Homeschoolers are not always motivated every second of their lives

I wrote this guest post for Peter, over at The Unschooler Experiment. But I wanted to share it here as well:

Question: What happens when a grown homeschooler doesn’t feel self-motivated?

Answer: She feels really guilty instead.


When I’m defending homeschooling, or just plain talking about how great it is, I almost always cite self-motivation. Sometimes people make comments like, “I couldn’t have been homeschooled. I was too lazy.” And I go, “Ah, how wrong you are!” And then I deliver this expertly crafted little speech about how the bifurcation of the concepts of work and play creates boredom and laziness. I say things about how you don’t feel bored when you’re doing what you’re interested in, and you learn from everything anyway, and you don’t put things off when you are passionate about them. And unschooled kids are passionate about things because they have time to be. And because they can follow their interests. And because they aren’t taught that learning is lame and separate from the rest of living.

It’s kind of a long speech, actually. And it might not be that expertly crafted after all. I wrote a post about these ideas here.

Self-motivation and homeschooling go hand-in-hand. As a kid, I always had a project of my own design that I couldn’t wait to get back to work on. In between all of the other things I was doing, I was always writing a book or working on a series of paintings or writing a choral piece or directing a play. This is not bragging. This is what kids do when they have freedom.

I don’t really remember the times I was bored or unmotivated as a kid. Maybe I’ve repressed them. Maybe they weren’t notable. Maybe there weren’t that many of them.

But now, when I catch myself feeling dull or uncreative or bored or lazy, I feel like I might be failing. Like I’m a bad grown unschooler. Like I should know better. I should approach every task with boundless energy, because I have learned how to learn from life! I should always know what to do next, because I should know myself so well.

Alas, it’s not always the case. I sometimes want to blame college, for teaching me boredom. I want to blame that period of time when I worked in an office for teaching me that work and play are separate. But I don’t blame either of these experiences. I blame myself. I feel as though I have let homeschooling down.

Sometimes I catch myself watching too much TV and I wonder why I want to. “Wouldn’t you rather work on a chapter of that book you’re supposed to be writing?” I ask myself.

“Nah,” myself responds. “I’m good. Do you have any snacks?”

For me, one of the challenges of adulthood is figuring out how to balance my newfound laziness with my old productivity. I have to remind myself that it’s OK to be lazy sometimes. I’m sure I had plenty of days where I didn’t get much done as a homeschooler, but they didn’t register in the same way, because I didn’t feel like I had to get things done all the time.

Now I do. Being grown up is all about getting stuff done. At least for me. And so when I find myself reading for four hours straight, or watching TV instead of getting other, more important, things done, I remind myself that it’s sometimes hard to know what is actually important. And really, guilt doesn’t help.

Sometimes even self-motivation needs to take a break. I’m still a pretty good grown unschooler. I ask some hard-hitting questions of society. I have a lot of self-confidence. I’m pursuing my dreams. And I almost never use a recipe when I cook

*  *  *

Also, I was on a really fun panel for the Unplugged Mom’s anniversary showcase. We talked a lot about education. I want to be more specific, but the conversation was crazy and I can’t even remember. I got asked a math question. Laurette Lynn continues to be my hero. If you haven’t listened to her radio show or podcasts or read stuff on her site, you should give all that a try. Who knew she secretly had a Brooklyn accent??

11 comments to Homeschoolers are not always motivated every second of their lives

  • Val

    I’ve seen some fairly impressive people spend a Saturday on a Gilmore Girls marathon, lol.

    Or even more vapid–America’s Top Model.

    Don’t let the need for downtime confuse you about laziness.

    We all need to regroup, to veg a bit.

    It’s totally okay, and part of who we are. Energy ebbs and flows, and it’s all good. love, Val

  • Beverly

    Ah, downtime. I remember that. Just can’t remember where I bought it.

  • Thanks for sharing Kate. I too have found myself comparing my “productive” younger years with my more “lazy” older years. Hmmmm…I think Val is right. Sometimes it’s nice to just veg and let life be. And sometimes when I think I am vegging, I’m really not. Even lying on the ground looking at the clouds or sitting in front of the t.v., we might be hit with a really cool idea. I guess what I am trying to say is that life and what we perceive as both unproductive and productive feeds us in mysterious ways.

