Andrew Pudewa on Student Motivation

Episode 1

Andrew Pudewa on Student Motivation

by | Oct 1, 2020 | Student Motivation

Motivation. It’s the drive that pushes us to do the things we want to and the things we don’t have excitement for. Today, Andrew Pudewa, from the Institute for Excellence in Writing is here with us to talk about motivation for our homeschool children. Andrew has some incredible information, perspectives, and tangible ideas to improve your child’s motivation, reigniting the excitement in your homeschool day 

Andrew Pudewa from IEW on Student Motivation


Motivation. It’s the drive that pushes us to do the things we want to and the things we don’t have excitement for. Today, Andrew Pudewa, from the Institute for Excellence in Writing is here with us to talk about motivation for our homeschool children. Andrew has some incredible information, perspectives, and tangible ideas to improve your child’s motivation, reigniting the excitement in your homeschool day. 

Meg: [00:00:34] You’re listening to Truth, Goodness and Beauty Homeschool. I’m your host, Meaghan Jensen, and this is the podcast that brings experts in the classical education field to wherever you are in your homeschool journey.

This is episode one, and I’m so excited to connect with you in this new way about homeschooling classically. I have some incredible guests lined up and I’m so glad you’re here, right from the start. 

A little backstory for you. I started Truth, Goodness and Beauty Homeschool, when I began homeschooling my own children. As a former kindergarten teacher, I felt like I was well equipped for educating them at home and having everything pictured, it turned out I had a lot of self-discovery to do when it comes to how I wanted to educate our children.

I began accumulating a ton of information and experience. So, I decided to start a YouTube channel and shared my journey, mistakes and all. The biggest shift I made when homeschooling was moving to a classical approach. Throughout my teaching program, I was taught that classical education was medieval and cruel to use in a classroom. It would wipe the joy right out of learning for my kids.

However, I began to dig into what classical education was really all about and why it worked for thousands of years and produced the most literate and forward moving thinkers of the world. I’m talking about Plato, Aristotle, Copernicus, da Vinci, and more recently Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, Susan B. Anthony, just to name a few.

 It was great sharing my perspective on YouTube, but I really felt like we could get a better understanding of classical education, discussing it on a podcast with experts in the field. So here we are. Every week, you’ll find a new interview to inspire you and answer your toughest questions as each guest and I grapple with the challenges facing classical homeschoolers.

This fall will be full of incredible interviews. So be sure to subscribe to this podcast, you can subscribe directly to the podcast directory or head over to and pop your email address in there. Then I’ll send you an email each time I post a new podcast. 

Before we get into our interview for today. I want to let you know that this podcast is sponsored by audible. Audible is the leading provider of spoken word entertainment and audio books.  As a listener of the truth, goodness and beauty homeschooled podcast, you will get the opportunity to have a free 30 day trial, and you’ll get one free credit, two, if you’re a prime member for any premium selection that you like – yours to keep. You’ll also get access to the audible plus catalog, of podcasts, audio books, guided wellness and audible originals. To claim this free 30-day trial and free credits. Simply go to

  Andrew Pudewa is the founder and principal speaker of the Institute for Excellence in Writing. Presenting around the world, he addresses issues related to teaching, writing, thinking, spelling, and music with clarity, insight, practical experience, and humor. His seminars for parents, students, and teachers have helped transform many a reluctant writer, and have equipped educators with powerful tools to dramatically improve students’ skills. Today we spend our time with Andrew talking about motivation. Andrew, it is so great to have you today

Andrew: [00:04:21] Hi Meaghan. Thanks for having me.

We’re really excited to hear from you about motivating our children in our homeschool today, Andrew. But before we get started, would you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family and how the Institute for Excellence in Writing came about to be.  

Andrew: [00:04:39] Sure. Yes. my wife and I have seven children, they are all grown now. We now have 14 grandchildren, so they’re coming fast and furious. Almost all of my children were educated at home for almost all of their childhoods. All of my grandchildren who are of school, age are being homeschooled. So, we’re looking at the second generation.

I have also worked in schools and, I started my adult life, full time as a Suzuki violin teacher. I also taught kinder music and spent about 15 years teaching mostly music to children and very young children. And in 1995, I started the Institute for Excellence in Writing, kind of just a little side gig to see if I could make a little extra money and afford to continue being a music teacher. By 99, I was actually making more money, traveling around doing writing seminars, teaching classes, selling videos than I was teaching violin and music.

So, in 2000 I went full time and, the last 20 years, years, it’s just been fantastic. I get to travel around the world, actually, meet all sorts of wonderful parents. Teaching parents, tutors’ teachers’ in schools, and share with them, you know, our successful system of structure and style in composition. So, if anyone’s interested to learn more about that writing program and how it works. they’re welcome to visit our website.

Meg: [00:06:14] Yes, I have the website up here. And one of the things that I love is that if you go to the events and classes tab, Andrew has graciously provided free webinars, and there’s a whole archive of just about every topic you can imagine being discussed there, and it’s shared free of charge for you.   Additionally, if you go to the “New to Here” tab you’ll find a great infographic explaining how to know where to start with the IEW writing program.

  Andrew: [00:06:49] We, try to get as much as we can on the website. And then of course, if people still have questions, we have a fantastic customer service department, that can, can help you navigate through, if you don’t find what you’re looking for.

