Think of the last leg of a race. You’re exhausted and you can see the end in sight. It is so tempting to slow down as your motivation begins to dwindle. For kids, the fourth quarter feels a lot like this final leg. Despite the fact that motivation naturally lessens in kids after spring break, it’s the time of the year where they likely have the most on their plates. Cumulative exams, standardized testing, final projects and papers, last minute assignments: there is so much to get done! Just like a race, the last quarter of the school year can completely impact the outcome.
So how do you keep kids motivated when it seems like they’ve checked out?
We put together a few tips and strategies that parents can employ during the fourth quarter to keep kids motivated and to finish strong!
1. Avoid long-term rewards
As you plan your summer activities, it may be tempting to tie your child’s academic performance to rewards during the summer, such as paying for grades or even a trip to Disney World. There’s definitely some merit in rewarding students for their grades, but the research tells us that when the reward is too far in the future or the task is too big (say getting all As), kids lose steam fast. Instead of rewarding your child for grades or test scores, try offering smaller rewards for tasks that lead to those big results, like studying for the test or planning ahead for a big project. The reward doesn’t need to be an item like a toy or game, but a privilege the student can attain in the recent future, like going out with their friends on the weekend or thirty minutes of video game time.
2. Help your child plan ahead
Tell me if this situation sounds familiar it’s 9:00 pm and you are finally relaxing. You’ve poured yourself a glass of wine and have your feedback watching the newest episode of your favorite TV show. In walks your child with a look of sheer panic across her face. Her big science fair project is due tomorrow and she completely forgot! You jump up and together spend hours putting this thing together. You’re mad, tired, and annoyed at your child at her lack of planning.
Planning ahead for a lot of kids is really tricky, which is why they often need help. We recommend having one time a week, preferably Sunday nights, to plan ahead for the upcoming week. Spend this time mapping out upcoming tests and projects, breaking every item due into small chunks that you spread out throughout the week. For example, if you see that your daughter’s science fair project is due on Friday, you may have her break the project into small tasks that she can work on nightly to avoid the last minute chaos.
3. Keep things visual
One of the things that parents say often at Educational Connections’ President, Ann Dolin, M.Ed.’s parent presentations, is that they’ve become the parents they never wanted to be: nags. They say that they feel like they have to give their child seventeen reminders before he actually does anything and it doesn’t feel good. If you find yourself slipping into the nagging role try implementing verbal reminders. This can be done by just placing sticky notes or checklists in your student’s study area or by the front door, where they are sure to see it. For example, if your student is frequently forgetting his homework at home, put a note next to his desk that says “homework in homework folder.” Students always respond more positively to visual reminders than verbal ones.
4. Keep Routines Consistent and Communication Open
Students aren’t the only ones who lose steam as the school year comes to a close. Many times, parents themselves report checking out and not being as involved in their child’s academics. By the end of the year, many parents have loosened routines and decreased structure. The routines that were set up in the beginning of the year, things like Designated Homework Time or using the Launching Pad, have gone by the wayside. If you notice this happening, it’s essential that you stick to the routines and get them back in place. Consistent routines, all school year long, are really the biggest key to continual success.
5. Incorporate exercise and play into your afternoon routine
Every kid is a little different, but most students need about a 30 minute break after school before they get started on their homework. This is a great time for kids to grab a snack and relax a bit. A lot of kids are tempted to hit the couch and zone out playing a video game during this time. There’s nothing wrong with a 30 minute video game session, but this might not be the best time for it. Instead, exercise is beneficial for most students. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise for just 20 minutes before homework or learning can have the same positive effect on focus as a stimulate medication designed to treat ADHD.
The fourth quarter is tough on students, teachers, and parents. There is so much to get done in such a short amount of time and with summer right around the corner, it’s easy to lose focus and steam. But by implementing just a few of the tips above, we promise you will see a real boost in motivation and in-turn your child’s fourth quarter grades.
For more information on keeping motivation up in the fourth quarter, register for Ann Dolin, M.Ed.’s free, upcoming webinar, “The Motivation Meltdown: When Parents Care and Kids Don’t.”