I have a child who is “fast and furious”.
I have a child who “doesn’t know”, “already knows that!” – no matter what “that” is – and who simply “doesn’t want to”.
I have a child who, on the surface, is a reluctant learner.
I also have a child (the same child) who is creative and curious. He is astute beyond his age. He is a fast learner (for better or worse) and is a great problem solver.
Our home learning journey has been anything but straight. I have scrambled to keep up, to stay one step ahead of him on his windy, unruly path. I have dragged him through the mud, searching for anything to grab his attention. And I have watched my reluctant learner blossom into an interested and eager learner.
But.. the journey has been slow and (still is) unpredictable.
Supporting a reluctant learner requires a lot of patience, perseverance, and a mindset shift.
- his extremes
- there are two of us in this home learning equation
- how I show up
has led me to notice and nurture all the ways in which my son is in fact an enthusiastic learner in life.
How To Turn Your Reluctant Learner Into An Enthusiastic Learner In Life
Homeschooling can be a great option for kids who are struggling in traditional school settings. However, it can be tough to homeschool a reluctant learner. If your child is resistant to “learning”, there are a few things you can do to help them adjust and make the most of their home learning experience.
HOMESCHOOLING: CONSIDER WHAT YOU REALLY WANT HIM/HER TO LEARN
It’s so easy to get caught up in all the curriculum choices, homeschool philosophies, comparison games, and societal/educational standards that oftentimes, we fail to ask ourselves (let alone our children) the questions that matter most for creating our unique home learning journey.
Sure, there are the basics that all homeschoolers should cover – math, reading, grammar, science, etc. But what about those things that are unique and special to your family?
For our family, home learning is about so much more than academics. It’s about teaching our son to be an independent thinker, to follow his interests, and to be a creative problem solver. And, having ADHD, executive functioning skills and self-awareness rank high on our list of learning priorities. Knowing how to have fun and unwind while still getting everyday tasks done is another huge learning focus in this season of life.
After hours of failed homeschool templates, endless curriculum browsing, and too many late nights, I began thinking about the skills most important for my son’s growth and future success. I began observing, documenting, and learning. I began asking questions to get me thinking big-picture and stop fretting over the details of trying to fit it all in.
The result? A personalized Home Learning Road Map. This document became vital to our success, saving me time, second-guessing frustrations, and even saving me from permanent burn-out. It has been a source of endless inspiration, education, and discovery.
OBSERVE, DOCUMENT, aND LEARN IN YOUR HOMESCHOOL
During our deschooling process, I began documenting our daily activities and discovered not only how much learning was already happening but also how I could become a better observer. Instead of spending my energy planning and wondering how we were going to “fit in all in”, I woke up eager to find out what new project we would create or what subjects would magically weave themselves into our day. I learned how to let go of “teaching” and began guiding my son to create the learning he was interested in.
And, noticing the little things lead to more hand-fives, fist-bumps, and the occasional ice cream celebration.
While I still do some light pre-planning (making sure I have certain supplies or resources on hand, scheduling the occasional Outschool class), my new approach is to reverse plan, writing it down after we do it, rather than before. Try it! You’ll be amazed at the things you’re already learning together.
HOMESCHOOLING: DON’T FORCE IT, INVOLVE THEM IN THE PROCESS, LET THEM LEAD
One of the reasons homeschooling can be a great option for kids who are struggling in traditional school settings is that it allows for more flexibility and customization. However, if your child is resistant to learning, it can be tough to get them on board. One thing you can do is let your reluctant learner take the lead in deciding how they want to approach their learning and what’s important to them.
Perhaps you are already comfortable letting your child lead or perhaps you are slowly coming to terms with not being in full control of their education. Either way, the child section of my Home Learning Road Map is a great place to get started. Including them in the learning process, if even just to a small degree, can provide the agency and autonomy that they require to thrive.
KEEP HOMESCHOOL GUIDELINES BROAD YET STRUCTURED
I keep a list of resources and “go-to” things for when my son needs a little more guidance. I also ask him to complete 4 things each day (this varies slightly depending on our season but, as a general rule of thumb):
1. his violin practice 2. a short reading practice 3. math and 4. a project of some kind (this could be a craft project, a game build, a sewing project, an art project etc.) I also keep a list for myself of things I want to accomplish with him – reading time together (if it’s a book he likes, he usually asks for it over breakfast or lunch), working through his big life kids podcast journal, or a specific project I have in mind.
LEARN AS YOU GO IN YOUR HOMESCHOOL
The other things we learn seem to fall magically in the cracks of our days as he or I suggest them – a podcast episode followed by an interesting conversation, a project around the house that turns into a science project, a bike outing that leads us to watch the new Jane Goodall documentary or a book which sparks a lego engineering project. Stay on the lookout for learning opportunities that make your reluctant learner light up, then, let the magic unfold.
FIGURE OUT HOW YOUR HOME LEARNER LEARNS BEST
This may take some time with enough patience and diligence, you will start to discover your child’s unique learning style. I don’t mean just in terms of auditory, kinesthetic, or visual but on a deeper level. Do they like field trips? Do they prefer hands-on projects? Do they like creative play? Are they more serious? Does a more structured or less structured routine (or a mix depending on the season) work best for them?
Really get to know your learner and teach to ALL their strengths.
SLOW DOWN AND TAKE BREAKS
Let’s face it. No matter how minimalist or intentional we are, we all need breaks. Perhaps this means work on something for 15 minutes take a 2-5 min break and then return to said work for another 15 min. Or, perhaps this means embracing the off days and “going with the flow” as needed to allow room for those challenging days and emotions.
