*All studies are digital unless otherwise noted.


Motivation...something we all lack from time to time :) But it has the potential to make or break a child's educational experience. I turned to my sister, Dr. Christa Lynch, who holds a PhD in educational psychology. She reminded me that besides the common sense factor, there is scientific fact behind many of the reasons we choose to school our kids at home. Primarily I believe individuality is paramount in education. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to learning. What Christa writes makes sense and can be accomplished through a student-directed approach to homeschooling. 


Research on motivation to learn has been growing for decades. Researchers, educators, and psychologists are finding more and more evidence that support the critical role that motivation and engagement holds the key to learning. One theory in particular, called Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) suggests that there are three psychological needs that must be met in order to learn at an optimal level: Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness.

Competence is one’s perceived capability to perform well at tasks. The most salient way to develop competence is to provide mastery experiences. When a child experiences success, even once, his/her sense of self-worth increases dramatically. You can help your child by giving them creative, novel tasks that are challenging, yet attainable. For example, offer your child a list of spelling words that are just above his/her level. Children need constant challenge, or else they will lose interest. Scaffold their learning by raising the difficulty level just a bit every time, so that they are reaching higher each time and are learning to approach challenges as something to accomplish instead of a difficult chore.

Autonomy is one’s freedom to guide their course in life. Specifically, autonomy is like free will. Instead of sitting in rows of desks in a teacher-directed classroom, you can build autonomy child by giving choices of activities. For example, when learning to read The Call of the Wild, you might give her ideas for projects. Perhaps she can “re-write” a chapter from another character’s point of view, dress up as a character and act out a scene, or wander out into nature and think of reasons why Buck preferred to be in nature instead of cooped up in a kennel or house. She may even generate her own ideas and integrate her imagination with the main plots and characters from the book.

Finally, Relatedness is most likely already in place in the context of homeschooling. Relatedness is the need to feel close to and appreciated by others; it must come before and during a learning task. This is probably one of the reasons you chose this educational experience for your child; not only is he learning new material in a challenging and independent way, but in the loving context of people he trusts and feels safe with. This is monumental in education; research has shown that teachers can be the #1 source of motivation for children.

The Self-Determination theory is central to student motivation. It encompasses other aspects of learning, including emotional affects, cognitive growth, and interpersonal relationships. It fosters learning through intrinsic motivation (coming from within self) instead of extrinsic motivation (coming from an external source). All of these things have been found to increase self-esteem and learning effectiveness in children of all ages and in all contexts.

Christa S. Lynch, PhD

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