Not again! What to do when our kids complain


Do your kids seem to hate homeschooling?

I got this question from a friend recently and wanted to let you in on our conversation.

The Mom:

My children are small, but I feel I may be going about this wrong. My kids seem to dislike homeschool work, always begging me for a day off or a break. I am not sure how to change this. They are 6 and 8.

We spend maybe two hours a day doing Math and Language Arts and then maybe science/history/social studies through the week.

I find they just want to get it over with so they can do other things (my eight year old son seems to beg for the computer or ipad mostly). I also ask them to read every day, and even though they can choose what they want to read, they still resist and complain.


I think two hours is reasonable but what you do in those two hours is important.

If they have to sit still and be quiet, that’s hard for young ones. Watching an educational video counts, so does a math computer game or a board game. Reading an ebook counts too. This might be attractive to your computer-loving child.

And remember, they need to move and be creating or figuring things out, not just listening to you or doing a worksheet.

Also, having a reward system can work for awhile. We often had a checklist of things they HAD to do, and when that was done, they could play. Or they’d get stickers or points toward a treat.

Break up the two hours like this, for example: After you finish this assignment, you get this coupon toward 15 minutes on the computer. Or when the timer goes off in 10 minutes, you can stop that worksheet and run around the house for 3 minutes.

And if they didn’t want to get back to work after the reward, I’d say, “I know it’s hard to focus on this, but it’s important, and I know you can do it. It’s only a few more minutes.”

Pep talks, rewards, smiles, doing it with them, making it fun … those were the best ways to get through boring, hard stuff. But keep that kind of work to a minimum.

The goal is engage their curiosity and let them explore things on their own.

Photo by Lori

The Mom:

I certainly do not see a love of learning being formed here, and I am not sure how to change this.

I know you seem to follow a child-led learning technique, and if you could give some advice on how to implement this (or even books) I would appreciate it.

Also, my son would spend all day and night on the computer if he could, I am assuming this is not what you mean by child-led learning? 🙂


However your child spends his time, he’s learning, even if it’s not your definition of “learning.”

If you are uncomfortable with what he likes to do, give him more options.

To get your kids out and moving, you have to find things that interest them. Go for an outing/field trip once a week, find a sport they can join (summers are good for this), music lessons, art lessons, scouts, 4H, theater, a telescope to look at the night sky, a garden, a pet, who knows!

It can take a while to find these things and get a new groove, so don’t despair, just keep trying.

My favorite books are by John Holt. He was a pioneer in the unschooling movement. I’m sure there are other great books out there, but I tended to follow my heart in teaching my kids and didn’t want to get bogged down with the ideas of others.

There are principles to follow, like let the child’s interests drive his education, keep the end in mind (they have to learn math, etc), but the nitty gritty, day-to-day stuff can’t be prescribed. That’s up to you and your expert knowledge of your child.


Photo by Kai Schreiber

The Mom:

Thank you! Today as Jeremy explained all the details of the different mods of this game he is learning online, using vocabulary I was surprised he knew … I had the same thought of what you said, how his learning looks different than what I think learning should be.

I volunteer in his religion class, and just seeing those kids sit there for an hour and half working out of a book makes me rethink how we approach learning, because I don’t think these kids are really learning much doing this.

One more question, how did your son do so well on the ACT and SAT? Did he take a prep course?  I don’t test my kids at the moment and often wondered if they need “testing” to prepare them for test taking.


During his junior year in high school, Peter read through a prep book we got at the bookstore, but his best preparation was to read a lot. He loved to read and he’d work through very difficult stuff because it interested him and he wanted to understand.

The more experience our kids get with text, the more adept they get at figuring it out. That’s the key to the reading passages in those standardized tests. The other half of the test is math, so that’s why we need to keep moving them forward in that area.

Peter had a great math teacher when he was a freshman in high school. That’s the one year he went to private school. From there he basically taught himself, but he was a natural. I think for a different child, I would probably have them take math at a community college for high school credit.

The Mom:

Thank you again. You have helped a lot.

I just asked my son how he would like to build Minecraft structures following an instruction book on the Kindle for homeschool tomorrow, and he shouted “Yes!” I guess I found a way get him excited and read! 🙂



Do you have any other suggestions for this mom?

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About Jena Borah

Jena Borah homeschooled her three children all the way to college. She blogs about her homeschooling years and her interest-led philosophy at Yarns of the Heart.