 Meg: [00:07:02] Okay. So, Andrew, I am very excited to hear and talk with you today about the principles of motivation. And I think I’m just going to allow you to start wherever you want to start. 

Andrew: [00:07:14] Sure. one of the things that I have noticed over the many years of teaching that I have done is that there’s kind of an intangible quality, which when it is present makes teaching and learning much easier.

And when it is less present or absent, it makes teaching and learning harder. And I think, you know, we all would agree that when something is meaningful, engaging, interesting, applicable, relevant in some way, it’s easier to learn. And if something isn’t applicable, meaningful, engaging, useful, relevant in some way, it’s harder.

So, I’ve chosen to term this kind of intangible quality, relevance. And I have over the years identified four main forms of relevance or relevancy. so, we, we could talk about those kinds of going from the first and highest, most effective down to the lowest and least effective.

Meg: [00:08:23] Yes, that would be wonderful. And for those listening, anything that is mentioned here in the podcast, you will be able to find links to in the show notes at 

Andrew: [00:08:39] So the highest, I think most effective form of relevancy is what I have termed intrinsic relevancy, meaning that there isn’t even necessarily a cause or a reason, but you just are interested in that thing. You know, I think we could see a few examples in my life. Very interesting. I look back, my mother, told me a few times that I was begging for a violin from the time I could talk. I don’t know why she was a piano and voice teacher. So, I lived in the world of music in and instruments, but I was just begging for violin. Well, now I look at it and I think, good heavens if I hadn’t grown up playing the violin, my whole life would be different.

I would never have done the things that I did. I would never have got the experience that I had. I’m quite sure the Institute for Excellence in Writing would not exist today. So even though I rarely touch a violin anymore, it contributed to this arc of my life, that was just absolutely vital. And, so, so there was something deep inside me and I think a lot of children, you know, they will try this out and they’ll just be drawn to something like, well, where did that influence even come from?

And maybe, you know, it’s just a God given thing. Maybe it’s just part of the fabric of the soul. ‘You know, there are other things that are, are a little more universal. I have, noted that almost every boy that I have ever met and that anyone has ever met, between the ages of say, you know, nine and 12 is very interested in knives or swords or weapons of some sort.

Why? I mean, we don’t go out and say, I’m going to try and help this boy be interested in knives. It’s just almost a universal fascination. And you know, a similar one might be girls and horses. I mean, you can find girls, who’ve never even seen a real horse, but they’re just, they want to draw horses and have pictures of horses and wear unicorns on their shirts and things.

So there’s something, you know, some things are specific, I think to the individual and some things are perhaps a little more universal, but, this is , The highest thing,  think back to your childhood too. what did you do in your spare time? What kinds of things did you study and learn about, you had,  complete freedom , to use your spare time, to study and learn about things. If you had access to information or experience. And isn’t that some of the best learning that occurs.

So I think we’re, we’re most highly motivated when we can find those things, and allow our children, the freedom to pursue those things that are intrinsically,  relevant to them.

Meg: [00:11:54] Yes, that makes so much sense because when I think about my children and things that they’re excited to do. They are intrinsically motivated. So how do we handle then those things that they’re not intrinsically motivated about?  

  So not everybody is intrinsically interested in everything. So, the next and almost as effective form of relevancy would be, I have termed it inspired relevance. So, you may not be interested in something, but if you hang out with someone whom you love or respect, and they are interested, you kind of get interested because of that kind of a vicarious level of inspire inspired relevancy. I’ll give you a couple of examples. One a hypothetical one from my, from my life. , you say to your son, Billy. Hey, Billy, would you like to collect stamps? Billy says, no, not really. Why?

Andrew: [00:13:06] And you say, well, you don’t have to. It’s just an idea. Well, then Billy goes over to, Sam’s house and he comes home and says, hey mom, could I collect stamps? And you said, well, I thought you didn’t want to collect stamps. So, yeah, but Sam’s got this amazing book full of these really interesting stamps. He’s got stamps from like 50 different countries and he’s got them on different shapes and some of them are really old and he told me he’s got one stamp. It’s worth like $10. And it’s just cool.

But what happened there? He didn’t have any experience, knowledge, there was no intrinsic interest, but because he went over and was inspired by his friend, now he wants to do that too. I think we can, you know, perhaps all remember times in our life that we have been inspired by someone else’s interest in something, give you another example, kind of humorous. I came into my home one day. And in my kitchen, standing around the Island in the kitchen, eating my chips and my guacamole.

We’re four teenage girls, all between the ages of say 14 and 17, having a heated discussion about whether admitting Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into the NATO Alliance would, alienate Russia and degrade Russian American relations. Okay. Now, how would something like that come about? Well, it happened to be that all four of these teenage girls were part of a homeschool debate league.

And the resolution that year for policy debate was, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should be significantly reformed or abolished. And one of the cases being run was to admit those countries. So, all the pros and cons of doing that. Now this was their spare time. They were not required to learn any of this stuff.

And it, it seems almost ridiculously obscure, but they were motivated. They were inspired to learn as much as they could about NATO because of the competition and because of the social element, because they were hanging out with people, they liked who we’re also working hard to learn that. So, I kind of just listened for a little bit, laughed, and thought I’m going to have to go buy some more chips and guacamole since they’re eating them all. But what would, what would four teenage girls normally be talking about when they’re, you know, in your kitchen eating your chips? That I think is a good example. And I’ve seen that again and again, that’s just one of many.

