Help! My 5-year-old won’t “do” school!

Help! My 5-year-old won't do school
Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

On occasion emails pop into my inbox from mamas concerned about their children.

Are these kids on drugs? Hanging with the wrong crowd? Suffering from serious diseases?

No. Usually they are five or six-year-olds, often boys, and they don’t want to do school.

Here’s an example of what I mean (I’ve created this sample based on questions I often hear):

Dear Jamie,

My son is five. He would love to spend his time doing Legos, drawing, and playing outside. Rarely does he want to sit down and practice writing his name or anything else. What do your kids do all day?

What does academic learning look like at five and six? What are “school” hours in your house?  Do you ever worry that they are learning appropriately? Thank you for taking the time to share any advice.”


Concerned Mother

My response:

Dear Concerned Mother,

What you’ve described is a perfect curriculum for a five-year-old–Legos, drawing, and playing outside sound fabulous! Read-aloud to him; he can even play or draw while you read–or you can read during meals if he won’t sit still otherwise.

Play creates a strong foundation for all the academic work to come, and you want him to feel that learning is just another facet of play–that won’t happen if forced before he’s ready. My kids are just as likely to pick up a handwriting book on Sunday as they are to get out blocks or toys, because to them it is one and the same.

Your job is to create an environment that fuels learning inspiration–books, workbooks, maps, manipulatives, art supplies, and more. Then let him gravitate to what comes naturally. I recommend reading How Children Learn by John Holt and Leadership Education by Oliver and Rachel DeMille.

Head to the Sonlight catalog to find booklists for titles to read at this age. I suggest you look at their P4/5 list for a five-year-old and invest in the books that would most interest him (or get them from the library). It is perfectly fine if he doesn’t want to write his name yet–make sure he sees you writing. Set the example you want him to follow.

We don’t have official school hours; our goal is to naturally blend learning with life. We do have times when we read together–once a day the kids choose books and in the afternoon I read from a chapter book. (We’re currently in the midst of The Wizard of Oz.)

In the mornings the kids have what we call sections–during this time they play and may work on a project (like handwriting, writing a story, etc). We bake together, play outside, and follow up on their interests and questions. We also integrate activities from the Oak Meadow Kindergarten program into our day.

It’s much easier to teach a child who wants to learn. As parents we look for the gifts God has planted, and help them grow at the proper time. This is the beauty of crafting an individualized education for each child.

I don’t worry (except during the occasional freak out moments–which happen to us all from time to time) if they are learning “appropriately.” We don’t typically worry about when our kids learn to walk or talk, right? It’s natural. Learning is too, though most of us have grown up thinking otherwise. And many traditionally schooled children burn out so quickly that it’s the last thing they want to do.

But when that desire hasn’t been stifled kids want to learn, and they do it in their own timing. You’re there as the mentor, inspiration, and model when they’re ready.

In comparison, traditional schooling decides that every child is ready based on age and then seeks to make them learn, labeling them “behind” if they can’t keep up. There’s no need to structure a homeschool that way. Young children thrive in an atmosphere of freedom and connection, instead of force.

You’ll find out what fits best as you baby step your way. Just like with mothering, listen to your intuition!

With love and respect,


So many of you are much further ahead than myself on the homeschooling journey! What advice would you give to moms of five and six-year-olds?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.


  1. I agree that a more relaxed approach is generally best, especially when learning opportunities are abundantly provided. I’ve been having a bit of difficulty with my 5 1/2 year old. He began “reading” by memorizing words we read to him so he would recognize it by sight. When he began doing that with so many words, all day it felt like, I decided it was time to show him how he could decipher the written word himself. But now, lesson #81 in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, some days are a big struggle to get him to sit for a few minutes to read the lesson. Honestly though, he doesn’t like anything that resembles work, even if it is physical, so I feel it is more of a “I don’t want to do something if you tell me to” thing, rather than a reading struggle, especially since he reads very well. I plan to finish the book with him, but then give him more leeway in choosing what beginner books he wants to read and when.
    Mama’s latest post: fostering creativity

    • “he doesn’t like anything that resembles work, even if it is physical” – got one of those. His saving grace is that he is a voracious reader of any printed material.

