Many times during my tenure as a home educating parent, I've run into the situation where my child just wasn't "getting" a particular subject, despite the fact that I had good curriculum, a good personal grasp of the material, and had attempted many different approaches to the subject matter. More than once I almost succumbed to the idea that I just wasn't qualified to deal with this learning issue. I thought that maybe an "expert" needed to be called in. So, I'd make phone calls and talk to those who taught professionally. I soon discovered that they didn't have any easy fixes or answers. In fact, much of their advice included avenues I had already explored, and they were impressed with things I had tried that they'd never considered. But before too long, I had a breakthrough that enabled me to help my students over seemingly impossible hurdles.
Scripture tells us that the worker is worthy of his hire. I have applied this principle in my homeschool by incentivizing subject areas in which I want to see positive results. No, I'm not talking about bribery. I'm talking about demonstrating to my children that I'm willing to reward them for accomplishing a significant task and that there is an immediate good reason for them to try harder.
Let me give some illustrations:
Each of my children has been expected to learn the Westminster Shorter Catechism. We used it as opportunity for writing drills and memorization work. When my son was in high school, I taught Church History at a homeschool co-op. I put a sizable chunk of prize money up for first, second, and third place for a "catechism bee." In the process, my students learned the essential doctrines of the faith and got to pocket some cash at the same time.
When my youngest was learning to read, she would often get frustrated and want to abandon our phonics lesson. I needed to incentivize this subject area. I used stickers and stars, but realized quickly that she could take or leave this reward and would still want to give up. So, I did a little research and found out that she really wanted a "grown-up" golf bag like her sister had. I promised her that whenever she reached lesson 60 and could read any page prior without a mistake, she would earn her bag. It didn't happen over night, but she was committed to the activity and was toting a "real bag" just like the big girls carried before too long.
Many times when I'm out with my youngest as she's practicing golf, I can see that the routine is becoming monotonous. I often put up a challenge such as, "If you can hit that barrel out at 100 yards, I'll let you decide what we have for dinner tonight." Suddenly, her focus gets very pronounced and she's working at winning this contest. Keep in mind that it isn't an easy task I've laid before her. But, as she pursues it, she's honing her skills and improving her results. Often, bystanders and spectators marvel at what they interpret as her desire for perfection. When I inform them what the reward is, they scratch their heads finding it hard to believe that someone would work that hard for such an inconsequential reward.
As children get older, the nature of the incentive needs to change as what thrills one child often leaves another cold. So, the rewards need to be tailored to the individual, and need not be expensive -- just creative. Before too long, the student's personal desire for excellence kicks in (whether in academics, athletics, or the arts) and he or she begins to create internal, personal incentives in the specific endeavor.