So how do we, you know, capitalize on this in our homeschool? Well, as I mentioned with, with intrinsic relevancies, we want to give our students the time and space and opportunity and support and enthusiasm, to let them pursue what they are intrinsically drawn to. And then we want to find opportunities for them to be inspired either by peers as was happening in the example of the policy debate kids that I give, or by other adults who are very inspiring.

In fact, I would bet all of us can think back to our years in school, whatever that means for us, and remember the subjects that we kind of liked in school we’re almost always, I think, connected with teachers who were enthusiastic, who loved what they were teaching. So, in the homeschool, we’re not isolated.

We don’t have to, you know, homeschool completely alone, in every subject. We have today, such a plethora of opportunity in terms of, you know, groups and co-ops and programs and even online classes. And, we have, I think, wonderful opportunities to find, other adults who love something, who are willing to teach it and then help our kids by connecting them with those adults.

I know I did this. I’ve never been, we’ve never been part of a big organized co-op or program, but I do like to, to broker deals. So, you know, we had our little homeschooling community and, and there’s, you know, a mom in our church, she’s a nurse and she’s homeschooling three teenagers. And I said, Oh, so you’re a nurse. So, I bet that means you must have kind of liked stuff like biology and chemistry. So, let’s, let’s make a deal. You take my teenagers and teach them biology and chemistry, along with yours. And I’ll take your teenagers and we’ll read Shakespeare and do composition and study logic and rhetoric. What do you think deal?

And I would say almost always, you know, it’s a deal and, so I’ve been fortunate to be able to find, I think great opportunities for my, my kids is growing up in different stages, different places, a chance to be exposed to other teachers who really do love what they teach the way I love what I teach, because if I was to try to teach science to my children, it would have been kind of like this. Okay. Hurry up and just fill in the blanks and pretend we did this because it’s really not important. And let’s just get it done quickly so we can go read a good book.

Meg: [00:18:45] Yes. Yes. You know, that makes me think of, I have a background in education. So, I was a kindergarten teacher. And you could tell the teachers that get really into the teaching and having fun singing and dancing with the kids. And there’s just so much energy. Versus a teacher who is maybe nearing time for retirement. The joy that you see from the kids in those different classes was very obvious. So. It’s interesting that you mentioned that because it I definitely saw that as well.

Andrew: [00:19:24] Yeah. So that would be the, the two, the top two. Unfortunately, there are things that, we have to learn that are not necessarily interesting to anyone. So, sometimes we have to move into the third form of relevancy, which I have termed contrived relevancy, meaning it isn’t intrinsically interesting. There’s nobody really excited about it or not available, but you have to learn it anyway. And this could include, you know, things like math facts or geography or English, spelling, or grammar, you know, things that you really do need to learn.

But they’re not interesting. So how do we do that? We can contrive relevancy by creating a game. And, I think we, we all love to play games. I think every, almost everyone has fond memories of playing games. if you watch some of those teacher hero movies, I’ve watched. Pretty much all of them, you know, stand by me.

the Jeff Clark story, that kind of movie, they always show some scene of this teacher, contriving, a game for the students to become more engaged in whatever they’re trying to learn. So, we can do this, and I think, you know, that we, we often will look for curricula that contains game-like elements because we know it’s effective.

We can, we can make games that will inspire kids to work harder to learn something, and very often, we will discover there are things that make games work better or less well. And, I’ve discovered a couple of rules about games I’ll share with you.

The first rule in creating a game is it must be possible to win. If it is not possible to win, then, your student will figure out pretty quickly. This is not possible. So why should I bother doing it? I watched my wife struggle with this one time. My two youngest children, she was teaching them to read pretty much at the same time are trying at least highly dyslexic, extremely dyslexic, nine-year-old boy and his six-year-old sister.

And she had made a little stack of the Dolch reading list, which are the words that don’t make sense. It’s phonetically there they’re not sound-out-able. There were words like would – W O U L D, you know, just, and there’s I think a hundred words on this Dolch list or so, so she made a little stack of flashcards and she set them down and set up a game like this.

You could get, you know, three seconds to read the word or five seconds, whatever, and if you read it in five seconds, you get to keep the card. And if you don’t get it in five seconds, then the other person gets a chance. And whoever gets the most cards wins. Okay, well, she had been at this for about three minutes. The score was eight to zero who is ahead?

Meg: [00:22:56] The daughter.

Andrew: [00:22:56] Yes. So, the son, he stands up and walks away. So, what’s mother to do say, son, you get back here right now and lose this game. Okay. So I had to coach her. I had to say, now, you know, the idea isn’t bad, but first of all, you got to give him as much time as he needs.

Second of all, give him clues. If you have to. Cheat, mouth out the word, do something to help him. And furthermore, you got a hundred words and tell everybody, if they get 40 cards, they will win, that way they could both win. There is no rule that says both of them can’t win. And, so I’ve seen this, you know, kind of, people set up a game, but if it’s not possible to win.

Then, you know, kids figure that out pretty quick and give up.

