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After returning home from a doubles tennis match that I did not win today, I found myself feeling restless. None of the things that ordinarily satisfy me–talking with family, reading, eating–would do. When I started praying through my www.prayforyou.org prayer list, I realized what was wrong. I needed a win!

Whatever your opinion of competition, recognize that human beings need to feel success is possible or motivation disappears. If I continued to play tennis the way I did today for long enough, right or wrong, I would quit the sport. If our children feel they can’t get a win in their studies, they’ll want to quit, too.

How can we make sure we are running winning schools that motivate?

  • Regularly praise your child’s progress without any but’s. I am guilty of telling my children I love their writing, artwork, or problems completed and then pointing out what isn’t right. That doesn’t feel like a win. The Suzuki method of teaching is a great antidote to the but-method.
  • Recognize your child’s achievements. As a homeschooler who isn’t keen on textbooks and testing, I find that the primary recognition I give my kids is a lot of compliments. Those atta-boy’s are great, but some kids may thrive on something most homeschoolers abhor–grades! My children beg me for graded papers. Who’da thunk? What they’re really begging for is a win. Many workbooks include a certificate of achievement, but why not go one step further and give something more prized by your children? Consider repurposing trophies you already own or buy ribbons, medals, pins, stickers, or pencils from a teacher’s supply store.
  • Consider a friendly competition. My children yawned when I gave them their creative writing assignment. When I told them we would have a contest in which they would have a chance to beat me, the lead started flying. To equalize ability levels, consider having a “Most Improved” showdown. Rotate the types of competitions to give every child a chance to shine. If you’re concerned about individual competition, set a family goal. For a while, I treated my children with a privilege if everyone got their chores completed within a certain time for a week. You could even compete with other families. Don’t limit your thinking to school subjects. You could compete on bedroom cleanliness or charitable funds raised, too.
  • Give children something to excel in. I just spoke with a homeschooling friend who told me her reluctant reader eagerly read a book while in the car. The book was very easy for him. He bragged, “There was only one word I didn’t know!” Sounds like me when I come home boasting about the number of tennis games I’ve won. Letting your child succeed means eliminating or postponing curriculum that only leads to frustration. Better that the work is too easy than too hard. If your child always comes up short in comparison to siblings, give him or her a personal-best goal to work toward. Remember that these can be time-spent and attitudinal goals, too.
  • Finally, make sure you have an opportunity to win, too. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t ever been awarded a trophy, a plaque, or a bonus for being a great homeschool teacher. Keeping score in our schools is pretty tough to do. So give yourself an easy-to-achieve goal and plan a reward. Have a competition with a fellow homeschooler. Or find another outlet for your win. I get my “grades” by playing tennis and participating in a writer’s group. If you don’t ever win in your schooling, you’ll be tempted to quit.

Sometimes finding a way for your child to win is difficult. As I was praying today, I realized there is an activity in which everyone is a winner. The Bible says that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. The book, This Present Darkness, gives us a powerful picture of the wins we score with prayer.

What are your ideas for creating a winning homeschool?

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