Motivation & Incentives: Homeschool Edition

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Ready or not, here we go!

The shopping is done, the lesson plans are laid out and your school area is ready. So, are you wondering just “how” to keep your children on task? To be clear, staying on task can be hard for adults too. But when your students are also your children, they answer to mom for everything. Sometimes we need a system to isolate those two roles. Without that, sometimes it is hard to know when to “call it a day”.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all about life learning as a method of education. There are years we have faded into unschooling as our interests and commitments in life have changed. But somehow when you homeschool, it is easy to not feel like you are accomplishing much. You wonder, “are we really done with the day or is there more I should squeeze in?” There are also times when just like in a classroom setting, our children respond well to incentives.

Keeping the learning in forward motion


Our homeschool journey has kept us on our toes as parents. We have found that not only our children are always learning but, we are too! There are times that we have done school as a matter of fact and commitment. “You do what you need to do, simply because you must.” No fanfare, no reward, just grit your teeth and push on through. Then, there are times that both I and our children need some changed environment or tactic to bring the inspiration back in.

I would not recommend choosing only one method and committing to that for life. Just like with anything else, it gets boring. So mix it up. When one system stops working, find another. But, if you are wondering how you might be able to make homeschooling fun and incentivize your kids, read on. I am going to share with you just one of many systems we have used over our nearly 20 years of homeschooling.

Earning tokens for our “School Store”

The Checklist:

  • Individual checklists are catered to each child’s age, ability and requirements within the school day.
  • Choose a 4, 5 or 7 day plan for the chart depending on your goals.
  • Some people use computers, I’m a pen and paper kind of girl. You do you!
  • I color code the chart for my youngest children so they don’t lose their place when following the line across. This also helps if they don’t know how to read yet. In addition, I have labeled the box with the day of the week to reduce accidental fill in on the wrong day.
  • Laminate the checklist (I use a small laminator all the time in our homeschooling. Purchase from Amazon or a craft store)
  • Attach a wet erase marker with a string (Punch a hole in the corner of the sheet to attach) *There is a reason I did not use a dry erase marker. It may have something to do with an accidental wipe off of all work accomplished for the week. Oops!
  • My children check off the boxes daily as they accomplish their subjects. It helps both of us and the principal (who just happens to have a thing for me) keep track of progress.
  • On Friday after school, they cash out their checklist for coins and wash it off to reset it for Monday.

The Tokens

Really, you don’t NEED tokens but, it makes it fun and seems like money to spend in the store at the end of the week. I found multi-colored coins on clearance at Oriental Trading Company but you could use anything. Tokens are earned in four main subjects (Math, Science, Language Arts and History). To make our special bonus coins for the “secret subject”, I just sprayed poker chips with gold spray paint.

Before the week begins, I choose from all other subjects in each individual child’s list and find a “secret subject”. On a slip of paper I write the child’s name and the subject that is the bonus/secret subject that week. It is hidden in an envelope until pay out on Friday. There are times I just make one area everyone’s bonus. No one knows what their secret subject will be so, it is in their best interest to get as MANY of those boxes filled in as possible!

To earn a golden bonus coin, all 5 days of that secret subject must be complete! So if they only do math 4/5 of the days and it turns out the subject for them was math…. sorry… no gold coin. They will earn 4 for math that week. However, if all 5 days of math are done, they receive not only a coin for each day but, the bonus gold coin that is worth 5 tokens. That’s 10 for math that week.

By creating a secret subject, I can encourage maximum completion without tedious coin calculations. This also puts the responsibility to complete lessons on the child instead of me nagging to get it done. Most children will work hard when they see the reward before them.

Encouraging Extra Reading

My children really don’t “love” reading. (gasp!) I offer a bonus buck that is worth 50 or 100 tokens. These can be earned in unlimited quantity. It is earned when they complete an approved chapter book and write a book report as appropriate for their skill level. Some children don’t need that incentive to read but some of mine have. You may have a different thing you would like to adapt this concept for. Or, while you are at it, just pick some up toy dollars and reserve them for special projects, anywhere you need to offer a super big bonus.

School Store!

Preparation for the store.

Setting up a store is no small task. Therefore, I just do store day twice a month. My children usher me into my room to set up the store on my bed. I get some time to myself while listening to a podcast or music and set up the store. They anxiously wait outside wondering what there will be to choose from.

There is always variety in the store and it changes each time. Some of my children have liked the cheap items from Dollar Tree or Oriental Trading Company. Sometimes I add things I find on clearance or purchase a gift card for a smoothie at a favorite restaurant. I have added coupons for extra media time or a special event. But by far, my children’s favorite purchase is a can of soda or an individual sized bag of chips.

Shopping time!

Even the school store is a learning experience! Our younger kids often match up the correct number of tokens to the item to pay. The older ones add up the cost and pay it all at once. Some have even made their own receipts!

They have learned some shopping skills. They make their plan and count the cost. Lots of math going on. I often try to keep one costly item that everyone would want, like a Nerf gun, simply to talk to them about long term and short term savings. At times they have to put things back because they don’t have enough tokens. I have even seen a sibling share some of their extra tokens. You just never know!

Always Learning

Your homeschool is unique to your family. Keep your eyes open. Your children will teach you so much about themselves and about life. Be prepared to be changed. If you need more ideas, check out my other posts about homeschooling preschoolers, communicating priorities in the homeschool marriage and what it is really like to homeschool. You should also check out my friend Tauna’s blog The Proverbial Homemaker for even more great ideas!

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.

Romans 4:4 ESV

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