  1. This is such an excellent post. I homeschooled for five years disregarding what the kids wanted to do before I finally saw the light after, as you said, reading a book by John Holt. That is what I suggest to parents more than anything. His books are astounding, and they gave me a hope about my children’s education that I had never had before. That book completely changed everything.
    Shelly’s latest post: Sorting Things Out: My Rant Against PA Homeschool Laws

  2. This is exactly where I am with my 8 and 5 year old boys! This is great advice, and something that I work on every day it seems. Whenever I feel like I can’t get my kids interested in anything, I’ve found a leisurely trip to the library usually fixes that problem! Also, if i suggest a project, it’s the most boring idea on the planet, but if I just start working on a project myself, they’re immediately at my side and wanting to jump in!

  3. This post is so helpful as someone just starting out on our unschooling journey. Thank you! I just wrote a post about prioritizing more outdoor time with my kids because they were spending way too much time on the iPad with Minion Rush and Clumsy Ninja.
    Yes, I know they’re learning, but it was driving me crazy. I like how you said you need to just give them more options if you’re uncomfortable with what they’re doing. I totally agree!

  4. Oh also, I wondered if you (or anyone) have a favorite book by John Holt to recommend? Our library doesn’t carry any of his books, and I was thinking of buying one, maybe How Children Learn or Teach Your Own? I’m already convinced of the “why” of homeschooling, more interested in the “how” part of the equation. Thanks!

    • I read How Children Learn after reading Learning all the Time. I liked LATT better as a way to build an unschooling philosophy. Holt does not really give a”How to unschool”. I’ve come to realize, though, that this is something you just have to figure out based on your lifestyle and what your children are interested in.

    • I’ve researched several months before pulling my son from public school. My kids are now 6 and 8 and I recommend this “You Can Do it Too” book. It is how 25 different families do homeschool. I had no idea about homeschooling and this book gave me confidence that I really could do it too. There is no one way. I loved the Charlotte Mason method and even the unschooling. My kids actually have done some classical education which I am thankful for because it opened my eyes that everything is not going to be “fun” everyday. But with consistency and determination they have learned so much that they otherwise wouldn’t have if we were just coming up with there own interests. We are stepping back from classical next year, but continuing with the consistency of math and language arts.

  5. Jordan Sheats says:

    This has really helped me stay calm and make school fun when I get the eyes rolling!

  6. Maybe 2 hours is too long right now? I Iwas homeschooled and now my kids are second gen homeschoolers. My dad would keep the hours of required time…. Doing things we weren’t so excited about….. Low. But have us lots of time to develop our interests. Such as: during daily family walks we got to talk to whatever interested us for 10 minutes, teaching the rest of the family. We were able to watch videos or have outings related to something we are learning, etc etc. All this was learning….. Thus keeping the actual time of “boring” school low.
    We went year round and the maximum daily school work we did was 3-4hours in high school. When we were your kids’ ages (6-8) school lasted only 30-60 minutes.

    But the was a lot of other time for learning: music lessons, sports, theater, outside play, computers, reading, etc.
    Good luck

    • Thanks Sara. We’re in our first year of homeschooling and are only doing an hour a day of “learning at the table” with my 6 year old, and I always worry whether it’s enough. I’ve read so many blogs where people do 4-6 hours of sit down studying with their kids, or the opposite, none at all. So it’s really great to hear from someone else who also homeschools/was homeschooled in a similar way. Thank you for the encouragement and reassurance!! It was just what I needed.

  7. Great ideas. My kids are still young enough that when they complain I just go with it. But I’m sure i’ll need this more and more as they age.

  8. Understanding your child’s learning style is extremely important. I have a kinesthetic learner who needs to touch and move. She’s also very social, so doing things together is important. She would DIE if I handed her a pile of workbooks to do by herself. In her early years playing math and phonics games was a great way for her to learn. My husband is a big proponent of finding curriculum that fits her learning style…he always tells me it’s not about the curriculum I like, but the one that will help kiddo learn.

  9. We homeschool following the Montessori method, though we didn’t start out that way…largely because we began with kind of Charlotte Mason philosophy, and I read that she hated Montessori, so I thought it must be terrible! I think she just didn’t understand it, actually. One of the things I love about Montessori theory is that it emphasizes that math and language are NOT the most important subjects. For elementary-aged children, the focus is on cosmic education…in other words, getting the big picture of the world, the universe, and your place in history. We tell stories about math and the development of language to open up those subject areas. So we learn them, and in my opinion Montessori math is the most effective math I’ve ever seen, but it isn’t in isolation. I think it’s so tempting to isolate and try to pound math and reading into our children’s heads, because that’s what is tested later on, not history. But in my experience, when we do this we definitely aren’t developing a love of, or even true understanding of, the content.

  10. Dorothy says:

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