S8 E9 | How to Develop Self-Motivated Children (Jeannie Fulbright)
Jeannie Fulbright, a 24-year veteran homeschooler, is the author of the #1 best-selling, multi award-winning Apologia Young Explorer science series: Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics, Botany, Zoology, and Anatomy & Physiology. She is also the author of the action-packed historical time travel book series Rumble Tumbles Through Time, as well as preschool science books and activity kits, the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner, and many high-quality Charlotte Mason based products. Jeannie and her husband Jeff became empty nesters in 2019. All four of their children all went to the University of Georgia on scholarship (homeschooling works!). For more than 20 years Jeannie has traveled around the country speaking to homeschoolers at conventions, covering a plethora of topics from Charlotte Mason to marriage and prayer.
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Jeannie Fulbright: Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, where we discuss Charlotte Mason's philosophy and how to implement her life-changing methodology in your homeschool. My hope is to come alongside you and mentor you as you seek to homeschool your children with excellence and joy using the Charlotte Mason model. I'm your host, Jeannie Fulbright, the author of the multi-award winning bestselling science series Exploring Creation with Astronomy, Botany, Zoology, Anatomy and Physiology and Chemistry and Physics, which all employ the Charlotte Mason methodology and have been helping families fall in love with science for over 20 years. I also created the Charlotte Mason Heirloom Planner and the Culture and Craft Enrichment Curriculum, which is coming out fall of 2023. These and many other Charlotte Mason products can be found on my website at JeannieFulbright.com, where if you sign up for my email list, you'll receive your Charlotte Mason daily and weekly checklist which will simplify your homeschool days. While there, check out my blog which covers almost every aspect of the Charlotte Mason method and philosophy.
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So with that said, let's talk about what is self-motivation? Self-motivation, I would say it is defined as the force that keeps us pushing to go on. It's like our internal drive to achieve, to produce, to develop, to learn a skill, to master a craft, to keep moving forward. And they have— there's been a lot of research on self-motivation, and they have found that self-motivated children, across the board, have a strong sense of control over their lives, and they found that most children are naturally self-motivated. So this is not something that you actually have to teach. It's something we must fan the flames of and nurture and essentially protect in our children. Charlotte Mason calls it the divine curiosity, that natural self-motivation to learn, that desire to know, that hunger to find out, and that true inert, not inert, innate caring about the subject matter. So when a child asks you a question—when a four-year-old asks you a question about why this is doing that or how that works, they actually want to know because they care. And Charlotte Mason talked so much about this. In fact, she says the question is not how much does the child know when he's finished his education, but how much does he care and about how many orders of things does he care about? And essentially what she's saying is children need to continue that love for knowledge, that caring about knowing, about understanding the world, about understanding history and science, geography and all the subjects, but that we as parents, we have a sacred duty to keep this natural, innate desire to learn, this desire to know, this personal self-motivation that children are born with—we have a duty to keep it alive, to nurture it, to bring it into full fruition. And the research shows that although most children come into this world naturally self-motivated, that they have found that natural desire drive, personal drive to learn and know, drops off significantly at the age of seven. And what has happened by the age of seven? Well, the researchers believe it is because of the structure of our school system. The way the school is designed takes away a child's natural love for learning, that natural desire to know and natural self-motivation because of it robbing them of autonomy. So William Strixrud of The Self-Driven Child—he has done so much research. He speaks all over the country on helping children reconnect with that self-motivation. And he talks about why we lose it. And he says in his book, The Self-Driven Child, he says, "Autonomy is built into our wiring in the same way as hunger or thirst. When we lack this basic need, we experience decreased motivation, or the motivation we have becomes fear-based. I'd better do this or else." You can't be a self-driven person if you don't have a sense that your life is your own. And as you can imagine, when a child enters school, their life no longer becomes their own, and they are told what to do every single moment, what to think, what to memorize, what to learn. They have no freedom as regards to their education, and the research suggests that autonomy is actually an essential need for children to do well in education, to continue to have that self-motivation that driving forward motion.