    • My now 6 year old boy really resisted reading 100EL around the same point as your son. We just dropped it for a month or so, and read other easy books. When we picked it back up, there was no more resistance, and we were able to finish the whole book. I wonder if you did the same if that would work for you too.

    • Just my two cents. I tried the teach your child to read in 100 days and it was not a good fit for my daughter. We tried hooked on phonics and the first set was great for her easy and fun books, very simple lessons, but after that she lost interest. I tried to bribe her to keep going and finally realized she was only doing it for the bribes. I let her stop doing it and in a few months she came back to it on one condition. She didn’t want to do the lessons she just wanted to read the books. Poof, that easy she was reading. I really think dropping the rope with kids is sometimes the key. They will resist just because you are pushing. As soon as I let her have her way, her way was exactly what I wanted. Maybe not the way I wanted but she sure as heck learned to read and fast. She’s now way above her reading level for her age even and loves to read. You might find if you stop the lessons and just let him pick out beginner books at the library he will happily be reading. Maybe not right away but he will learn because obviously he wants to, just not your way it sounds like.

  2. Sunshine says:

    Dear…he is doing school. Read Rudolph Steiner! Kids do not start learning academically until 8-12…usually closer to 12. Play with him. Do Legos….you might look into Charlotte Mason’s narration work & her nature journals….I am my 4 year old doing it and she loves it! You are doing fine! So is your son!

    • I would love to hear how you are doing a nature journal with your four-year-old. I have a four-year-old, and would like to start that, but many of the things I have seen are for older children.
      Johanna’s latest post: 2 Great Board Games that Don’t Require Reading

      • I just started doing nature notebooks with my kiddos…boys ages 4 and 7. For both boys we go on our nature walks and I take pictures of the things they find of interest with my phone. Then when we get home we look over the pictures and find out what we were looking at. The older one will draw pictures of branches with thorns or spiderwebs. For the little one I will google whatever it is with “printable” or “color page” after it and I will print it out and let him color it. When the boys are finished with their drawings/coloring I hole punch them and put them in a binder. They love showing daddy their notebooks when he gets home.

      • I do nature journals with my kids. Nothing fancy. We go on a walk and they pick something to bring home. A leaf, acorn, or flower etc. They each have a real drawing notebook that is ONLY for nature journal, no random coloring. They draw what they see (I make them use colored pencils for this) and I label (and date the picture too!) the items for them. It’s fun to look back in the journals and see what they drew when they were really little. Sometimes we take the journals with us, but that is a little harder to manage with little ones. As they get older I am encouraging them to write about what they saw, felt, smelled, heard, and so on.

  3. Love this post. I remember it from when you posted it before. I agree 100%! Yet it’s always easy to forget this and think we should be doing more “school-like” work. I always have to remind myself that play, fostering imagination, play, storytelling, play and play are our main priorities! :)
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: Will T.V. Hurt My Kids? Part 2 of 3

  4. My 9 year old still doesn’t particularly enjoy work that makes it feel like school. I’ve had to work around this to make learning fun, this includes lego, being outdoors lots, playing board games, playing educational computer games etc. If he finds it fun, he learns more and enjoys it. I feel this is the best way to learn.

    You’re blog posts always help too!

  5. HeatherHH says:

    We live life naturally, pointing out the things around them, playing, etc pretty much exclusively until at least 6 years of age. Around 4, I will start practicing counting with them, but that’s about it for any formal schooling. Around 5, I will pull out Phonics Pathways and start working from that for about 5 minutes a day and spend about 5 minutes a day for very informal math. Only at 6, do we start into more formal schooling, and even then it’s only about 1 hour total a day, and a good chunk of that 1 hour is me reading aloud from our science and history books.

    There’s no need to rush. Start them later, and they’ll learn it faster and are less likely to burn out and hate learning.

  6. Lana in MI says:

    My 6 yr old son (will be 7 in july) has really struggled with school. We sent him to a Catholic preschool for a year and a half. We waited until this past school year (he was 6 when he started) to start him in Kindergarten. We put him in a Montessori Charter School for this. He cries when he has to go to school. He cries every day AT school. He has many melt downs. He tells me he hates school and just wants to be home and PLAY. It breaks my heart. I’ve started thinking about homeschooling both him and his 8 yr old sister. FEAR has stopped me from moving forward until I saw this blog. GOD is talking to me.

