obtained to their child's interests, because that truly is the definition of a unit study.

For our HECOA members, we offer free unit studies from time to time – we are currently running a series of free unit study downloads (you will need to join HECOA and then log in to download them):

Lego Unit Study

Chocolate Unit Study

Pirate Unit Study

Folklore Unit Study

Holidays Around the World Unit Study

Indoor Fun and Games

Snowed In?

Imagine that it’s below freezing for the eighteenth day in a row, and you nearly throw your remote control at the TV when the weather reporter cheerfully announces that the arctic air mass over your state is going to stay put indefinitely. The kids have energy to burn and have just asked if they can bring their baseballs and bat inside if they promise to be very careful. Quick – you need some fun – and nondestructive – indoor games!

Here are two games that don’t even require a screen or an electrical outlet!

Have you heard of jacks?  This game originated hundreds of years ago and some of us may remember this game, but do you remember the rules well enough to teach your children? Jacks is a good game to put in the line-up, because although it can be played in the middle of the kitchen floor, it can provide entertainment and even burn some energy for two players at a time.

Another game that may not be as familiar to some of us is Chinese Jump Rope. More advanced than traditional jump rope (and probably older even than jacks), this is a game that can really get three people breaking a sweat.  The nice thing about Chinese Jump Rope is that nothing will swing up and hit the overhead light or ceiling fan, and it really doesn't take up a lot of room.

No matter how many days your family has to endure an arctic blast, you can all stay cozy inside and moving with these oldie-but-goodie games!

Now, let’s start moving…

How to Play Jacks
To play, you can use a jacks set, which typically comes with at least 10 metal jacks (which have six tips at right angles to one another) and a small bouncy ball. In a pinch, you could even use 10 small stones, dice, etc. – anything you can easily pick up with one hand.

The jacks are scattered on a hard-surface floor. Player One will bounce the ball and pick up the appropriate number of jacks (with the same hand) before the ball bounces a second time. The number of jacks to be collected increases by one each round (first the players try to pick up “onesies,” then “twosies,” etc.). So on round one, Player One will try to pick up one jack, ten times in a row until he’s collected all ten jacks. Then he will toss all 10 jacks back onto the floor, and this time try to get two jacks per bounce. If he doesn’t get the appropriate number of jacks, or fails to catch the ball, it will become Player Two’s turn.

When it becomes Player One’s turn again, he’ll pick up where he left off. If he was going for foursies when he made an error, for example, he’ll scatter all 10 jacks and again try to get four jacks per bounce. On numbers such as four that don’t divide evenly into 10, the players will need to use one bounce to pick up the remainder (in this case, two jacks).

You can declare a winner if you’d like – whoever collects the most jacks in all 10 rounds or whoever gets done first. There are many variations to this ancient game, and many ways to make it more interesting once you’ve mastered the basic rules.

How to Play Chinese Jump Rope
To play Chinese Jump Rope, you’ll need three players and 10-20 feet of thin rope or bungee tied in a circle. Two of the players will put the rope around their ankles, holding it taut with feet spread shoulder-width apart. There should be enough room inside the enclosure for the third person. The three players must decide on the jump pattern, and usually a song to accompany it.

The basic moves are both feet inside the rope (called “in”), both feet outside the rope (“out”), both feet outside the rope on the same side, or, alternatively one foot outside the rope and the other on the rope (different people call both of these “side”), both feet outside the rope but on different sides (“straddle”) and one foot on top of each side of the rope (“on”).

So for example, in the pattern “in, out, in, left side, right side, on,” Jumper One would jump both feet inside the rope, then jump with both feet outside of the rope, jump with both feet back in, jump so the left foot lands outside the rope and the right lands on the rope, do this on the opposite side, and finally jump so both feet land on the rope.

If the jumper completes the whole pattern correctly she can move up to the next level, in which the rope is moved up the rope-holders’ legs a bit and the sequence is repeated. The jumper will continue until an incorrect jump is made or she touches the rope accidentally.

Then she will become a rope holder and one of the rope holders will become the jumper. When it again becomes Jumper One’s turn, she’ll start over from the very beginning.

Share on our Facebook page some of your ideas for indoor winter fun and games!! 

We also welcome any videos produced by home educators which demonstrate these and other indoor games.

Photo Puzzles

Puzzle Me a Picture!

What would happen if you take two things that people love, photos and jigsaw puzzles, and mix them together?

You would get an invitation, gift, or party game that no one could resist and everyone will love. Photo jigsaw puzzles are easy to create and will leave a lasting memory time and time again. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Read More…

What is a Unit Study

unit study

We frequently get asked about various methodologies of home education. 
Unit Studies is one way that home educators incorporate many academic goals into one area of interest.

Read More…

NBTS Closing Comments

This is the recording from the closing comments of the last day of the 2014 Not Back to School Summit! If you would like to stream all of the videos from our summit, please upgrade your membership now. Read More…

The Homegrown Preschooler

The Homegrown Preschooler – 
In this fun and creative workshop, Kathy shares how to create an amazing preschool experience for your child at home. From the latest in scientific research on child development to the organization of supplies, this information packed workshop will help you prepare your child for kindergarten and make wonderful memories along the way! Read More…

Power of an Hour