And the neurological research shows why autonomy matters. It shows that when we feel a healthy sense of control, when our children feel a healthy sense of control over their lives—Now, that's not an absence of parental authority. It's allowing children ownership of their education and allowing children to have a sense of control over their day, their schedule, their learning—that what happens is the prefrontal cortex takes charge of our child's life, and that is the decision-making center, the right thinking. The part of their brain that can logically reason out wise choices. And the amygdala, which is the threat detection system, is subordinate. However, when another person is controlling your life, completely in control of your schedule, your days, your activities, everything that's going to happen, what you have to learn, what you have to read, what you have to do all the time, what happens is children's amygdala, when somebody else is controlling you, it's a natural reaction for a child's amygdala to take charge. That's their threat detection system, and it becomes—it goes into control, and the prefrontal cortex takes a back seat. The result of the amygdala being in control causes children to feel anxious, overwhelmed, discouraged, and unmotivated. It essentially robs children of their natural, innate motivation. So when we feel in control, we are in our right mind. When our children feel like they have a sense of control, they are in their right minds. And it's not normal. It's it's not normal for our children to be unmotivated. It's not natural for them. But that's the result of us being too controlling. Charlotte Mason talks about this quite a lot. And, in fact, the philosophies and the philosophers of the past believed this to be true as well. In fact, John Locke wrote in the 1600s, he wrote, "Of the natural qualities which children possess, curiosity and liberty seemed to guide the young pupil most. Liberty here does not mean a complete absence of restraint, but it does entail a sense of independence in action. Children want to show that their actions come from themselves and that they are free. If children were forced to play, they would grow weary of it in the same way they tire of study when forced to learn. It is not any particular action that becomes irksome to a child but the denial of liberty and the use of force, even play loses its relish as soon as it becomes duty." And Rousseau, who Charlotte Mason had so much respect for as a philosopher and an educational thinker on how best to educate children, he was very huge proponent of children having that autonomy, that liberty, especially in regards to education. I saw a quote today, actually, on the Great Homeschool Convention’s Instagram page, and it said, "All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education." And as we know, Charlotte Mason tells us that there is no education apart from self-education, that everything else is just mere veneer laid upon the child. And so how do we encourage the self-education? This self-education which actually intertwines with self-motivation, creating self-motivated learners or encouraging our children to retain that natural divine curiosity that drives them to want to learn more, to explore, to seek out knowledge. How do we do that? Well, Charlotte Mason gives us some really important principles in her original homeschooling series. And so I have extracted, I would say, seven keys from the original homeschooling series that revolve around this self-motivation is encouraging and inspiring our children to be self-learners, to be independent learners.
And so let's begin with what I believe is the foundational, the very first and foundational key to developing self-motivated children, and that is faith. We must have absolute complete faith that God is at work in our children's lives. We must believe, as Charlotte Mason says, that the Divine life works in our children's hearts and will lead and guide them, and that we are not the full solution to our children's future and education that actually God is. He is in control. He is the one who's going to lead them and guide them and show them and teach them and give them understanding and wisdom and have all the knowledge that they need to move towards the purpose and plan He has for them. We are not in charge of that. We actually are, we're cooperating with God. We are the copilot. And our job is not to be in control. But the only way that we can release that need to control is to believe. Charlotte Mason tells us, "We should allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and spiritual life of children but should teach them that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits and is their continual helper in all the interest duties and joys of life." This is what we should be teaching our children: that the Holy Spirit is constantly speaking to them, leading them. He has constant access to their spirits, is in constant communion with their spirits, and is helping them in every interest, in every duty, in every joy, giving them all the joys of life. And so this is really the foundation for developing self-motivated children. Because if children need autonomy to retain their sense, their innate self-motivation, their innate hunger and curiosity and desire to learn and grow, then our job is to allow them to do that by pulling back and believing God is in control. Charlotte Mason says, "When we recognize that God does not make over the bringing up of children, absolutely, even to their parents, but that He works himself in ways which we must not hinder and the training of every child. Then we shall learn passiveness, humble, and wise. So