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The Reluctant Learner

Ideas for Motivating Your Children

Your pre-teen or teen doesn't want to do anything but play. Schoolwork is a chore for both of you, and you are feeling like a stressed-out nag instead of a loving mom. This child just doesn't seem to want to learn anything and is so unmotivated! You are frustrated, and the kids are barely getting the bare minimum education because of the fight. Is there a solution and hope for a happy homeschool? Read below for suggestions from our HomeschoolChristian.com message board participants.

My now 12 year old daughter only wanted to play, play, play for the first three years we homeschooled. Now my 6 year old son only wants to play, play, play and tells me he hates school. He doesn't really, it just interferes with playing! I honestly felt like I was d-r-a-g-g-i-n-g my daughter through her lessons everyday, force-feeding her her lessons. In reality, I was. So.... We switched gears-made major curriculum changes to unit studies. Workbooks and textbooks were killing her natural desire to learn. I had to free her from their constraints so she could learn to fly.

Remember-there is no perfect curriculum and not many parents have those "perfect little learners." That's why those children make the news reports. The rest of us have regular old kids who don't make the news reports because their progress is boringly normal!! - Heidi in IN

I have switched around curriculums and he does better with some than others. He has done better since I've explained to him why he needs an education. That has made a difference in his attitude about school. He still doesn't love school, but tolerates it. For science and history I concentrate on topics that my son has an interest in.- Katrina

Children might perk up a bit if they are allowed to pursue things that interest them. Why not let the kids grab a ton of library books on something that interests them in nature, and have them read the books, write a little about what they've learned, illustrate the thing(s) they're studying, and so forth? Grab a couple of educational videos from the library relating to whatever it is they want to study, like birds, weather, mammals.

For language arts, have them read a bit of classical literature. There are a lot of great books out there that spark the imagination, and while they're reading, they are also getting the best examples of punctuation, spelling, and grammatical structure around. Just record what they do daily, keep the TV and computer off until their assignments are finished.

Don't feel like you have to finish out the year with a curriculum that is not working. There are some things the kids must learn - like math, and no matter how we package it, they will still probably want to play instead of do the work. Hey, it's the same for adults, isn't it? It doesn't mean you're failing at teaching your kids, nor that there is something different or wrong with them. You might have to just change your curriculum a bit to better suit the kids. Just remember that most humans would rather play than work! - Eliza in WI

The best "creative idea for helping kids do school faster" that I've found has come from the Bible - PIZZA!!!

2 Thessalonians 3:10 says that "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." Teach your kids this verse. It will become very important to them...

Get a piece of cardboard and a black marker. Write "WILL WORK FOR FOOD" and hang it on your kitchen wall. Take your kids to observe the folks holding the same sign. If you're feeling really ornery, make your kids talk to them!

Come home, show your kids what their work is for the day... and then disappear! Secretly call and order a pizza to be delivered AT NOON. When the doorbell rings, those who are finished with their work may eat pizza with you. The rest may have water and crackers... It worked for us! - TN Lizzie

My solution so far has been to just allow them to take as long as it needs to. If their neighborhood friends come over to play when they get out of school and my kids are still working, oh well. There's been a few days that it carried over into after dinner time. I do draw the line at bath time/bedtime. (At that point, it has just become extra work for the next day.) Yes, they complain a LOT, but I am not giving work that is impossible to do. I am giving work that is challenging them. They are trying to be lazy and I have to inconvenience myself sometimes (like if I would like the school day to be over already and they are still being stubborn...) just to get the point across.

Our latest 'rule' has been you have two 'chores' every day. You have a predetermined set of 'assignments' to do. You WILL complete both (in any order) before any 'fun' starts. No playing, no friends, no games, no television until it is ALL completed. If you guess and rush through your work, I will KNOW and you will redo it tomorrow, as well as being restricted from everything else for the entire day. - Christine Z.

I think we contribute to this problem when we equate "learning" with "school work." I think you are asking for ways to train your child to compliantly complete his assigned school work. But that may have little or no relationship to your child's "wanting to learn." A child can be very much interested in learning, but not very interested in the busywork that many of us equate with learning. I think they're two completely different things. If you follow the advice to discipline your child until he complies with completing his school work, you may very well accomplish that goal. But if your goal really is to help your child want to learn, you probably won't accomplish that goal with discipline. - Janet in WA

There are many different ways to learn. If I had to sit in front of the computer working all day, I would just want it to be over, too. For any age children, you could make games. Pick a period in history and have your children make a trivia game--questions and answers. Expect age appropriate questions and answers. You could use a Trivial Pursuit game board and pieces or make your own. Have them make up rules for the game, and then play it.