Meg: [00:23:53] Yes. So, my daughter has dyslexia as well, and I do see that’s a really great point creating it, where they can always find a way or see a light at the end of that tunnel versus a roadblock that makes them feel like they can never be successful.  

Andrew: [00:24:13] Yeah. The, the other rule. Is if the game involves an economic system, then you have to be sure that there’s both a positive potential of a potential gain and a potential loss, because if there’s only a gain and only a loss, you can fall into some traps. Now, I will, I will say that sometimes, you know, having a big reward for accomplishing something can be very effective. In fact, I have a very clear memory of learning the multiplication tables as a child, because what my father did, was he bought a one of these super cool Cub scout knives.

This is like a precursor to the Swiss army knife. And it had all these little special tools and devices in the little Cub scout logo. And I was eight years old and I wanted this thing more than anything in the world. And he said to me, you know, when you know your multiplication tables perfectly up to 12 times 12 with no hesitation, when you can do that, this knife is yours.

And I’m going to put it in the drawer of my desk, and you can look at it whenever you want, but if you, you ever touch it or take it under the desk, you’ll never get it. Of course, you know, when you’re eight years old, do you think your parents, you know, have superpowers or spy cameras or something, and I looked at it every day.

Sometimes several times every day, I never touched it, but all the time, whenever I had a chance, I was begging my parents to drill me on multiplication. You know, in the car at dinner in the bathtub before bed, instead of a bedtime story, I’m just like, come on, let’s do this. And they had these little, you know, homemade flashcards on three by five cards and, you know, they’d hold it up.

And, he was kind of like ruthless in that even at like a two second delay. I wouldn’t pass. I mean, it had to be 6 times 7, 42, you know,8 times 6, 56, 9 times 9, 81. I had to be like instant. So, I was begging to learn that and I was begging for their assistance in helping me learn that. Not because I had any particular interest in multiplication or even any use in my life, but I wanted that knife.

So, you know, having a, having a, a good, solid, meaningful, award for accomplishment can be effective. And you know, I guess the negative consequences, if I do not, I wouldn’t get that, but you can, you can actually kind of fall down into a case where you say, okay, here’s the game, here’s the challenge.

If you do this, you get this benefit. Well, a child is likely to kind of say, well, Is it worth it? I don’t really want to do that. And I guess, I don’t really want that benefit. So no, thank you. Goodbye. Okay. This is a dangerous situation because now you will be tempted to fall into a game, you never want to play, which is called how high can I bid up mom?

Until she gets mad. It makes me do it anyway. So you, you would be tempted to increase the benefit, right? So you, you want to be sure that you, you don’t get trapped into negotiation about that. However, if you, if you only have a negative consequence, then the child can still weigh it and say, well, I don’t want to do this thing.

There’s no real gain for me, but if I don’t do it, I’m going to suffer. So, I’m going to suffer either way. I’m just going to suffer no matter what, this is just horrible. I think I’ll just go eat worms and die. And when you do that, you’ve actually fallen into the fourth and least effective form of relevancy.

But let me give you a couple examples of, economic systems that work very well.

Meg: [00:28:40] Okay.

Andrew: [00:28:40] When I was teaching music, one of the challenges of course, is to inspire families, to be sure that their children practice every day, because if they don’t practice, they don’t make progress. If they don’t make progress, they start to think about not paying for lessons or quitting. If they quit, then you know, your, your income goes down and that’s really a disaster for a music teacher.

So, I used, and it wasn’t an idea I thought of myself. but a different teacher, I observed use this 100 days, perfect practice and listening challenge. And this, by the way, could apply to anything that you want a child to do every day, 100 days, perfect practice and listening challenge.

So I gave them a piece of paper with 100, little boxes on it, and I said, every day that you play your violin, at least a little bit, and listen to your recordings, at least a little bit, you can mark a box. You can check it off or put a sticker in or color it or whatever you like. And if you do 100 days is in a row without missing a single day, you get some benefit.

I would usually negotiate something with the mom, you know, something that that child would really want and be willing to be diligent and wait three months and , some, some things she would do and then I would give a certificate  that said accomplished 100 days perfect practice challenge.

However, if you miss the day, you have to start all over again. So, there’s the, there’s the negative consequence, right? So, there’s the potential gain. And then there’s the potential loss. I also made the rule. This was harder for the moms than the kids. I said, and there’s one more little rule here, mom can’t remind you.  You have to remember all on your own.

Meg: [00:30:30] That would be a real challenge for me, not to remind them.

Andrew: [00:30:34] It worked really well.  I would say. 95% of my students. I mean, probably all of them with maybe one exception now, and then, did this. Then I had on my wall, all the colored in finished up sticker charts.

And then once they get up to a hundred, I say, let’s go for 200. You know how hard that is to do 200 and then get mom to kick in some prize. And then I give them a certificate too. I had one child who went for over 1200 days without missing a single day. Except, there is an exception if you’re, camping or in the hospital you can sing your music instead of playing it on the violin, b that is tremendously motivating. And, you know, by the time you were about 300 days a year, almost two a year, you go, you keep going just out of pride. Like I would never miss a day.

Meg: [00:31:26] So that would feed into the intrinsic motivation, almost developing that. 

Andrew: [00:31:31] It certainly does. It builds, it builds in that direction. another, you have a dyslexic child and, I’ve talked a lot about my dyslexic, son. I think God gave me this child just so I could, you know, talk about conventions and podcasts. but you know, when he was 10, he really couldn’t read anything, fluently at all.