we can be passive. We can be what she calls "wise passiveness." This is part of masterly inactivity, but we can be wisely passive if we trust that God Himself is working in the hearts of our children. That we can trust God with every concern we have with our children, that He will work it out. He loves them far more than we could ever even begin to love them. And he has plans and purposes for them and He wants their good. And therefore, we need to have faith that He will do it. He will work out his salvation in our children. He will work out his purposes in our children. Sometimes our primary job is to get out of God's way and allow Him to do His transformative work in our child, in His own timing. Proverbs 138:8 says, "The Lord will fulfill his purposes for me." We can just put our children there. The Lord will fulfill His purposes for our children. So often we have such a heavy burden on our shoulders because we think we're in charge, and then we take control. And that's really fear-based. That's the opposite of faith. Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear drives us to action. Fear causes us to believe that we must do, do, do. And we get afraid if our children aren't following our set rules that we have determined are the right way for his education to move forward. And then we get frustrated. But throughout all of this, we are controlling and denying our children the autonomy that they need to continue in their natural God-given Divine curiosity and desire to learn, desire to know, and motivation to do what needs to be done. It's faith: trusting that God is going to give our children the wisdom to do the right thing, even things they may not want to do. Proverbs 1 gives us a lot of guidance in this as well. I'm going to read to you from the amplified version of Proverbs 1:4-5. It's talking about what's the purpose of the Proverbs and talks about it's, you know, the training and receiving instructions while dealing. And then it says that "Prudence may be given to this simple and knowledge, discretion and discernment to the youth. The wise will also hear and increase in learning and the person of understanding will acquire, skill and attain to sound counsel so that he may be able to steer his course rightly." What I love about this is it's showing us that through knowledge of God's Word our children are actually open to the Holy Spirit and can be led to do the right thing through His Spirit and His Spirit alone. It doesn't require us to be constantly lecturing them, constantly hovering over them. In fact, we should be what Charlotte Mason calls "wisely passive." She calls it "wise passiveness." Wise passiveness is the ability and the desire to intervene, to be moving, to be working, to be inserting ourselves into our child's moments. And it's the ability and desire to insert ourselves but choosing to refrain from interfering even when it would help them out or get the things accomplished that we believe need to be accomplished. She calls this "The Fussy Mom." The fussy mom is the mom who's always fussing over her children. She's redirecting them. She's reminding them constantly, reminding them, lecturing them, moralizing about issues that she sees, hovering over their activities, their work, their schoolwork, their completion of a project, mediating in every situation that the child finds himself in, or over-explaining, and talking, talking, talking, and telling, telling, telling. And worse than all of that, and probably the reason for it, worrying, worrying, worrying. And it's so hard not to be a fussy parent, but this is a key.
It's key. This wise passiveness is the second key to developing self-motivated children. And we have to discipline ourselves to stop this constant intervention into our children's moments and days and thoughts. Charlotte Mason tells us, "We are too much with our children. We try to dominate them too much and are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education." Wow! Wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education. Charlotte Mason mentions Anne Sullivan in her original homeschooling series. And this is a quote that Sullivan, who was the teacher of Helen Keller, this is a quote from her that Charlotte Mason quotes. It says, "If the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely. Let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself." According to the research and the book The Self-Driven Child, the reason that children lose their motivation at such a young age is because they do not have the ability to go and come freely. They do not have the ability to think for themselves. They are told what to think. And every single part of the day is conscripted and scripted and scheduled and planned, and the child has no ability to do anything for himself. And so we ask homeschool parents, if we want to help nurture our children's self-motivation, which they came into this world with as part of the divine life within them, we must discipline ourselves to practice wise passiveness, to not always be reminding and redirecting, but to trust our children. And I'll get into more of that in a second because that's some more keys to in this self-motivated children teaching of Charlotte Mason's. But essentially we must remember that we are the authority. We are the authority in the home. So we're not just letting children run free willy-nilly and do whatever they want. We are masters of masterly inactivity. The children know and respect our authority. So this is not free reign of the kids, but we wield this authority wisely and sparingly, and we just need to be disciplined in our desire to intervene in every aspect of our children's lives.