Taking breaks doesn’t mean giving up or having zero focus. It means being intentional in your planning and structure to know when to push through a challenge and when to allow some breathing room to avoid overwhelm. Remember, kids in public schools aren’t getting 6 hours of academic learning so, it’s okay to have slower days.
SET SMALL ACHIEVABLE GOALS
Is goal setting a daunting idea for your child? Is completing goals even more overwhelming? Start by setting very small achievable goals and build from there.
You might consider asking your child: “What is one thing you want to accomplish today?” then “Great, what’s the first thing we need to do to accomplish that?” If your child is having a hard time engaging or coming up with an answer you might ask them “I notice you are struggling (feeling challenged/frustrated etc.). I love you and want you to experience success. May I help you work through a simple plan?”
Once your reluctant learner has practiced very small achievable goals, you can begin increasing the length and complexity of the goals.
Here are some of my son’s recent goals he expressed to me which we are working through currently.
Remember, there is more than one “right” way to do things. If what you try doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to pivot and try something new.
FIND PEER INSPIRATION
For a few years, I have been trying without success, to help my reluctant learner accomplish a small business idea. Recently, we ran across another young homeschooler who put together a video describing her small businesses and it inspired and lit my son up more than any of my coaching and guiding. We also discovered a group of kids sharing project ideas, once a week, as “mini-presentations” and now my son has an increased interest in developing his (lacking) writing skills.
CHANGE IT UP, LIVE IN SEASONS
It’s perfectly okay to change up your routine and live in seasons, depending on your needs at the time.
We live in seasons with more academic periods and more child-led periods. In The Brave Learner, Julie Borgart recommends this seasonal schedule:
Fall: dedicated studies (curriculum)
Winter: unit studies
While we do not follow this exactly, reading this has given me the confidence to just “go with the flow” as needed and I’m less concerned with fitting the academics in at all times.
Scheduling is also something to consider with your reluctant learner. Some models include:
Traditional Scheduling is the August through May schedule that most of us grew up within the public school system. Based on the agrarian needs of early farmers, the method has stuck over the years.
There are advantages to schooling with a traditional schedule — you take vacations when the kids in the neighborhood and the cousins do, you can participate in all of the summer activities planned for vacation months, and you probably still get a nostalgic burst of excitement and energy every fall.
Year-Round Schooling: By tweaking the traditional schedule ever so slightly, many homeschoolers develop their own version of year-round schooling. This allows for more flexibility to tack off as needed throughout the year. While we have not fully transitioned to this model, we are considering it to allow for some off-season travel months or more “joy days”.
One family I know takes off at the end of May to accommodate their swim instructor’s schedule and they remain off in June for summer camps. In July, when the kids start to get grumpy and bored, they start back up again. They also take off in the months of October and March when the weather where they live is cooler and perfect for outdoor play.
Calendar Schooling can be year-round or a 9-month schedule. The main thing is that the new school year subjects begin in January instead of August. I know some families who follow this schedule year-round and others who take October-December off, enjoying the biggest holiday months.
It’s not imperative that you know your yearly homeschool schedule in advance though it does help in planning vacations and when you want to schedule your breaks. The beauty of homeschooling is its flexibility and family uniqueness. I used to stress over the number of days we needed to be “doing school”. Ultimately, I was able to let this go because I firmly believe learning takes place everywhere, anytime. (That and it was detracting from the beauty of homeschooling: flexibility.)
Some days, we end up with WAY more learning than expected while other days are lighter. As long as we are moving forward, the number of days we homeschool is of little concern.
GUIDE AND PARENT WITH EMPATHY
Understanding your reluctant learner’s personal struggle and giving room for it to be in your homeschool will help you and your child grow at a faster rate. Parenting and guiding with empathy will help minimize your child’s anxiety and boost their self-esteem. If they are not feeling constantly judged, they will be more likely to try new things and experiment with their own learning. Having your home and home learning be a safe space for your child is an important part of their future success.
MINDSET SHIFT: REFRAME THE PICTURE OF YOUR CHILD
Is your child “fast and furious”? Do they seem lazy or apathetic and unmotivated? Perhaps they are really a curious kid who doesn’t feel stimulated. Maybe they have ADHD and struggling to fulfill their dopamine levels? Are they overly anxious and simply need more breathing room? Do they need more stimulation? What type of environment does your child learn best in? What is their best character strength?
Shifting how you see your child, from a reluctant learner to a non-traditional learner, may help you discover their unique strengths, talents, and learning “light bulbs”.
I recently stumbled upon a two-year-old journal entry.
“I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do with my 6.5-year-old. We are finishing 1st and he wants to continue homeschooling for 2nd. The problem is, he resists me every step of the way. I get the sense he only wants to homeschool because he views it as less work than public school. I keep telling him it’s not less work, it’s just different work. I can’t take the fighting anymore. I too want to continue homeschooling but I can’t if he’s not going to engage with the work at all. I feel like I’m at my breaking point and need to send him back to PS next year so I don’t lose my own mind.
I’m sad, discouraged, and don’t know what to do.”
I am happy to report I am years away from that life. While we do have our continued frustrations, my son and I are confident and happy in our home learning choice! We have settled into a slower, more flexible, collaborative rhythm.
Wanna know the best part? Seeing just how much we have grown makes me want to celebrate! Don’t overlook the small things. They are worthy of your cheer!
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