Addressing Reluctance in Your Homeschool

Last month we talked about balancing academics with character building. Truly we can’t have one without the other. As I mentioned then,

We have the privilege and responsibility to help our children grow into responsible, diligent, persevering, kind adults. We are not just shaping their minds, we are guiding their characters into adulthood.

But how do we make this happen? What do you do when your third grader miraculously disappears when you bring out the math books? How do you respond when your enthusiasm for history and literature fall on deaf ears? How do we handle the whines, grumbles, and general reluctance as relates to school studies?

If you and your child have engaged in formal study for any length of time, you’ve probably encountered moments of

  • Do I have to?
  • I don’t wanna….
  • I won’t.

Ah yes, there’s the rub. As we live the life of both parent and teacher, challenges present themselves. Parenting is hard enough sometimes, but then children drag their feet through what should be a stimulating, educational, enriching moment.

While there is no foolproof, one-size-fits-all, answer to this dilemma, there are things you can do as a parent and a teacher. Read the cues from your child because he may be communicating a number of different reasons for his reluctance.

Considering the following questions may help you get to the bottom of the struggles.

Photo by Lindaaslund

1. Is something too difficult for your child?

Often times children don’t realize or aren’t able to communicate that something is beyond their comprehension. Perhaps that math program is just too advanced. Or maybe you’re asking for too much too soon. Reexamine your curriculum and your approach to see if your child is sufficiently challenged, but still capable of success.

2. Is it too easy?

On the other hand, is your child not being challenged? Many a kid has ditched school because he was placed in classes that didn’t ask enough of him. He was bored out of his mind, so why go?

Learning at home is no different. Kids who are bored are liable to act out more. But subject matter that is appropriate for your child’s skills and interests engages and is less likely to be met with resistance.

Talk with your child and find out what he likes, what he dislikes, what he wants to learn. You’ll be amazed at what you learn in the discussion.

3. Do they need to be encouraged?

I’m often surprised that my kids don’t know how brilliant I think they are. I am reminded that they need to hear this more often. Not so much the brilliant part, but they need to know when they’ve done something well.

When I praise and acknowledge positive performance or good effort, it gives them courage and spurs them on to try hard, to persevere, and to take on new challenges.

Lagging confidence can prompt a child to resist trying or engaging in the subject matter. So, encourage often. If they know they’re good at something, they’ll want to do it more.

4. Are they just being ornery?

Sometimes a child’s balk is just — because. The kid who refuses to finish his math assignment may be the same child who refuses to make his bed. There may not be a “good reason.” This signifies the moment to have a discussion and approach the situation in the way your family deals with other discipline issues.

It may be at these moments that we are tempted to rethink this homeschooling gig. Someone else could be handling this! But, really, these times are the hidden blessings of homeschooling.

We get to see where our kids struggle. We get to walk them through life’s great lessons of responsibility and perseverance. We get to teach them to do something because it’s the right thing to do, even if they — or we — don’t want to do it.

And when you don’t want to deal with that particular aspect of parenting, well, you get to practice — and model — perseverance. They say that experience is one of the greatest teachers.

How do YOU handle reluctance with your students?

About Jessica

Once a public high school teacher, Jessica now homeschools five of her six children, covering 2nd through 10th grades. Her oldest is in college, so the experiment appears to have worked! Grab a copy of Jessica’s new cookbook Good Cheap Eats Dinner in 30 Minutes or Less and the accompanying monthly meal plan to help you save money, eat well, and enjoy some freer time.


  1. I try to keep our lessons (for my youngest, anyway) on the shorter side. I’ve also seen a big improvement in using workboxes, because I can plan something rather fun after something I know she won’t enjoy as much. She can see her next box and that motivates her to get through the work.
    Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s latest post: An Easy Way to Afford Little Blessings

  2. Hi there.. I’m a mother of 3 kids, 5 years old boy, 3 years old girl and 2 month old baby boy..

    My eldest kid very fast learner.. from born, I teach him to recognize color red, black and white from RBW book. He kept learning.. till 1 years old he can recognize alphabets.. I’m so excited with the fast growing of him.. He can write all the alphabets character when he 3 years old and he can read by himself at 4 years old…
    Only the problem is he lack of social and living skills.. He dont know to make friends.. and he cant accept any weakness, for example he got mad when he fall.. can u give me advise on that.. how can I help him?? what else I can teach to avoid him loose interest in learning?