Have them pick out library books on anything that interests them. Make the rules ahead of time that they have to be Good Books--not Babysitter's Club or Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys. - Chele in MS

Have a Friday FUN DAY. Your child's assignments:

  1. Using the hand you don't normally write with, write the alphabet going down the left side of a sheet of lined paper. Now using the "right" hand, write something starting with each letter that would bless your socks off.
    Ex: Allow me to eat cake for breakfast.
    Book about horses.
    Cook supper almost all by myself....
  2. Figure the Area and Perimeter of each window in the house.
  3. Sit at the table sipping tea/hot chocolate with your Mama and count birds that you can see out the window... for 20 minutes. Clean up afterwards.
  4. Get out your crayons and either a coloring book or some blank paper. Make something pretty. Hang it on the refrigerator.
  5. Do a load of clothes from wash to fold and put away.
  6. Have Mama choose a book of poetry and read aloud to her while she fixes dinner.

- TN Lizzie

There were two issues with my son: The first was his feeling of frustration - he just didn't understand the math page, so was avoiding the work that he was afraid he could not do. I had to realize that he could not do as much independent work as I thought he could, that some of the materials I had were just too difficult for him, and had to commit myself to doing some of his work WITH him, even if it was "supposed" to be done independently.

The second issue was - he still just didn't want to do it. In the end, it was my my husband, not me, who resolved this. His dad told him, you will be punished if your schoolwork is not done before I get home from work. Well..it wasn't done when my husband got home from work, and my son got the punishment as promised. This happened only one more time. Once my son realized that his dad was serious, that punishment was surely awaiting him, he sat down and did it. I think with boys, it really takes dad being involved. - Lynn S.

A few things taken away from my seventh grade boy mean more than anything else in the world - and that seems to take care of it. I will warn you that it might be an uphill battle and a battle of the wills. But, don't give up and and don't give in. In our case, the little boy who thought his mommy was the best thing since sliced bread has left the building and only comes home occasionally. He will come home someday. I stand on those promises. - FLDonna

I remember telling my mom that I had had it with dealing with bad attitudes and was considering putting my kids in public school. My son was about 9, daughter 7 at the time. She works at the school and said, "Just try putting them in school and then see what happens to their attitudes." By this she meant that their attitudes would be many times worse, and guess what! You'd still have to do school (homework) with them only it would be in the evening when everyone is tired.

Another thought--hormones. Yes, even the boys. And, yes, it started with my son at about 9 or 10. This can especially be tough in the mother-son relationships (speaking from experience here). My 16 year old son is actually helping me with this post. He says it's because they are becoming men and don't want mommy telling them what to do anymore. Let me say that I have felt what you are feeling. "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." I Cor. 13:11 Do not look at your child now as the finished product. He is still a child and is acting childish. - Sheri

My son was taking forever to accomplish his work and was enjoying "butting heads" with me. I realized that I was being too generous in the amount of time I allowed him to have to accomplish his tasks--without some boundary of time I believe it was frustrating for him, so I started using a timer and it has help a lot. I spoke with him about "attitude" and that I would not tolerate laziness or disrespect and that if it continued he would be given twice or three times the work load--it was his choice. Later in the evening he acknowledged that he was indeed giving me a hard time on purpose, he apologized, and said he would not be doing that anymore. - Dianna J.

The last three days my children were at a Christian school taking the SAT. They picked up interesting things while there! More attitude, new words, etc. - I know the feeling concerning "I don't want to do this anymore!" However, after this experience I know that although this school was good, it doesn't make the kids good, or loving, or kind. I won't send my children to this Christian school and they definitely will NOT be going to public school. This was the eye-opener I needed. - Carolyn S.

First, the TV and computer games would have to go. Not entirely, but so that you have control over them. Also, library time was twice a month, I would pick out some books for them and allow them to choose some for themselves, we had an hour required reading every single day. They had to choose a book from my stack and one from theirs.. they read from 'my' book for the first 30 minutes, and then they could read from theirs. (They knew that 1pm was "reading time.")

