3 ways to motivate reluctant learners

3 ways to motivate reluctant learners ~ SimpleHomeschool.net
Written by contributor Jena of Yarns of the Heart

I am a big fan of interest-led learning. We found that motivation was rarely a problem because our three kids (all now graduated) were always exploring what interested them.

You can do it too.

For example, if your child loves trains, let him spend time learning all there is to know about trains. As a result, there will be a lot of reading, history, social studies, science and math to conquer, but it won’t feel like school!

What about learning things that don’t connect to a child’s interests?

It’s tempting to say, “Sit down, be quiet, listen and learn,” but if you have a reluctant learner, you know thems fightin’ words!

Here are a few ways to move your child from resistant to motivated.

1. Control your temper.

Kids tend to mirror our emotions. Plus, you’re more likely to say things you don’t mean and damage your relationship.

2. Go on a field trip.

Getting out will be good for everyone.

Your child may have no interest in the Lincoln/Douglas Debates, but we have a great little hands-on museum here in my hometown. I’m sure you have similar things near you.

Check out your local homeschool group, chamber of commerce, or do an internet search for historic places and museums near you.

kids_at_debate_museum 575

Being out of the house and in an interesting place will stimulate their minds and create an understanding of things they might not choose on their own, and it just might spark a new interest.

3. Play games.

There is nothing better for learning boring things than making a game out of it.

Yes, I admit, some learning can be boring. Games work especially well for struggling readers who need to learn and practice phonics rules.

Here’s a game I made to practice the long vowel/silent e rule (or Bossy E), but it works for any set of words. All you need is a game of checkers and round stickers that are often used for yard sales. These stickers are great because they peel off easily when you want to change the words.

checkers 1 simplehs

It’s played just like checkers except you have to say the word before you move your piece. If you child says it wrong, remind him of the rule, ask him to look again, (“Do you see a Bossy E?”).

checkers 2 simplehs

Pair my Bossy E checkers game with the following chart of long and short vowels and you have a real winner! Let your child refer to the chart when he’s trying to decide how to pronounce the word.

Getting those pictures in his head will help him remember the vowel sounds. You can download the chart from Teachers Pay Teachers and print it at home.

vowels visual

When I was teaching my children (before the internet!) I relied on this book for ideas:

Games for Reading

Don’t forget simple games like Concentration.

Get a bunch of index cards and a list of target words. Write one word on each card, but make pairs. So 12 words will yield 24 cards. Turn them face down on the table and try to make a match by turning over two cards.

If you make a match, keep the cards and go again. If you don’t make a match, turn them over and it’s the next person’s turn. When all the cards are gone, the one with the most cards wins. Kids love this game and often have better memories than the adult!

I just started a Pinterest board of my favorite reading teacher ideas.

The key to motivating your children is to keep things positive and to build on their interests.

Games and field trips are my favorite tactics. What are yours?

euro king gear

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. I think games are a great way to learn, even if you are not reluctant.
    Julia’s latest post: Sun-Baked Homemade Chocolate Bars

  2. Jena’s website – Yarns of the Heart – has been such an inspiration to me as I set out to homeschool my three (ages 7, 4, and 1) – I think I have read every post on her blog! Thanks so much for this post- my middle one is STUBBORN – this will come in handy! 😉


  3. My son’s kindergarten teacher sent home a number and word recognition homework assignment that he really enjoyed and loves to play. I am homeschooling him for 1st grade this year and will use the game again in other creative ways. Here’s the game (pretty simple): Write numbers or words on post-it notes (1 number or 1 word per post-it) and hide them around the house or room, your children can help hide them too. Those same words or numbers should also be written down on a sheet of paper as a list. You say the word or number and they hunt around the room or house for it and return the post-its to you. Found words may be placed in alphabetical order or any order you or they like. For numbers, say them out of order and when they find them, have them place them in order, or reverse, or whatever. So simple, so fun, so flexible.

  4. I really enjoyed visiting your site. You have great information available. I am homeschooling my daughter who is special needs, and a visual learner. I found constant reassurance, and breaks helps us get through a day. Thank you for your inspiring words.
    Jean’s latest post: Our First Guest

  5. Thank you! I needed this reminder this morning with my very stubborn and reluctant reader and learner. He is smart enough, just school is a fighting word!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Menu for the week

  6. What about behaviour modification?

  7. My son is allergic to math! I cannot get him to do any math what so ever. How do you tackle this without discouraging interest?
    Lynda’s latest post: It is not the day when the wolf will live with the lamb, yet

  8. Heidi Menendez says:

    I am having trouble motivating my 15 year old sophomore to do any sort of schoolwork. He used to be such a great student up until the last semester. He says he doesn’t like school and nothing I can do will help him. All he wants to do is sleep, play his guitar and hang out with friends. I want him to enjoy learning, but how can I get him to complete all the high school credits he needs to graduate? I have offered to figure out classes that can incoorperate music and count credits toward other classes. I am feeling so sad and frustrated.

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