    My second kids.. a little bit slow in early education.. like recognize alphabets but actually she is very kind and creative.. she will make use of anything surrounded her to play.. she had high imagination.. she also helpfull, sensitive…

    About babies.. he starts smiling, laughing.. and he reflects when we call him…

    I feel so lucky to found this website.. where I can share and learn with everybody.. Thank you

  3. Sometimes if my kids are really reluctant to do something, I try and remember to just stop everything and slow down. In the next day or two they are usually sick. Uncharacteristic reluctance is the first sign..
    kim’s latest post: Know it all…

  4. This has been a huge thing for us this week. I’ve faced tears every day; by some strange logic the math is both too hard and too easy. The resistance wears me down. Honestly when he was in public school we had the same problem. But now I am the bad guy instead of the teacher. I had to take a time out and go pray this afternoon. Honestly I don’t know how to handle it. With many subjects I can find creative and fun ways to learn the way he wants to, but there are some subjects you just have to do, to practice over and over until you know it back and forth. Some of this is just the way my spirited child is, some is old patterns and feelings that are hard to let go of, and some is reaction to the incredibly stressful summer full of upheaval and uncertainty. I don’t really have any answers. But I know I am trying my hardest to do what’s best for my children, and I know this is a fleeting moment in their lives. It will get better, I hope.

  5. Homeschool is the perfect remedy for reluctance, because you can tailor-make your learning to suit you child’s interests, learning styles and physical needs. Reluctance is a symptom of something that is not in place.
    I recently wrote a post about this – Turning those frowns upside down – Motivation! where I give assessment questions and some tips.
    Nadene’s latest post: Pop-Up Books for Free play and Imagination!

  6. I have found that it is all about me… seriously, when I am enthusiastic and focused even my most reluctant learner gets happily involved. When I stop to check my mail, answer the phone, hang the laundry- anything… it can all fall apart. Really when I lose the distractions and commit myself 100% to school time that my reluctant learners are so much less reluctant…
    se7en’s latest post: How to Celebrate a Birthday in Se7en Easy Steps…

  7. This has to be the most difficult aspect of homeschooling. Several people have commented before about this, but I agree that as the teacher, parents have a strong impact on reluctance.

    It can be hard to make some subjects fun, but Angela has a really great idea in making sure you follow up something boring or “not fun” with something fun. Gives the kids something to work for instead of focusing on the boring task at hand. Of course, some days are definitely more trying than others. We’ve got to remember that just like us, kids have off days and that’s when having back-up teaching plans are nice. Something for when everything goes wrong.
    AprilS’s latest post: 8th Grade Math – Subtracting Polynomials

  8. I was SO happy to see this addressed. In all my research on homeschooling before we began, I found very little written about the child who says “no.” We have two very strong-willed children (the jury is still out on our third, though I see promise there;) ). I thank God for them each day! Yet, they challenge me something fierce:) This post was really helpful for me to remember the potential reasons behind their nos and ways to be proactive in preventing them. Se7en’s comment was also helpful . . . I have noticed the same connection. My distractions lead to their distractions!
    Ashlee’s latest post: Apple Picking

  9. I really love that you addressed this topic. It’s the one that gets me every time, and in those moments of discouragement, I feel like the only one with this struggle, as if all the other homeschooling moms are enjoying one cozy learning adventure with their kids after another, and I’m the only one feeling completely incompetent because –as you put it — my kid just wandered out of the room during my bubbly talk about fractals or whatever. Today was one of those days! Thanks for reaching out with honest words about the “dark side” of homeschooling … we need to know we’re not alone.
    Hannah’s latest post: House Beautiful Were Getting There

  10. Let’s not forget to offer our school work to God! (of course- if you are a believer) This can be helpful to children- they can use their learning as an offering

    • Absolutely! I find my most successful “break throughs” are when I’ve made a conscious effort to ask God for help. Go figure. 😉

  11. Great topic! I think we all experience ” reluctance” in our children and I find it interesting in how different our two children exhibit this behavior. Our son, simply puts things off until the last minute or he takes a longer time to get into focus mode. Nothing rude or dramatic, just quiet delaying… After ten years, I’ve learned I need to be ” present” both in the room and have my homeschool hat on or I can lose him quickly… Our daughter is the opposite… She’ll try to wiggle out of things, and if I cave ( which I have ) and let her put things off until later or tomorrow she’ll resent it later when she is frustrated about a certain something and say, “You didn’t make me do it” … Now, I give her what she really wants ( to be challenged) and I remind her of that when she wants to slack off.. Now she understands that to get where she wants to go she has to WORK AT IT… I find this is an ongoing lesson to learn. It occurred to me last week that many educator’s focus on the reward system when trying to motivate children. I never really grabbed a hold of that one in our homeschooling but lately my mind has been more on how to INSPIRE my children … I believe when they are inspired, they are also motivated… This just might be my next blog topic!
    Again, great topic!
    Deb from Dandelion House Homeschool
    Debbie’s latest post: WOODLAND BENCH

  12. For now we homeschool during summer break from public school. I have a 7 yr old with special needs & a 2 yr old who is very… Um, spirited. To make our lessons a bit more palatable, we use a multisensory approach. Boys tend to learn through activity more readily than through “seat work” anyway, so why does everything have to be done with paper & pencil? We still do some writing & worksheets, but if the point is to practice addition facts, why not let your child “write” his answer with shaving cream on a cookie tray, or jump to the answer that you’ve written on the driveway in chalk?
    My son is less likely to balk at the seated reading/writing tasks when his day is not filled with them.

