Starting HomeSchooling, Christian How to HomeSchool

Motivating the Reluctant Learner: Part 1

  • Debra Bell Columnist, author and conference speaker
  • Updated Jun 13, 2019
Motivating the Reluctant Learner: Part 1

(Gentle Readers, Rich and I are starting something new at Crosswalk.coms HomeSchool Channel a forum to discuss my weekly articles. Id like to get to know you better, so meet me there. Click here to connect.)

"I don't wanna do school!" I remember the first time one of my kids balked at his schoolwork. As is my nature, I immediately over-reacted. "What do you mean you don't want to do school? ALL home schooled children LOVE school." My first impression was to grab one of my many home school magazines around the house as evidence.

"Look at the children in these pictures!" I thought. "They are all smiling happily as they work around the table. See their mother, beautifully groomed, smiling beatifically in her sparkling kitchen at her happy, neatly dressed children. This is what home schooling looks like, I wanted to say, get with the program, kid.

Then I considered my kitchen dishes piled high, Tyco building blocks strewn about - and my mode of dress sweat pants and a T-shirt that read "I Don't Do Mornings" (a Christmas present from my children). Well, at least I could fake a beatific smile, through gritted teeth.

If this is a foreign experience at your house, then you'll want to skip the next few columns. I want to talk to the folks whose kids occasionally or consistently balk at doing their studies. Because believe it or not, that certainly wasn't the last time one of my kids said he or she didn't like what we were doing. Nope, nope, nope. But in the past twelve years I've learned how to reduce those incidents somewhat. And I've got a few strategies for you.

But first lets look at why kids can be reluctant to learn:

There are two possible explanations:

1. Their attitudes
2. Their abilities

And most often, these appear in combination. So you have some difficulties to sort out.

Character Flaws

"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." (Prov. 22:15) and that shouldn't be news to you, even if you aren't tutored in the scriptures. Gods job description for us as parents includes helping each of our children replace that foolishness with wisdom. That's pretty difficult to do if we don't hold a biblical view of children nor follow a biblical pattern of training them during their early years. If you haven't, I can guarantee that bad attitudes, rebellion, disrespect, slothfulness, disorganization, etc will soon derail your home schooling goals.

It's beyond the space allotments of this column to cover parenting skills, but often the heartaches we face with our reluctant learners are rooted in undealt-with sin in their lives. (I can recommend Shepherding A Childs Heart by Tedd Tripp as our favorite parenting book, though.)

One evening I poured out my concerns about one of our kids to Kermit. I took pains to elaborate on all the areas of difficulty I was facing and my fears. When I was through, Kermit said simply, "The problem is laziness." I had been expecting a more complicated explanation, but his succinctness had the piercing point of truth to it.

We sat down with our particular reluctant learner and laid out what we had discerned. Expressing grace and faith for change, we saw repentance and then real progress take place.

Prayerfully examine the areas of difficulty your child is having in school. What character flaws might be contributing to this? Kermit saw laziness as the root problem with this particular child because it was a pervasive characteristic of our child's life. It wasn't just math, but disinterest across the board in anything requiring exertion, i.e. piano, chores, getting up in the morning.

Abilities to Learn

A child's ability to learn can be hampered. And frustration over this, can bring out the bad attitudes. There are two factors to look at here.

1. Your child can be internally stalled because his learning style, readiness or interests are not being respected.

2. Your child may be externally hampered by his learning environment. The lack of structure or routine, the resources you are using, or the approach you have chosen can all affect your child's ability to learn the material successfully.

I know that at times I have not honored each of my children's internal timetables for learning. Despite knowing better, I have compared them to each other or to other children I know. So and so learned to read by this age, why haven't you? I would use my frustration and expectations to try and drive my kids forward. Some would crumple into tears; others would dig in their heels and put up a fight. But I was provoking their discouragement and rebellion. The scriptural command for fathers not to exasperate their children, is wisdom for mothers, too.

The Drain on Their Drive

I always want to get to the heart of the matter. And for the reluctant learner, the root is almost always a lack of motivation. Both their attitudes and their abilities, as described above can cause this lack. Step one is to discern what factors in each of these categories may be a drain on their drive.

Cultivate Their Motivation

Once discerned, my focus is not, "How do I teach this child this stuff?" It is always, "How do I motivate this child to learn this stuff?"

When motivated, human beings can overcome tremendous obstacles. Think of the endurance and accomplishments of individuals such as musicians Yitzhak Perlman and Ray Charles; former Miss America, Heather Whitestone; or Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug. All of them overcame great challenges but still managed to excel. They should inspire you to believe in your child's potential once he is motivated, even if he has been diagnosed as learning disabled.

Photo Credit: GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages