Short writing exercises and stand-alone assignments have their place, but when I am looking to foster increased motivation, I daydream about projects. What projects can I suggest that will hook and keep a kid's attention?

Ones that have worked well for me so far are...

Magazines: I love this one because students are free to follow their creativity. You can find an explanation here.

Portfolders (aka lapbooks) - Portfolders kept our family busy for years. You can read why I like them so much and take a peek into some of ours here.

Notebooks - When we were ready to venture beyond portfolders, we headed to notebooks. I show some of them here.

Pen Pal Project - I tried this idea with a group of eighth graders. You can read more about it here.

Coil or spiral bound book - What's better: to have a bunch of writing pieces spread here and there or to have the best ones bound together in a book?  I think the latter. See a post here.

Blog - When my girls were young writers, the four of us started a blog.  It gave them a reason to write and an audience outside of our home. It's old, but it's here. For an AP History class, my oldest daughter made blogs for Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Adams. So many possibilities!

If you're noticing your students plodding through their work, the vision for learning lost, introduce a project centered on a subject they love.

See if the sparkle returns.
Now that my oldest daughter is in college and my youngest is leaning toward high school, I find myself reflecting on our homeschooling years, specifically the goals that motivated my choices during each stage. Here is my list so far.
My Goals for the Elementary Years
  • Solidify the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
  • Breadth
  • Flexibility
  • Integrate subjects (i.e. science, history) with reading and writing.
  • Develop/capitalize on the love of learning.
  • Build a literate environment in the home.
  • Make learning a lifestyle.
  • Read aloud often.
  • Living books
  • Projects
  • Exploration
  • Field trips
  • Limited out-of-the-home commitments
  • Engaging, not tedious
  • Develop an ear for Spanish.
  • Learn to type.
  • Learn to read music.
  • Build a strong foundation.
My Goals for the Middle School Years
  • Increase responsibility and independence.
  • Increase the expectations for writing.
  • Deadlines and time management
  • Stretch reading skills. Nudge toward classic literature.
  • Continue to read aloud.
  • Begin taking outside classes to learn from other teachers.
  • Study Spanish.
My Goals for the High School Years
  • Independence
  • Depth
  • Develop ability to manage time and meet deadlines, preparing for college or work.
  • Lots of classics
  • Learn from other people, primarily through AP classes.
  • Prepare for the SAT. (Take it multiple times.)
  • Volunteer and work outside the home.
  • Study Spanish.
My Goals for All of the Years
  • Know and love Jesus.
  • Serve others.
  • Prepare for the next stage, keeping the end goal in sight.
  • Expect excellence (not perfection) always.
  • Discover strengths and weaknesses. Exercise both.
  • Strong work ethic
  • Responsibility
  • Commitment
  • Learn how to learn; strong study habits
  • Well-rounded kids
The End
When our children are finished with high school, they may not choose to pursue a college education, but  they will be prepared for it--or any other direction God leads them.
Once upon a time I was a teacher in an eighth grade classroom.

One year a shy girl with illegible handwriting sat in the front desk. She had joined our private Christian school after homeschooling didn’t work for her.

“Sheesh.  Couldn’t the mom even teach the kid handwriting?”

A boy was supposed to be in my class the next year. His sister had been a cherished student; his dad, a colleague. The family decided to homeschool him instead.

“Oh, please; how can parents be so arrogant to think they can be the sole teachers? The mom isn’t even trained!”

After school one day, a bubbly girl, who planned to be homeschooled in high school, babbled on about the successes of homeschoolers, audaciously claiming that colleges pursue them.

“How ignorant! What a silly girl.”

Fast forward several years, soon after my first daughter was born. The details are sketchy, but somehow my husband and I ended up in a lively conversation with my family. He said something positive about homeschooling, insinuating that we might do it someday. I was horrified.

“Me? I will never homeschool.”

Then he did it. I remember standing in my daughters’ room—now we had two girls—next to the bunk beds. He asked me to consider homeschooling. Why there, I do not remember.

I laughed. I said I couldn’t do it. I said I would have to take my foot out of my mouth after all the things I had said about homeschoolers.

But I also agreed to pray about it.

I prayed and I looked for books. I requested a catalog from Bob Jones, the only name I knew associated with homeschooling.

Then some new families began attending our church: homeschooling families. I watched these kids in the youth group, amazed at their maturity, their respect for adults. I decided that if homeschooling could turn out kids like that, I wanted to do it, so I prayed and searched for resources with more resolve, even spending time with one of the mothers, asking her for any help she could give. (And she wasn’t a trained teacher. Gasp!) Foot removal had begun.

A short time later, a family organization offered Debra Bell’s The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling in exchange for a donation. My donation got me more than a book; it got me a mentor. I scoured and marked Debra’s book, eventually researching the list of websites in the back, trying to find the curriculum that best fit me.

Meanwhile, I continued to be the mommy I loved to be, reading piles and piles of books to my girls, visiting the library, doing crafts, playing, drawing, teaching my oldest to read, and including them in almost everything I did. I was giving my girls the richest childhood I could, having no idea that I was already homeschooling.

Eventually, I got to Five in a Row on Bell’s list. A perfect match for four-year-old Michaiah and me. We read the same picture book every day for a week. We did short lessons inspired by the book, one day studying the art, another day the language arts, a third day, the science, etc. It was gentle but rich. Michaiah loved it, so much so that I had to let her know that we needed a break on the weekends.

Oh, but kindergarten was coming. I needed to put on my teacher hat and get serious. It was time for real school.

Once again, I researched, looking for curricula I liked, this time in each subject area.  I found what I wanted, ordered all I needed, and prepared to begin.

It wasn’t long before the eager little learner and her mommy began to wilt. Learning wasn’t as much fun anymore. Before this grand experiment, we would read a chapter book from start to finish, if we chose. Now we were supposed to read a certain number of pages, do a simple activity, and quit that subject for the day. Since I was playing teacher, that was okay with me, until I’d hear Michaiah say, “Read more.  Keep going.  I want to find out what happens next.”

I don’t know how long I tried making school work, but I didn’t like the thought of losing my precocious student to boredom or frustration. I decided to return to what had worked before, pulling out Five in a Row once again. This time, I planned unit studies around Five in a Row books, adding many hands-on activities and portfolder projects to our day. We found our niche!

At first it was scary to tell people we were homeschooling. I didn’t have grand answers for the wary questions, especially about socialization, the one question that intimidated me more than any other. I deflected, saying, “We’re taking it a year at a time.” With each passing year, though, my roots of conviction deepened, giving me confidence that we were doing what was right for our family.

Now, with our oldest daughter successfully navigating life and academics at a state university, I am in awe of all God did to lead us. He truly provided all we needed to prepare her for the rest of her life.

And those crazies in my classroom? Now that I’m one of them, they don’t seem quite so crazy anymore!