    • Katherine Barron says:

      Dear Lana,
      Do it! You can always put them back in school if you hate having them home. Give yourself a transition period to get used to all being at home. Relax. Have fun. ENJOY YOUR CHILDREN. Why spend the most precious years of their lives fighting with them? You won’t regret it!

      Mom of 3 boys who doesn’t always love them like she should, but wouldn’t put them in school even on the WORST homeschool day

  7. Homeschooling can be overwhelming at first. Little kids need lots of variety d they need to be excited about what they are doing. I have now been homeschooling for fourteen years.. I have found some of my best homeschooling ideas from posts others moms have shared. Use the internet!! You can d
    find so many ways to use play to teach. I struggled to do this with science the way I really wanted to.
    One of the best science helps I have found for teaching science the way I always thought it should be taught (through experiments) is the company Superchargedscience. Their e-science online experiments are amazing. The teacher demonstrates the project on a video so that the kids can see exactly what to do. You are given a list of materials ahead of time so that you will have everything you needs. The experiments really work!! My kids have had a great time exploring topics they are interested in and learning first hand the science principals they need to learn.

    They give away a lot of free stuff and have free live classes where the teacher teaches in real time and the kids  can interact with her. She also keeps us posted on events like the Mars landing so I don’t forget to let my kids know what is currently happening in the science world.

    Right now you an Get a  Free Homeschool Science Guide With Over 30 
    Go to

    Once I had a few ideas that I thought I could really do, I decided to give it a try. Fourteen years later, as my other children came along, I had to keep adapting to their changing needs.
    I found some really cool stuff on pintrest homeschool yesterday. Check that out, too.

  8. “As parents we look for the gifts God has planted, and help them grow at the proper time. ”

    This is so beautiful! I love that.

    • Brij Mohan says:

      My child is five years old.He is going to school from two years.But he donot know how to write one.He is not conterate in his studies.I m very worried about him.What I do .I dont know.He is not see in his note book. When he is two years old,he has brain fever.May be this is the reason of that.Now what should I have todo .please suggest me

  9. Help advice needed.
    My 4.5 year old son has been in reception since 4yrs, he has now been given an informal learning plan to aid his concentration and improve behaviour. Teacher told me that he was not sitting still during carpet times and at assemblies as his peers. He wouls also yell out and make silly noises during carpet time which was distracting. She has now placed him on a reward system as part of the individual education plan. My problem is that this is a very creative, free spirted confident boy, who expresses himself very well. I just feel awful having to put him into an education system which is labelling him at this very tender and impressive age. She did mention in our last meeting that he is very good at rembering facts and science, geography, and likes to concentrate on things he really enjoys, but that we need to channel this so that he also does the things he does not lke. He is often not keen on writing or colouring, but will want to build lego blocks, story-telling and talks bout bid machines, ships, cranes and animals all the time. He general knowledge is pretty good and he likes us to read science books, he is not an artist often I have to ‘force; him to write his name, or a few words, or colour in. He is also not that keen on reading by himself, but loves being read to. He loves books but does not seem to show an interest in reading by himself. I spend so much time with him developing skills, writing, reading, phonics I am feeling like I am failing him in some way, he is my only son and I have to put so much extra hours in to help him keep up with school? I can’t believe that he can be soo far behind. At hom ehe shows some really insightful and intelligent attitudes, likes to take the lead and really loves nature, learning about animals, history such as romans, vikings, so how do I move forward now. His results for Spring this tem was dire (he got an D for english, literacy and communication), he hot a C for maths and numeracy and B for science/environment. I just think this is all a bit too much for a 4 and 1/2 year old? I did not start to read and write until I was 7, and I went on to do 2 degrees at university? It just all seems a bit much too soon, and then they burn out before college
    Please help!
    Megan’s latest post: On the introverted mom homeschooling extroverted children

    • If you are following this site you are thinking about home schooling. Why not try it? Do you really this if you give him an extra couple years to pursue his own interests even if that isn’t reading that he won’t learn to read? Reading your post you know what is right, now following your instincts. He is clearly too bright to be forced to fit someone else’s mold for him.