The second—I would say the third key to this developing, self-motivated children is what Charlotte Mason calls having an attitude of good humor. Now, what she really means is not to be so stressed out, not to be—not to take this thing, this education thing, so seriously. And the reason we do that is because, again, it ties back to faith. We think that it has to be done this way. And we're so afraid of failing that we take too big of a burden on ourselves, and we don't trust God enough. We don't believe God's got it. We think we got to have it, or everything's going to fall to pieces, and everything's going to fall apart, and the child is not going to do anything, and we're going to fail at this education thing, and we're going to be just that slippery slope that we go down. It's that lack of faith. But we read in Psalms that God already knows every single one of our days, every single one of our children, that he knows exactly what's going to happen to them in the future, where they're going to go, what they're going to be, what they're going to do. It says in Psalm 139. "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." They're all written down. And God has good for your children. He has good plans to prosper them, not to harm them. 2 Corinthians says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart, has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him." That's—God longs to be gracious to us and our children. He plans to be gracious to our children. We don't have to carry this heavy burden, which causes us to be super controlling and to not have an attitude of good hearing but to have a very stressed-out attitude. Isaiah 30:18 says, "Therefore, the Lord longs to be gracious to you. Therefore, he rises to show you compassion for the Lord is a just God. Blessed are all who wait for Him."
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And sometimes homeschooling does feel like a waiting game—we're, it's so many, it's a journey, it's a long journey, and we don't know the outcome. We can't predict it, but we have to know that God has good plans for that. No eye has seen, ear has heard, or heart as imagine what God has prepared for our children. And if we can walk in that truth and listen. I struggled to walk in that truth. I had to remind myself of that over and over again as we went through the homeschool journey. And I had a child with many learning disabilities and a couple of children with ADHD, and I had to make some, you know, hard decisions so many times. But I had to remind myself, you know what? God has great plans for my children. And guess what? It turned out to be true. So you can trust the Word of God. It is true. And as you have faith and believe the Word of God, you will see your life unfold the way God plans for it to unfold because you are trusting in Him and allowing him to be your children's guide to be their continual helper in all the duties and joys of life, and He will be our continual helper and help us to make decisions or see things we need to see or stop all our lessons and focus on character or the heart training or Bible study or whatever it is. We can make all kinds of really unique decisions just for our family if we are led by the Word of God. If God is our guide, if we trust Him, if we have faith in Him and His Holy Spirit (who is our continual helper) will show us what we need to do in order to stay on the path, the perfect path that God has for us. And we can relax. And we don't have to take things so seriously because we know God is leading, guiding, He's giving us direction. We cannot let fear control our decision-making. If we choose serenity and peace and joy. And Charlotte Mason calls it that Madonna—like you're in the Madonna in the background. You have authority, but you have a serene spirit, and you are the master of the curriculum. You can decide we're not going to do these lessons. We're going to skip this whole chapter. We're going to take a day off, or a week off, or a month off, or as I've mentioned before, I made my daughter take a year off in fifth grade. And I was led by the Lord to do that. And my daughter turned out to be the most motivated child of them all. So it really does help to have an attitude of good humor, but that does require faith in God. So it is all tied together.
Charlotte Mason also says that we should develop a sense of self-confidence: confidence that we are capable. Don't let the lying, fear-based words that the enemy or your own past experiences and memories or anything that causes you to doubt that you are the perfect parent that God chose you to be your children's teacher. We need to silence that voice and believe that we are chosen by God as our children's teacher, and therefore we're going to follow His lead. We don't have any fear about the future. We can, as the Proverbs 31 woman is described, she laughs at the days to come. We have self-confidence. We can laugh at the days to come, and if we struggle with something, we can rejoice because God tells us that His grace is sufficient for us, that His power is made perfect in our weakness. And so all of our weaknesses, we can rejoice in knowing that God is going to use them to further His purposes in our children's lives and in our lives because He works in weakness, He doesn't work in strength. So we can just rejoice that we are weak, pitiful creatures, many days of our homeschooling journey, and just thank the Lord that he's working out, He is working His perfect will. And in Psalm 32 it says He will—"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you." So we can trust and have total self-confidence in our—in the execution of this homeschool journey.
