One of the shortfalls that we can have with homeschooling is a lack of deadlines – especially in the area of our studies. Deadlines create an external motivation to drive the child to work hard and this can be a good thing.
Our ultimate goal may well be to have our child internally motivated. I’d like to believe this is an achievable goal and yet I know when I look at my own life there are still things that I need regular external pressure to get me going. For example, the ‘pressure’ of a visitor coming ensures the housework gets done, the deadline my husband gives me makes the bookwork finally happen. There will be areas in our children’s lives, just like there is in ours, that will need these external motivations.
Internal motivation is actually deadlines or limits that we put on ourselves. So as we get our children used to the idea of being held accountable to a deadline, they are learning the skills to set a deadline and work towards it so that one day they will be able to set their own boundaries and be successful in keeping them.
In real life we have deadlines; it is a reality beyond just study. Here are some real life deadlines that our children can learn from:
Cooking: When we cook a meal we want it served at a particular time. Seeing how long you have to cook a meal and then working towards that, is working with deadlines.
Chore Time: One thing that happens often in our family is that I want to use the kitchen but I need to wait till the kids have cleaned it up from the previous meal. My waiting for them creates a sense of urgency – and purpose in getting the chore done quickly.
Birthdays: Our children like to make gifts for birthdays and though I reassure my children that stressing over completing a gift robs me of the joy of receiving it – there is an inbuilt deadline – with all their heart my children want to complete their gift before breakfast time on my birthday.
Going to Town: If we are to be punctual we need to leave the house 30 minutes or so before our appointment. Our children have fallen into the habit of reminders – Someone will call out “10 minutes to go” and then “5 minutes to go”. This helps everyone be aware of the deadline.
School Work: By setting assignments and completion dates we help our children not only understand deadlines, but we can help them see
  1. the work necessary in a project or assignment,
  2. the time available to them
  3. the effort required to complete the assignment on time
  4. the consequences of not completing it on time
Once in highschool and working independently we give our children an assignment sheet – this covers all output required for all subjects for the duration of a study block (4-6 weeks). Before this they reach this stage, we give our children a daily list covering what needs to be done in that day. We could easily make a transition from daily to study block, by giving them a weekly list but we have not found this necessary so far.
I am sure that our lifestyle gives many more opportunities to illustrate that we have deadlines to meet. Once we recognise those we can talk about this aspect of time and task management to our children.


Setting a deadline in and of itself is not the complete picture. I need to hold my children accountable to that task and timeline. The definition of accountable is (according to
  1. subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.
  2. capable of being explained; explicable; explainable.
This means when I set a deadline I need to make sure that my children report their completion or are answerable to their failure (if they don’t complete the task in a timely manner).
“Accountability breeds response-ability” Stephen R. Covey
I like this quote – it expresses very clearly that there needs to be a response if our children are to be accountable. Not only does there need to be a response from the child (I did or did not complete the task on time) there needs to be a response from me – the one holding them accountable. This would be the place of praise or consequences.
Once again I am reminded of the need to train our children – to teach/instruct them in the skills necessary, to practice (over and over again) and then to expect them to put the skill into use – once your child reaches this place in their training you can hold them accountable. I am not just putting pressure on my children for the sake of completing tasks according to my timetable – but rather creating a sense of urgency in my children’s hearts to be responsible, prompt and diligent.

Two things limit a sense of accountability being established in our home

1–I don’t hold my children to be accountable; I tend to give the tasks but don’t hold my children to either the task itself or the timeliness of completion. If I expect something – I need to inspect it. My inspecting is what makes them accountable – if I completely forget about what I have asked them to do – so will they!
2–I run out of puff! I start off with good intentions but I let things slide. Our inconsistencies create more issues than our children’s wilfulness does in the first place! We must be consistent to what ever standard we are expecting of our children. The first time we say “Oh it doesn’t matter” we begin a slippery slide. Our children are so fast to pick up on our inconsistencies.
Being accountable is an area we are working on in our family. I have identified these key steps when giving instruction to my children:
  1. Do you know what to do?
  2. Do you know how to do it?
  3. Do you know the time frame available?
  4. Do you remember what you do when you are finished? (i.e. report back)
I want my children to report back to me especially when they have finished their chores and when they have finished their daily study to-do. These things happen regularly enough to be successful training opportunities in our family.
While my children need external motivation I need to provide it though I hope that the skill for setting deadlines and holding themselves accountable will be developed in their life. I want my children to be answerable for their actions in every area of their life, and for this to happen they need to know that someone (that is, God and their parents) care about what they get up to and care enough to help them do the right thing.
…we have kept on praying and asking God to help you understand what he wants you to do; asking that the way you live will always please the Lord and honour Him… Colossians 1:9a-10b (TLB)
Note: This blog was first published at Lifestyle-Homeschool newsletter, 2010 which is why I am talking about younger children. I am reposting this because it to be a very important topic that homeschoolers need to be aware of and one that I continue to work on even with my highschooler.

Further Reading

Stop Micromanaging the Highschool Homeschool Student: When we stop micromanaging our homeschool highschool student they start to take responsibility and learn skills that will be needed in their adult life.
Balancing lifestyle learning with Study for Homeschool Highschool Students: When we homeschool highschool we may have to consider if the lifestyle learning opportunities are still the best thing for our student.
Create a Control Journal for your Homeschool Student: A control journal helps a homeschool student keep their whole life sorted – not just their school work.

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