  10. We are in Ontario Canada, my son is now 5 1/2. Last year he started JK, full day everyday. He was tested at reading at a Grade 2 level and other than some issues such as fumbling with lunch containers, and early writing difficulty did well. 30 kids in the class with a teacher an educational assistant and early childhood educator to assist with class size. This year we put him into French Immersion every other day. Class size is 18 kids with one teacher and a student helper. My son cries about school, asks if it is the weekend yet and says he wants to quit. The teacher thinks he has a learning disability because he seems disinterested however at home he can do many of the tasks that he isn\’t completing in class. He has been referred to an occupational therapist, and when i spoke to the case worker she had said that he would not get help until grade 1 anyhow as he is 5 years old and his behavior is common. His teacher says that grade one will be difficult for him. A child in every other day schooling is expected to learn as much as full day everyday children in preparation for grade 1!!! Not fair! He hates school, I feel awful…this is not how it is supposed to be, I am terrified that he will be scarred for the rest of his learning years.

    • Adele, there are so many people homeschooling successfully in Canada and I’m sure you could too! Schools are so quick to label children at such a young age, when really that is exactly when you want to nurture and cultivate their love of learning. My friend Renee is a Canadian homeschool blogger, maybe visit her site and see if it’s helpful, too?

  11. I always come back and read this post when we are having one of those rare days when my kids don’t feel like interrupting their play for anything else and I forget for a moment that this is totally okay. :-) Thanks for sharing your wisdom and perspective.
    Abbey @ Surviving Our Blessings’s latest post: Five-Minute Friday: Grateful

  12. There are so many aspects of educating children that one can worry about. The phrase ‘learning appropriately’ struck me as funny for some reason. I’m not sure after 15 years homeschooling that I knew there was such a thing as learning appropriately. Are they learning? Then it’s appropriate.
    April’s latest post: Definitive Photographs: Snapshots of Memories

  13. We pushed hard through kindergarten and first grade, and I really regret it. If I could go back, I wouldn’t do half as much formal work as we did. It just made everyone unhappy. My son did not want to sit. :-) We start second this year, and are planning to ease off the gas pedal and try to have more fun.

    He has naturally slowed down (physically, not mentally!), and is starting to choose to sit and read or do other activities.

  14. Amanda Free says:

    I live in Mississippi, and we have compulsory attendance laws that kick in at 5yrs old. We have it pretty easy when it comes to what is taught but we do need to prove that the kids did something 180 days a year. I don’t ask for more than 30 minutes of “school time” out of my kiddos (all under 6) and we do those workbooks from the grocery store. Until they get to about 8 to 10 we are only worried about reading, basic math, and fun!

  15. I loved your remark about learning academically at ages 8-12, I’ve always homeschooled my son. He learned at age 3-4 what most kids learn in first grade in school. However now at the age of 11, he could care less. ? I’ve read to him everyday since birth. Not sure if I should just wait on him or push harder. Thanks for your time any help would be greatly appreciated.

  16. Yvette Edwards says:

    Relax, relax, relax. Read to him, read to him, read to him. Get books on disc for him to listen to while he plays legos or draws! If he likes legos, start learning to count with them. Simply asking him to build a tower, 5, 7 or 9 bricks tall will incorporate this. There is also lego math if you google it. Use his interests to make learning fun. Have him build a lego creation and have a challenge to see if you both can draw a picture of it. Take turns pointing out how your drawings are alike the creation and different than the creation. Outside start studying all nature. Simply taking a walk and getting to know the types of trees in your neighborhood is learning. If his favorite thing outside is a frog, for instance, take out all the books you can find on frogs from your local library and read them aloud to him. Factual books and fiction too—-Like Froggy rides a bike. Check out your local library. They are an incredible resource and always have wonderful weekly and monthly activities for kids of all ages!!! Remember, you are his mom and your were chosen for this job.

  17. Haha! I loved that you wrote you don’t stress except for the occasional freak out moment! 😛 That happens to me all the time, but I wholeheartedly agree with what you say. I have a 6 and a 5 year old and our school is very short and bare-boned. The rest is learned through play.
    Purva Brown’s latest post: I Don’t Buy the Hype about Early Childhood Education

  18. I was a child who didn’t want to do “schoolwork” when I was that age. I always had something else to do or a sibling to play with. I graduated from a state university with a 3.9 GPA and am starting a Ph.D program in the fall.
    Don’t freak out.

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