  • shevrae

    I know what you mean Kate. As a busy homeschool Mom, when I’m getting the kids ready for bed, I’m making a list of all the productive things I’m going to accomplish after the kids are settled. 45 minutes later, after the last “one more chapter” and “tuck me in?” I’m exhausted and all I can think about is watching TV for 30 minutes and passing out in bed. Sigh . . . I’m pretty happy with myself if I can have a 50/50 week and get something done a few nights, at least!

    While I wouldn’t describe us as unschoolers, I am happy that as homeschoolers, I can give my kids lots of freedom to pursue their own interests – which has led them to some interesting places. Places I never would have thought to lead them. On a related note, I think the fact that my kids have a lot of free time to fill actually wards off the sentiments of “I’m bored” or “There’s nothing to do” – two phrases I hardly ever hear at my house (thankfully!)

  • Katherine

    Children will often complain of boredom when actually they are simply worn out. Too tired to spark, it even happens to unschoolers. A problem happily fixed with a nap or an early bedtime.

  • Katherine

    Actually, I think this happens to grownups as well. And have y’all noticed its taboo to just be tired in our culture.

  • Thank you for this, Kate. Especially this: “Being grown up is all about getting stuff done.” I think that’s completely true, and very rarely pointed out. And your title…no, homeschoolers are not motivated every second, but it sure seems like that in the retelling! That’s one of the things I’ve been struggling with over this past year or so…by having homeschooled, I’m supposed to have developed all of this excellent self-motivation and ability to create my own academic/personal goals and carry them out…and yet there are plenty of days now that I’m in grad school where I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything much. And really, I think that’s because there was much less pressure to be “accomplishing” all the time as a homeschooled kid. I had my daily lessons (eventually, once we started doing that instead of straight unschooling), but after that was done in a couple/few hours, I was free to do whatever else I wanted. It’s really only in high school that my schedule got much more packed, and even then there was plenty of structure from outside activities, lessons, and theater classes…and still, I didn’t have the feeling that I should be working everywhere all the time, should be constantly “productive.” I think it took college to teach me that. Sometimes I miss when I used to spend hours playing with Legos and reading books and outside with my brother and feel that was a very accomplished day.

    Granted, there are days at grad school where we all end up playing with Legos or watching videos of cute animals or crocheting things, and those are still very good days. So maybe I’m not fully a grownup yet.

    • kate

      Totally. There was a lot less pressure to be “accomplishing.” That was well put.
      And I hope you’re not fully grown up, just like I hope I’m not! At least, if being grown up keeps meaning having to check things off a list all of the time.

  • As the mother in a homeschool family, I’m very interested in your blog. My children have never been to school. From the beginning I read John Holt and Sandra Dodd and every book about homeschoolers I could get my hands on. I bought good art supplies, open-ended games, and toys that require imagination. Then I stood back and…nothing much happened. My kids are sometimes involved in projects like building a lego set or making a movie, but most of the time they are just wandering around the house or watching videos. I’ve been ok with that (mostly) but my daughter is now 12 and still doesn’t really seem interested in anything. She asks for suggestions and then tells me that she is no good at any of the things I mention. Even things she is obviously very good at – like photography – she doesn’t seem to want to do. I didn’t think she would be so extremely self-critical outside a school environment and I have no idea what to do. I don’t care about her ‘accomplishing’ anything, I just hate to see her bored.

    • kate

      That’s really interesting! But everyone is different, and kids don’t always respond the same way to the same stuff, so maybe your daughter would like to join some groups or take a class or do some structured stuff with you. I know my youngest brother preferred that. He felt generally unmotivated as a teenager. Some people would say that means my mom did things wrong, but I think life is more complicated and nuanced than that. And anyway, “doing it wrong” is irrelevant, the point is, is your kid fulfilled and interested in the world?

  • Eric

    I recently stumbled on your Blog. Thanks for putting so many things I can relate to into words, something I’m not real good at sometimes. I was homeschooled also, now thanks to you I have a new term to use, as I see that I was indeed un-schooled also. I’m 32 now, have never gone to school for anything other than some very short focused classes, and am very comfortable in doing most anything I put my mind to.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>





A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.