And writing of course is extremely hard. Probably the worst thing you could possibly do, but I thought, you know, he can’t read, but he’s going to write because I am the writing guy and he couldn’t spell anything on paper. He could spell some words verbally, because I had done a lot of auditory, and verbal spelling practice with him. But I thought he’s going to learn to write, but he, the only thing he could really do is just copy.

 And so, I said, okay son, here’s the deal. I’m going to ask you to copy 100 words a day and I’ll give you a story or a poem, or you can choose, you know, whatever you want to copy. and if you copy 100 words a day, I will pay you a penny per word. If you, if you get it done in 20 minutes or less, I will give you 25 cent bonus. But every time you complain or argue or whine, you lose a dime and I have your bank account and you could go negative.

So, here’s the challenge. Now, this money doesn’t go into your pocket. This goes into a special fund called the airsoft weaponry purchase fund. And at 10 years old at this point lived to play airsoft. That was the whole meaning of life for him at that age. and I said, and the only way you can get airsoft weaponry is by using the money that is in your airsoft weaponry purchase fund.

Well, I tell you, you know, he started out. Now you can imagine this is worse than asking him to shovel manure. I mean, he literally would have done any horrible chore than have to sit down or stand at a counter and copy words, you know, for 20 minutes. and I told him, I will pay you only for the correctly copied words.

So, if you reverse the order of letters or if you revert, if you leave off a capital, that doesn’t count. However, I won’t take off for reversing a single letter. So, you know, anyway, it was like magic. He started doing this. He did not whine or complain or argue even one time ever. In fact, he very quickly calculated.

Okay, if I’m perfect at a buck and a quarter, how soon will I be able to buy that new, you know, $19.95 plus shipping and handling airsoft gun that I want. he even came to me after a couple of weeks. He goes, hey dad, could I do more than 100 words? And I said, no. Well, could I do it on the weekend? I said Saturday, but not Sunday.

He said, why not? I said, cost me too much. But, you know, he was very motivated by this and you know, some people would say, well, you’re bribing him to do what he should do anyway. No, no, no, no, no. A bribe is when you pay someone to do something illegal or immoral. What I was doing was I was creating, a relevancy for him. Just the way my dad said, learn these multiplication tables, you get this Cub scout knife.

I was hugely motivated, not by multiplication, but by the knife, who knows how long it might’ve taken me to master those things, if ever. He was highly motivated. It became important to him. Not because, you know, he should do it because it’s good for him. I mean, no one in the world will ever convince a 10-year-old boy, you should do this because it’s good for, you. No, what’s good for him is what he thinks is good for him.

Meg: [00:35:51] Right.

Andrew: [00:35:52] Weaponry. So anyway, that. That a system and a variant on it, I have seen work many times. When we have some type of effort to contrive or force someone to learn something with only a negative consequence, that’s when we fall into the, the least effective you have forum, which would be enforced.

Enforced relevance – learn this, or you will suffer. And the problem with that is I feel so often, it creates a, a kind of, almost a hate of learning. It’s like, well, I’m going to, like I said, suffer if I do, I’m going to suffer. If I don’t, I might as well just die, you know, give up. and, so we, we kind of. Now, I’m not talking about discipline, right? I mean, there are lots of things that you, you know, a child has to do, whether they want to or not. And if they don’t do it, there often needs to be a consequence. I’m talking about learning, right. I’m talking about teaching and learning. So we, we sometimes default to this because that was kind of the whole mentality of school.

I remember kind of having a, maybe a conversation with myself. Or with my parents, I don’t know about biology. I hated Biology. The teacher was awful. The book was horrible. There was nothing good about that class. It was, it was the worst thing that I had ever had to do in school. But, you know, they said, well, you have to take biology, or you can’t graduate from high school. Okay. Well, furthermore, yeah, you have to study so you can do well on the test. Because if you don’t do well on the test, you won’t get a good grade. If you don’t get a good grade, it’ll be bring down your GPA. And if your GPA is too low, you won’t get into a good college.

In fact, if it’s too low, you might not even get into college at all. Which means the best you’re ever going to do in life is assistant manager at Denny’s living out a life of misery and poverty. And that’s the reason you should study biology right now. And, you know, and so, okay. I study biology, you know, I mean, I’ve got a grade on my transcript to prove it.

But, how much you Biology did I remember?  I’m pretty sure that all of us would think, well, you know, there’s a few classes that we, we played the game, holding your brain just long enough so that you could appear to have learned something. And as soon as it’s over, poof, it’s gone. There’s no reinforcement.

There’s no interest. There’s nothing to stick. Any biology I know right now, I learned probably as an adult because it pertained to something I was interested in, like health or the brain or something, you know?

So I think we want to be very careful, in our teaching not to fall into that, learn this or suffer, enforced form of relevancy because we may get the appearance of learning, but I don’t know that we get, you know, any real lasting benefits.

 So, there you have it, intrinsic inspired contrived – all above the waterline. And enforced we try to avoid, but I’d be the first to follow into it and said, you’re going to do this math now, or you’re never going to eat. 

So, there’s also, if we have time, I’ve discovered some what I would call laws of motivation.

