Written by Toni Anderson of The Happy Housewife
I have a child who hates school.
This is hard for me to admit because it feels like I failed. I failed my son, my family, and the homeschool community.
The bottom line… ten years ago I tried to force a square peg into a round hole, and it didn’t work. Instead of focusing on what he could do I worried about all the things he couldn’t.
Now I’ve spent the past eight years trying to undo the first two.
Four years ago another son started school, and like his older brother he wasn’t eager to learn. Thankfully I’ve learned a thing or two over the years and took a different approach with this child.
We still have occasional tears, outbursts, and frustration but that can happen with any child. What I don’t have is a child who hates school. I have a child who struggles but is eager to try again every day.
Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about teaching a reluctant learner.
My biggest mistake with my older son was that I started too early. Who decided that all kids should start school when they’re five?
I forced my son into homeschool kindergarten before he was ready. He wasn’t physically, emotionally, or mentally ready to officially start school that year. Instead of giving him another year or two I forced this active five year-old into a daily school routine which was the worst thing I could do.
Just because a book, friend, neighbor, or mother-in-law tells you your child should be able to do X, Y, and Z at a certain age doesn’t mean they can.
You know your child better than anyone.
They will learn how to read, write sentences, add and subtract, and tell time. But they don’t have to do it all before they turn six.
Change it Up
Just because you love workbooks doesn’t mean your child loves them too. Your child might not have the ability to sit and listen to read alouds for hours every day. Maybe they don’t have the motor skills to hold a pencil correctly just yet.
The benefit of homeschooling is that you can tailor your child’s education to fit their needs.
If a curriculum isn’t working for your child it is okay to take a break from it. Try something new or use the same curriculum differently.
Set Small Achievable Goals
Don’t overwhelm your reluctant learner with a laundry list of “to-dos.” Set manageable short term goals and celebrate with your child when they reach them.
Some reluctant learners need a simple incentive to help them meet their goals. For years we had a treasure box in our homeschool. At the end of the week every child who met their weekly assignment goals was able to pick a prize from the box.
The treasure box was a key factor in getting one of my children to learn how to work independently.
Involve Them in the Process
Children like to have control over something, so let them have a say in what they are learning. Let them pick out a few library books, help plan their schedule, or choose a field trip.
Giving them ownership of their education can change attitudes and outcomes.
It is possible that your reluctant learner might have a learning disability. Your child can overcome this disability with the right tools, but it is important to know what you are dealing with in order to help them.
Our oldest son was evaluated by a developmental team at the Naval Hospital because I suspected he wasn’t just a “struggling reader.” The team provided me with a comprehensive report and stacks of information on how to help my son overcome his seemingly overwhelming diagnosis.
Depending on location and your access to medical care getting help might be more difficult but there are resources available for homeschoolers.
Don’t Give Up
Many children who are reluctant learners bring a bit of a bad attitude to the school table.
Don’t get discouraged. While it might seem easier to give up and let this child play on the computer all day than fight with them to finish their schoolwork this will hurt you and them long term.
Rather than give up, change it up (see point #2 above).
Don’t Confuse Reluctancy with Disobedience
Reluctancy does not justify disobedience. Even if your child struggles it is important to set guidelines and boundaries for them.
You know your child best and are able to determine whether you are dealing with attitude or learning issues. Honestly, it is usually a little bit of both or one leads to another so it is important your child has clear expectations so they can succeed.
It’s Not About You
I believe that as homeschoolers we tend measure our success by our children’s. A child who reads at age three, writes their first novel at eight, and takes community college classes at thirteen must have an amazing mother who homeschooled them, right?
That child might have an amazing mother, but they are probably pretty motivated too. Your child’s struggles do not mean you’re a failure as a homeschool mom.
It is hard to work to teach a reluctant learner, there will be tears (yours and theirs) and you will wonder if it is worth it.
My little reluctant learner now has a cheerful attitude when it comes to school. He is first at the table every day and even does extra school work without being asked. He still struggles but he realizes it’s just part of the process and he wants to learn just as badly as I want him to learn.
He will overcome his struggles and succeed. He already has.
What can you change in your homeschool to motivate your reluctant learner?
This post originally published on September 30, 2011.