  13. Great post! Last year we seemed to be in a great groove and this year we seem to have hit a wall. Already. My second grade boy has decided that he knows all he needs to know and wishes to NOT pursue further education! Ha! I can laugh about it, but it also makes me want to cry too. It’s hard to feel the conviction to homeschool and do it, when you could just give up and turn it over to the “professionals”! I want this to be a great year of second grade, but honestly, I am already feeling a little strain. Thanks for sharing and all of the comments were good too!

  14. I saved the email containing this post so I could come back and re-read it and read everyone’s comments, as well. My eldest (12.5) tries to wiggle out of any work he can, and attempts to finagle more computer time into the bargain. He and I both desperately need inspiration to keep going! If I could just figure out what that might be.

    It’s also very difficult to have one child who gives up at the first sign of hardship and another who is challenged by it and tries all the harder to succeed. Personality definitely comes into play here!

    Thanks to Jessica for a great topic.
    Fiddler’s latest post: Book Sharing Monday – books from Australia and New Zealand

  15. I remind them that kids at the “Big Public School” have to be there all day long whether they are done with their work or not, whereas at home, once they are done, they’re done and can go onto other things. Letting my son look at his cousins homework list also is helpful.
    Amy B’s latest post: Project 2011

  16. I know that this post is a little older but just thought I would add my “two cents” for anyone else that stumbles upon it as I did… my oldest is only 5 and we have just started with “school work” but it has been so important for me to remember that in these early days fostering a love for books and learning is far more important than teaching him the facts. My son began learning to read at 4 and 8 months later is able to read at about a 2nd grade level. Able but not willing.

    Our last few weeks of reading lessons were filled with resistance, bribes, creative lessons, yelling, and finally tears. After all that I realized that this was surely not the path to falling in love with books. I announced that there would be no more reading lessons, just mommy reading to him whenever he asked (within reason:). And it has been wonderful. We go to library readings, listen to books on tape, and snuggle up on the couch without tears! He is excited about books again and even reads books to his brothers and sisters during playtime without any prompts from me.

    The most beautiful thing about homeschooling is that we have freedom. If our children (or we moms) are growing tired of conventional lessons, we have the freedom to stop the lessons. For a few days, weeks, whatever. Especially with the younger ones, isn’t it much more important on a daily basis for them to feel loved, accepted and encouraged, and to keep that fire for learning alive (even if they are not learning exactly what they SHOULD when they SHOULD) than it is to check off another workbook page completed?
    Becky’s latest post: Lunch and Division

  17. This was helpful. I plan to go back and check out Nadine’s post too. I pulled my 7th grader out of public school this year and we’re preparing to homeschool her in the fall for a number of reasons. She’s accepting of the idea now and even starting to show signs of getting a little excited (which is great considering that she wasn’t immediately on board)… But she’s already said a number of times: ‘I am NOT doing this. You better not try to make me do this because I will completely REFUSE.’ She usually says it in that facetious, half-kidding kind of way that makes it ‘safe’ because she can always play off that she was only kidding. But getting her to follow directions is already an issue, and because she’s only ever known public schooling, I definitely worry about her taking me seriously as a teacher. When she tells me that she already outright plans to REFUSE to do things she doesn’t want to, it concerns me a lot, even if she is just being cheeky.

    I’m hoping to gather some tips and tricks for handling it now – before we inevitably cross that bridge in the fall.

  18. I know this is an older article, but I couldn’t resist commenting. My oldest (5 yrs old) has always been a self-determinate type of person. And in many ways this will be a great strength when she is mature enough to handle the responsibilities that come with her decisions. Homeschooling has been no different, and although she loves to learn everything, she is reluctant to follow my lead on subjects, chosen activities, and when things are to happen. I have limited time to work together on lessons, and studying one topic of her choosing (snowflakes all day please!) when I don’t have a single resource in the house about snowflakes, can make for a very tiring situation. So what has worked is ensuring we follow a routine with our day (so she knows what to expect and when, even in our lesson format) and reminding her that she has the rest of the day to play/study/do what she wants, but this is our lesson time together and mommy decides what we will study today. I do make every attempt to prepare topics/materials that I think she will find interesting or has already expressed an interest in studying ie. let’s study snowflakes tomorrow, or next week after we go to the library, etc.. I also allow lots of physical breaks, and try to make activities as hands on as possible using different mediums and tools to allow creativity and a change from sitting at a table all day. Reluctance is definitely a variety of all the points listed above, but for us is a personality trait that we try and recognize and accommodate for.

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