There’s three of them. It’s actually kind of, one law and two corollaries. So, the first law, the first principle, is this – children like to do, do what they can do. Actually, I think this is true for all of us, isn’t it? Don’t we like doing the things that we can do and do them pretty well. If you, if you think you cook well, you like cooking, you do it.

If you play basketball and you think you’re kind of good at it, you know, you do it. If you think you’re not good at something, you tend to avoid that thing. I, for example, really enjoy, going to conventions and standing on the stage and talking to hundreds, or I prefer thousands of people. Not everyone likes to do that, but I do.

Why? Because I think I’m good at it. I don’t know if I’m good at it, but I, I think I am; therefore, I like it. And that’s the first thing kids will start talking to you when they’re one year old and start talking, they’ll say, grandpa, look at me. Look at what I can do. Right? 

I had a granddaughter when she was about three. She wanted to jump from the couch onto the very solid coffee table and then back onto the couch and back and forth and back and forth. And she would do this nonstop and insist that I watch her do it continuously. Why? Because she could. So that’s the first law. Now, the second law is that children, I want to do what they think they can do.

Children want to do what they think they can do. I think, well, that’s true for all of us. I, for example, want to stand on a stage with a huge, massive, hundred-foot screen in a Coliseum and talk to 20,000 people at one time for an hour or two. I want to do that. Why? I’ve never done it. I think I could.

I think I could do it. So, I want to, not everybody would want that. In fact, there’s some people who would distinctly not want to be on a stage in front of 20,000 people, but I do. Why? I think I could.

So, my son, when he was about 10, wanted to jump off the roof. Why? Because he thought he could, I had absolutely no desire to jump off the roof, but he did. Well, what happened? He wanted to, so he climbed up on the roof and jumped off and then he did it again. And then he did it again and it gradually moved from want to into like too, because he was experiencing success. We just tried to keep that a secret from his mother who didn’t think that 10-year-old boys jumping off the roof was a particularly good idea.

And then in a few years, he grew into a teenager who got very much into the, the idea of parkour. Do you know what this is?

Meg: [00:42:38] I do my son my nine-year-old has recently gotten into this  

Andrew: [00:42:43] yes. If any moms listening out there, what a, a truly spine tingling, horrible experience go watch parkour fail videos on YouTube.

Meg: [00:42:57] Oh I will never be able to watch those at least not until he outgrows this phase 

Andrew: [00:43:02] yeah. I don’t know. Hurling themselves off skyscrapers and stuff. So. and he survived his childhood. He’s 23, no, I think, yeah, 24, I guess he’s 24. He’s a personal trainer at the gym and super buff and can do pretty much anything with his body that anybody could ever do. But, you know, that was an example of, he was highly motivated, and it moves. So, if a child is successful in what they want to do, then it often becomes something they like to do. Okay. Now the third law is, the, the flip side, the corollary, which says children hate and will refuse to do something they believe they cannot do. Children hate and will refuse to do that; which they believe they cannot do.

I, for example, flat out, refuse, ever again, under any circumstances to get on a snowboard.  I won’t do it. You couldn’t pay me enough money. I mean, it would have to be a very large five-digit number tax-free to coerce me onto a snowboard for a day. Why? Because the last time I did it, which was a long time ago, was so awful, so frustrating, so irritating, so painful, so cold and miserable and embarrassing and stupid and awful. I just won’t do it. And you, you can’t make me.

Of course. So, it was funny is my attitude. My children did not understand my attitude. Shoot. I remember, you know, they’re all excited about going on a snowboard ski trip and they’re like, dad, come on, come on. You could do it. If you know, we know if, if you just practice a little bit and get the hang of it, it’s fine.

You know, we know you could do this dad, if you would just try. And of course, my attitude was no, I am absolutely not going. You can go with your mother and board and ski and do whatever you want, and I’ll fly somewhere and teach a seminar so I can pay for your stupid trip. You know, that was my attitude.

Right. But how many times have we been on the other side of that saying to our kids? I, the adult know that you could do this, if you would just try. That is about the least effective thing you could do ever say to motivate a child to try. Now, most children have a higher threshold for failure, than I one bad snowboarding trip, and I’m done for life.

Most kids can try and fail and try and fail and try and fail. But everyone has a threshold and it’s different. Some kids are much more resilient than others. but everyone does have a point at which they say, I can’t do this. Therefore, I won’t, and this can happen. It can happen in math.

It could happen in, you know, studying a foreign language. It can happen in writing. It can happen in music or sports, right where you hit this point of, I can’t do this. So, I’m just going to quit trying. And here’s one of the sad things too, is children will often prefer punishment over failure. Some children, they would rather say I won’t do it and do to me what you will, I will suffer the consequences, but I won’t do this.

And then of course, we think we’ve got what lazy kids or rebellious kids, or, you know, profoundly uncooperative kids. I don’t believe in any of that stuff. I don’t actually, I don’t think I’ve ever met a lazy child. I suppose if you let them, you know, play video games and watch TV all day long, but take all that away.

Children are by nature, industrious creatures. And so very often we misinterpret laziness as them using some strategy to get out of having to do something they believe they cannot succeed at. So applying these laws in teaching, and this is hard. This is, I would be the first to confess. This is way easier to say than to live out in reality with the ideal, I think is if you could structure your, your student and your subject so that that student was spending 60 to 80% of his, or her time doing what he or she can do and just get better and faster. And then 20 to 40% of your time, giving them an opportunity to try something they haven’t done, but they think they could do and helping them be successful.