Also, they had plenty of board games to keep them busy... I would wake up many mornings to the 3 of them playing Monopoly, or Apples to Apples, etc. We bought them a basketball hoop so they could play basketball, they have a 'fort' of sorts to eat picnic lunches in and they forget themselves and actually begin to play like soldiers with horses and the 'fort' is their "base"...

I have a chart for each of the children, each cover 3 or 4 subjects a day (I rotated the subjects so not all are done every day) and they also have a chore they must do... bathroom, laundry, kitchen,etc. This helps me with the housework and also gives them something productive to do. I've learned that the less "electronics entertainment" allowed, the better behaved my children are, and the more willing they are to work. Boredom in this area works wonders!

Also, I find myself sitting at the table with them most days, either reading my own books, doing bills, etc. They don't seem to be so "up and down" at the table if I'm there with them.. as they seem to want me in the room with them and will follow me around the house if I'm busy doing chores while they do school work. I think they want my undivided attention for that period of time (as it should be). -- Tory

I cut off our cable a long time ago. I have T.V.'s but only for DVD's that we own. I have every entertainment dvd in a box hidden. I have 3 daughters ages 16, 11 and 5. They drew numbers to see who would go 1st, 2nd and 3rd and then each Saturday IF everything for the week is done withOUT attitude one movie is chosen out of the box. #1 the first week and so forth. The only movies available on our shelf are educational.

Each day the older two set clocks and get up at 9 o'clock. I leave instructions on the dry erase board each day that tells them who needs to do what. They do those chores first. Most of the time I'm up already, sometimes I'm not and they let me sleep in. If they are sick they come and tell me and we take it from there. Otherwise schedule sticks. We start school when chores are done so the time varies day to day depending on what chores are done. BUT school is listed on the board and everything listed gets done. I am doing school with my 5 year old, while the other two are doing chores. My 5 year old does her chores when I school my 11 year old. My oldest daughter schools on her own.

We are into week 3 of this. If there is any rebellion including complaining, they lose music, computer and phone. These activities are very limited though. They do not get free use of any of these. They ask permission and when I grant it I also tell them how long they have. I expect "Yes, ma'am" the first time. My 5 year old is having the hardest time adjusting because I haven't trained her this way and she is forgetful, but the other day when she didn't say yes ma'am first thing, she tucked her head and said, Ah man...she knew it was quiet time in her room. Period.

Right now my 16 year old has no phone, no computer, no music, no company, no going anywhere. I almost feel sorry for her. I am hoping my husband agrees she can come off tomorrow. I am very tender hearted and this has not been easy on me by any means but it works and it beats whipping them for everything and screaming all the time. We have peace, a clean house and are completing our school. They are actually learning to get along with one another and like school (better). Really! Consistency IS the key. -- Jenileigh

Cut out the complaining. If they complain, there is no TV time or greatly reduced time. In our house, screen time on the TV, either movies or games is very addictive. Consider that they may have to detox from the addictive substance. Maybe you need to loosely schedule their time for a while yet.

Have them make a list of fifty things they can do instead of TV or textbooks. Refer to the list every time they say I'm bored. Lay in a supply of craft supplies. Add musical instruments as your budget allows. Go to the park or the lake or somewhere outdoors every week. -- DebMcTexas

We struggle with many of the same things. I've gone to strictly curriculum. No computer, no TV when they slack. I take it away for weeks at a time. I up the number of chores they do, and find special jobs for complainers. It tends to get them back on track. I just instituted mommy boot camp the other day, because of the slacking.

Try the mommy boot camp [otherwise known as having kids do spring cleaning] for a couple of weeks - with NO TV, NO computer, and see if attitudes improve. Have a read-aloud in the evenings, where you read to them while they sit quietly - should be easier if they're worn out from cleaning. My boys do almost all of the chores around here.

They know if they want free time, they have to EARN it, like mom and dad do. I want to instill a good work ethic in them. Too much playtime won't do that. Yes, your goal is to help them be independent, but if they're not going along with it, then you need to take control. I use Lifepacs, which is self-tutoring, so they do their schoolwork independently. Every week, at the library, I require them to get one biography, one science book, and a good novel. They can also get what they're interested in [mostly Star Wars].

We don't have money for field trips either. So I make them watch documentaries. Oh, and if they complain about schoolwork, they get more. I add one page for every complaint. -- Allie

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