Charlotte Mason also says, this is number five, we must have confidence in our children. So we show our children that we do not have confidence in them when we are constantly correcting them, redirecting them, reminding them. This conveys a lack of faith in them and a belief that they are not being led by the Holy Spirit and will not do the right thing. And sometimes we get into the habit of doing this. We get in the habit of not having faith in our children and then children, well everybody, humans, tend to live up to people's expectations of them. So if people expect you not to complete your work, they know it by the way you're behaving towards them: you're constantly correcting, constantly asking, customer reminding, checking up, hovering. All of that speaks a lack of faith in that. You do not have confidence in your child. And this lack of confidence actually is a vicious cycle because then the child doesn't live. The child lives up to this low expectation that you have for them. So Charlotte Mason is saying we must believe that our children have the Holy Spirit working in them, and we must believe that they want to be good and to not be surprised when they clean the whole kitchen or anything that's built up in their spirits of joy of it. We don't need to be over-praising them for those things because that reveals a low opinion. I didn't expect you to do something so great. Or finishing all their work early. We shouldn't be over-shocked or over-praising them. We should be. I expected no less of you because I believe in you. I think you are amazing, and God is leading you in your spirit. He's got a plan for your life, and you are always going to make the wisest choices and the best decisions. And we believe our—we speak those words of our children. We need to undo some bad patterns of lacking faith and confidence in them. And we need to just have faith and confidence that they are going to live up to the very best self that they can be, and they will do this if we believe that they will. And some of that is untraining ourselves. We need to be praying. We need to ask God to help us to stop this vicious cycles of not trusting our children and not conveying that confidence in them to them.
So number six, Charlotte Mason talks about practicing self-care. Some people, and I think Charlotte Mason once a couple of times mentions the word "mother culture." This is essentially taking care of yourself. Self-care is giving the world the best of you, giving your children the best of you, giving your family the best of you instead of what's left of you. And the way we do this is we have to care for ourselves. We cannot be overscheduling our kids' activities, overcommitting to things that other people have decided need to be done at church or in our homeschool group. We need to protect ourselves from being overscheduled. That's the number one thing that we should do to practice self-care. But we also should never be a slave to perfectionism that is fear-based. And we want to walk in faith. And perfectionism is the enemy of progress. We are not going to move forward if everything has to be perfect all the time. And you need to assign chores and duties to your children. You should not be doing for your children what they can do for themselves. This is a huge piece of helping children to become self-motivated and self-sufficient is that they can do for themselves what they are able to do for themselves. How many of us are still making meals for children who should be making meals for the entire family? How many of us are cleaning up after our child? Doing their laundry? I'll tell you, I never did a child's laundry if the child was over seven years old. They were doing their own laundry at seven years old, loading the dishwasher. Everything they can do. They can do these things, and we should not be doing them all ourselves. They should be part of our children's assigned chores and duties and just something that we joyfully expect them to do because they are part of this team, and they want to help you because they know being a mom is hard work, and being a homeschool mom is even harder than that. So having your children on your team is part of your self-care. Getting them to just feel joy in helping you is—and, you know, and that just comes with that attitude we have, is that attitude of good humor. Children want to bless the happy mom. They want to be a help to them. And we can encourage this in our children by assigning things and expecting them to fulfill them. And at the same time, we also need to nurture our own interests because you are a whole person. You are important. And so learn a new skill that you've wanted to learn. Start a side hustle or join or start a Bible study, or schedule a weekly self-care activity that brings you joy. So these are really important things we must do in order to be able to be that person of good humor. We need to be taking care of ourselves and just giving space for herself. Sometimes all we just need is a couple of hours each day, and we can assign our children to have room time or whatever it is during that time. We just need our—we need to nurture ourselves. So do not feel guilty about doing that. And that's part of teaching children to be part of a family and caring for the individuals that they live with, which is something that they're going to need to have, need to be armed with for the rest of their lives. So you're doing them a favor, but you're also giving yourself that extra rest you need, that extra oomph of time that you need so that you can be the best that you can be when you are with them.
And number seven, this is the last one. And this is really everything—all of these steps to self-motivated children really all tie in together. But this one is essentially allowing children to stand or fall by their own efforts. Charlotte Mason says, "We prod them continually and do not let them stand or fall by their own efforts. It would be better for boys and girls to suffer the consequences of not doing their work now and then than to do it because they were so urged and prodded on all hands that they have no volition in the matter." No volition in the matter. That is the crux of autonomy, of self-motivation, of keeping the prefrontal cortex in control. We must stop prodding. We must stop always urging, urging, and urging them to do what we want them to do so that they can either do it or not do it and suffer the consequences. Now the consequences should be natural consequences. Charlotte Mason always says a natural consequence of a natural reward of completing your work is you have more free time. A natural consequence of not completing your work as that time when you normally would spend doing something you might personally enjoy, whether it be Legos or video games, or playing chess, or making jewelry. You have to actually continue doing work when everybody else was finished during that time. That's a natural consequence. We want to make sure that we, our children, are experiencing natural consequences, not unnatural punishments for not finishing their work. It should be natural, a natural consequence. And they will learn those consequences on their own if we're not hovering and showing anger and frustration. If we're just the peaceful Madonna and we just say, oh, I'm so sorry you did not finish, I guess you're going to have to do it after dinner since we're going to whatever event or activity we're going to now, they will eventually figure it out. As long as we're not adding anger into the equation, they will figure it out. And remember, we need to trust that they will. We believe that they are good and going to always make the best choices. And we can say that about faith to them. And they will begin to live up to what we believe in them, to be able to live up to their innate natural desire to learn. So I just believe that if we can practice for ourselves believing God and remembering Ephesians 2:10, and this is Amplified Bible version, which I love this version. It says—I'm going to actually change it instead of for you, I'm going to say for your children. "So for [your children] are God's own handiwork. His workmanship recreated in Christ Jesus born anew. That [they] may do those good works which God predestined planned beforehand for [them], taking paths which he prepared ahead of time that [they] should walk in them, living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for [them] to live." I love that. Isaiah 46:11 is a great completion to that. "Truly, I have spoken. Truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it. I will certainly do it." And that is the trust we can have for God and our children and the kind of faith we need in order to take a step back and allow our children to be the persons that God created them to be, to do His will, to follow His lead, to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and make the right choices and continue with that innate love for learning, that innate divine curiosity, and that innate self-motivation. Thanks for listening, and I hope you have a blessed rest of your day.
Hey, to simplify your homeschool, I created a Charlotte Mason daily and weekly checklist. To get it, all you have to do is sign up for my newsletter on my website, JeannieFulbright.com. If you haven't already, join my Charlotte Mason Christian Homeschool Facebook group with thousands of Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, both new and old, share ideas, curriculum suggestions, encouragement, and community. And be sure to follow me on TikTok, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. And on Instagram, you can also follow this podcast @HomeschoolingDotMom. And please subscribe to the podcast. And it would be so great if you leave us a review, only if you enjoyed the show. Just kidding. But it really does help us to reach more listeners and to add more to the ranks of the Charlotte Mason community. One last thing— have you been to a Great Homeschool Convention? They are amazing. The Great Homeschool Conventions are incredible events where thousands of homeschoolers meet to hear amazing speakers, hundreds of workshops covering every topic possible, and you can get your hands on all that amazing Charlotte Mason curriculum. Go to the GreatHomeschoolConventions.com to learn more. Have a blessed day and may you experience the joy of the Lord as you homeschool your children.