And 0% of your time asking that child to do something, which he or she believes they cannot do 0%. You’d have a 100% motivated human being. This actually works. Very well with adults and in managing people in a business as well.

Meg: [00:48:26] Okay so would you say this 20 to 40% of the things they think they can do would that also fall into the contrived category of creating a game that is possible to wi

Andrew: [00:48:40] n .

I think so. Yeah. There’s definitely overlap. Yeah. I think of, certain systems know, I think a Suzuki method music is very much like this in that children spend a good chunk of their practice time playing pieces. They have already learned already memorize and just making them better and easier and more and more perfect.

You look at the Kumon system for math. they don’t go to a new principal until a student has both speed and accuracy. on , the set of operations that they are working on at that time, because, and this could be an entire additional discussion of, you know, mastery learning is when you know something so well that you can do it quickly with high accuracy sometimes without even having to figure out or think because you’ve, you’ve done it so well, it becomes second nature.

And then you can add complexity to that. If you try to move from say addition to subtraction, but you’re not really good on your single digit addition facts, that subtraction is going to be very less engaging. If you try to move to multiplication and you’re not solid on addition, as soon as you get, addition, addition equals multiplication. You’re beginning to be counting three sevens. Cause you can’t just go 7, 14, 21. and then you just go 21 and you don’t have to figure it out. And if you don’t know math facts cold, division becomes a real mess. I mean, how in the world would you divide 42 by 6?

If you didn’t just know that, 6 times 7 is 42. And then, oh Lordy, you get into the world of, fractions. And pre-algebra, if you don’t have all those math facts. Yeah, super solid. You’re going to have a meltdown and start to hate math. No one could possibly hate math. What people hate is not being good at it.

Meg: [00:50:57] Right.

Andrew: [00:50:58] So the trick is to spend enough time doing what you can do. Until it’s easy and then adding, and then, and only then adding the next complexity. If you’re familiar with our writing program, you know, we have this term easy, plus one, you only add complexity composition checklist when what you’ve done so far, has become easy and you can apply this principle to anything that you’re teaching the easy plus one.

It becomes difficult if you think, okay, this child, because she is nine years old, she has to be in fourth grade. And, she has to get through the fourth-grade math book in exactly nine months. And therefore, we have to do one chapter every month we have to do.

You know, one lesson every day. Well, if that’s not providing enough opportunity for the mastery, then gradually it gets harder and worse and harder and worse, but you can’t really go backwards and say, you know what? We should camp out and just work on these multiplication tables and not worry about getting through the, the grade math book by the end of the school year.

And that’s, that’s one of the freedoms we have as homeschoolers. But we carry a lot of baggage, a lot of fear of a child getting behind or something. we would do better to just completely eliminate grade levels. Yes, it’d be okay to have grade levels as long as they weren’t attached to age. But that concept is so deeply ingrained in everyone’s mind, it’s pretty hard to undo.

Meg: [00:52:37] It is. Wow, this has been so awesome, Andrew. So you have two secret weapons for us then

Andrew: [00:52:46] Sure. they’re really two sides of one coin. and the coin is something I discovered long, long ago. Before I was really even teaching my own kids. I was teaching music to other people’s kids and I, I figured out, and of course my teacher, I lived in Japan for three years.

I studied with Dr. Suzuki. , when he was alive, we had group lesson every morning. I saw him all the time, and his first book was titled nurtured by love and, he didn’t lecture, but he loved actively continuously. You felt loved anytime you were near him. And I noticed in my teaching that if a student feels loved; they just respond better.

Everything’s better. Teaching is better. Learning is better. So, but you know, when you’re a 27 year old violin teacher and you have a 14 year old girl walking in for a violin lesson, You don’t say, it’s really glad you’re here because I love you so much, you know, find other ways, Suzuki style ways.

So, the first thing I discovered, was really an idea a lot of people have heard of, and that is the emotional bank account, or some people have said the emotional gas tank. One thing is that when you make correction for someone it’s a little bit draining emotionally, one of the big problems of teaching something like violin is from the minute a student picks up a violin, she’s doing everything wrong.

Teaching music is almost a continuous process of correction. So, you have to be very careful to handle it the right way. Otherwise, it gets pretty irritating and depressing. So, Suzuki though, he had a twist on this. He said you build the bank account and you live off the interest. Meaning you have invested so much positive in that person that when you do have to make a correction, you’re not taking it out. You’re living off the interest. And, I was there during the Carter years when you could live off interest, I think, gosh, it was like 12% or something. So, I thought, well, 10% is easy to calculate.

I am going to say 10 positive things to every student before I make the first correction, I’m going to have a 10 to one ratio here. So, you know, people come in and, you know, Hey, thanks for being on time. It’s so good when kids can get their moms to get them to a violin lesson on time and it makes my life easier. Thank you.

Or, Hey, that’s a cute outfit, I don’t know if it’s a cute outfit. I don’t think about girls’ clothes. But I do know one thing that 13-year-old girl, she spent half an hour or more thinking about what she’s going to wear today.

