Self Motivation in the Absence of Adult Control

I’ve been looking at different educational programs that address intrinsic motivation. Many of these schools follow the Montessori philosophy, but not all. Carpe Diem in Arizona runs an online program and allows students to also attend workshops on specific topics. They allow students to move through weekly computer assignments at their own pace, from workstations reminiscent of office cubicles. I am a big believer that if used correctly, computer technology has the potential to allow for the most productive, individualized instruction possible, essentially allowing all students to work from an IEP.

Thus far, our home school instruction has included independent computer work and group projects. We had a schedule posted on the wall with a different focus on each day. There was a time for math, a time for reading, etc. Sound familiar? It worked, but feet were dragging and I could tell that some of the time, the boys were just not in to my schedule. After looking at the ways some other schools approach scheduling, I decided to try an experiment.


I replaced the daily schedule with a weekly task list. For the past four weeks, I have given the boys a list of deliverables on Monday morning. The deadline for delivery is Friday afternoon. The catch is that school does not end on Friday until all of their work is turned in, or until we sit down and evaluate why all of their work was not turned in. I had seen this idea work in many different school systems, but I still didn’t have the faith that my children would be able to follow through. The result, thus far, has been amazing.

My children now have the freedom to decide when they learn and just enough pressure to learn what I want them to. If they don’t feel like working on their weekly plan, they have the option to do whatever they want, as long as it is educational (yes, the first question that I was asked was “Can we play video games?”).

Week one was, of course, a little sketchy. The boys had to test limits and make sure I was being honest when I said it was their decision. Inevitably, Friday was a very busy day and I had to talk to my youngest about time management. Week two and week three have been different, though. Here are some of the amazing changes that I’ve seen:

  1. More work is getting done. It seems that when I am very clear with my work expectations, the boys are excited to show me that they are up to the task. There is something about having a well defined, attainable weekly goal that works better for them than having “math time” every day.
  2. The work is a higher quality. There are still assignments that they do just to get them over with, but for the most part, they really put their heart into whatever they are working on at the time. I attribute this change to choice – they are working on what they want to work on, so they naturally put more effort into it.
  3. They are engaging me in conversations about time management – “Mom, what do you think – should I do math or science right now? I’m a little behind on my math and I’m worried that I won’t get it all done. Any ideas?” Hooray – that’s the sound of a young man taking ownership!
  4. They just seem happier. I am not forcing them to transition from one project to the next and they are in control of the flow of their day. If they want to spend the entire day working on math, so be it. It’s their call.

We are only midway through week four, but I’m sold on this way of doing things. It requires my kids to take responsibility for their own learning and to find internal motivation. We are still finding our way and I’m sure it will take a few months of trial and error to get it just right. I will try to keep you posted on any new developments… or let you know if it completely falls apart!!! I’m thinking it won’t, but only time will tell.


Leave a Reply