Hey, your violins clean, you must have polished it up. It’s always good to have a nice clean edge. I don’t know if she polished it. Maybe she didn’t even touch it for all week. I don’t know, but I do know one thing it is clean, and I can acknowledge that. So, I’m not saying false praise, I’m just saying you find positives.

And the other side of this coin of, of really demonstrating active love is the power of a smile. You know, when you smile at someone long enough and hard enough, no matter how crappy they are, they will eventually smile back at you. In fact, if they don’t, they will laugh thinking about how hard they’re trying not to smile. It’s contagious. And what does a smile, communicate? It communicates, I’m happy to be here with you. I like you. I’m grateful that we get to do this. I love you.

I used to do, this is kind of true confessions, I used to practice in a mirror, smiling. I would try different smile techniques and look at them and then I would go and try those smile techniques on kids.

Meg: [00:56:58] Did you end up with a favorite smile

Andrew: [00:57:02] Oh, I don’t know. I guess there’s a repertoire like anything, but one last little story.

This event changed my life more than any other thing I can remember in terms of Relating to my own kids better. So, I was living in Idaho at the time I was in the Spokane airport. I was going to fly down to Boise and be gone for a week.

And cause that’s what I used to do. I, I go and teach four days of, of, writing classes to kids and then a two-day teacher course, and I would just, you know, fly somewhere, teach straight nonstop for six days, do a free evening talk. Come back exhausted. And I would do that, at least once a month when I was in Idaho.

And my little daughter, Fiona was eight years old at the time and she was the daddy’s girl of all daddy’s girls. And my wife’s dropping me off in the airport and the kids are all there saying goodbye and she just leaves, and she just burst into tears. She’s like, daddy do you really have to go away again because I just miss you so much when you’re gone, you know, and my father’s heart is ripped out and like in, I do, I mean, people have paid, I have commitment, this whole thing.

This is how I support us; you know? And I thought, wait a minute. Okay, Spokane to Boise, this is a cheap ticket. I made a quick phone call. I said, do you want to come with me? And she’s like, really? Just well, buy a ticket right here. You get on the plane with me on flight of Boise and you can stay with me for the week.

And she’s almost in disbelief at this miraculous event. My wife’s a little skeptical, but I said, no, we’ll go to Walmart and buy some underwear and a toothbrush. I’m not totally incompetent here. So anyway, I took her. And, she was very young age. Didn’t really read much or write much at that age. but I let her sit in the first writing class and I don’t even know what she did.

I, she might’ve copied half a keyword outline in the entire two and a half hours. I’m not sure because I was very busy helping other people’s children, which is what I was getting paid to do. And then she went with this family that I had arranged for her to stay with. And then I taught two more classes.

I drove, I picked her up, we’re going to the hotel. And I said, so Fiona, how did you like that writing class? And she just looked at me with this on admiration. And she said, oh daddy, it was just wonderful. And I thought, I’m good. And then she said the thing that totally changed my life. She said, daddy, how come you’re not like that at home?

 Meg: [00:59:48] Oh,

Andrew: [00:59:49] And I realized how easy it is for me to be unconditionally enthusiastic about supportive of appreciative of, you know, other people’s children’s efforts and how easy it is for me to forget, to be that way with my own kids. Cause you know, it’s like, yeah, I love you. And you love me. We know this. So, would you get to work? We have stuff to do.

 So, I think that changed, you know, at least my intentions, if not my behavior to some degree. And it’s a, it’s a good thing to always contemplate , especially as our kids go through different stages of being young and being awkward and being, you know, older and then, and now even being an adult and, I have many, many more stories, but that’s probably the best one.

Meg: [01:00:44] Wow, that is something really great to think about because you’re right. When we get in this rush and we get in this, just get it done, I can see it. I am reflecting right now, can you tell? Andrew. I cannot thank you enough for your time and all of your thoughts today. I know that it’s going to be such a blessing for so many people that are going to hear this.

Andrew: [01:01:12] Well, it’s been a pleasure and, I. Do ’em again, encourage anyone to visit our website if they are interested in learning more about, any of the things. I also have, many, conference talks. One in particular that I think relates to this is called, Mastery Learning, ability development and individualized education.

And, it’s, it’s talking about the four pillars of Suzuki method and the application of those ideas in, other areas of learning, particularly kind of an expansion on that whole idea of math. So, lots of good stuff there.

 Meg: [01:01:52] Yes, and I will be sure to include all of that information of anything mentioned in the show, in the show notes. 

Andrew: [01:02:01] Super.

 Meg: [01:02:02] Okay well thank you again andrew for your time and your wisdom we are so grateful to you and we hope to have you again on the show soon

Andrew: [01:02:12] My pleasure. God bless you, Megan.

Meg: [01:02:14] God bless you too.

Andrew: [01:02:15] Bye.

Meg: [01:02:17] It was such a pleasure having you join us. I hope you enjoyed the chat with Andrew today and that you found some helpful tools to use in your homeschool program. Be sure to check out And if you have a moment, would you please leave a rating for this podcast? It really is important and will help us get more exposure so that we can help more people learn about the classical model education and support those who are using it. And be sure to share this on your social media or with your friends and family. The more people that we can reach and support the more we will be reaching the purpose of this podcast.

 Thank you so much and we’ll be back soon with another episode. Until then, happy teaching.



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