How to Motivate a Reluctant Learner

480xNxboy-looking-grumpy-jpg.jpg.pagespeed.ic.p7ZbzHJwrFAs homeschoolers, we hear about instilling a love for learning in our children. In fact, many of us homeschool because we want our kids to love learning, and we feel homeschooling is the best method of education to achieve that. So if, (or should I say “when”), one of our kids becomes reluctant to learn in one or more subjects, we feel especially frustrated or concerned.  We think, “What am I doing wrong?”
The fact is that most of us will have times when one or more of our children are not motivated or happy about learning, whether it’s in one particularly difficult subject or across the board in all subjects.  There are a few reasons I think this seems to happen:

1)   They have an attitude problem (a sin issue)

2)   Their ability to learn is hindered.

3)   It can be a combination of both.

Attitude relate issues:
Children are born selfish, and with a sin nature. (See Psalm 51:5) They are adorable and sometimes very sweet, but still, they instinctively feel the world revolves around them, wanting their needs and wants met NOW.  

It’s our job as parents to help them learn to not let the selfish, sin
nature be in control.  If, as parents, we haven’t disciplined and trained our kids in the early years, it will be obvious as we begin homeschooling because we’ll soon see bad attitudes, disrespectfulness, laziness and just plain rebellious behavior in regard to school (and in other areas as well).

We need to deal with the sinful attitudes and train our children to be obedient to authority. When we realize that a child has become reluctant in their learning because of a sin/attitude problem, we need to deal with their heart attitude.  I recommend starting with prayer, seeking God to help you see if there’s an attitude problem that needs to be dealt with. Talk it over with your spouse as well,
to get their opinions and thoughts.  Oftentimes my husband’s perception regarding the cause of the problem was
extremely insightful and helpful in our homeschooling years.

Once you’ve determined if the reluctance in learning stems from a sin issue, then talk and pray with the child about it, using scripture. Help them to see that there’s a need for repentance and a change of heart.

A wonderful book that gives great advice on how to discipline and train children is called Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Tedd Tripp.  In this book you’ll learn about how bad behavior stems from a bad attitude in their heart and how to best deal with the root of the problem, that sin/attitude issue.

Ability related issues:
Sometimes however, a child’s reluctance to learn is caused by a 
problem with their ability to learn.  It might be because they just aren’t ready for what they are being taught, or their learning style is not being considered in regard to how they are being taught. They also might have a learning struggle that hasn’t been identified.  Or it could be because the learning environment is hindering their learning.

Readiness:
Kids learn at different rates, and we need to be careful that we aren’t expecting our child to be just like so-and-so’s child who started reading at age 4, for example. We need to also be cautious not to push our kids to do something before they’re ready. For example, too much structured book work in the early grades (K-2) will often cause frustration and resistance in a child. This is a time to work on developing gross motor skills and fine motor skills, as well as instilling a love for learning. Read aloud to them as much as possible at this age. Use learning games to teach the phonics rules and math skills. Reduce the book work when they are young.  Even in the 3rd–8th grade, be creative and look for fun ways to learn so they aren’t doing all learning sitting at a desk doing bookwork.  Unit studies (studying all subjects around one topic) are a great way for kids in elementary and middle school to learn. An example of a unit study would be studying the Civil War and covering not only History, but focusing your English, Science, Math, etc. assignments around that topic as well.

Historical fiction and biographies are another fun way to cover learning History. Also, don’t stop reading aloud good books to your kids just because they can read for themselves –hearing someone read aloud is good for kids of all ages and is a fun
way to share the learning experience with them.

Learning Styles:
Children also learn in different ways.  Most people have heard of visual learners, auditory learners and kinesthetic (or hands-on) learners.  These are really the ways that people remember best the information they learn. There are even more in-depth learning style approaches that explain how we take in information and how we perceive that information. You can learn more about these learning styles by reading Cynthia Tobias’ book The Way They Learn. Mary James in her “Smoothing the Way” training course for new homeschoolers has done a great job of making the learning styles understandable and useful to help with choosing curriculum. If your child seems especially frustrated with his school work, it might be good to investigate if he or she learns best with a different learning style approach than what your curriculum is using.  If the approach the curriculum is using hinders their ability to learn, this can lead to resistance in learning.

For example, if a child is really a kinesthetic learner – needing hands-on learning opportunities – and you’ve been using a curriculum that requires sitting and filling in workbooks, he will likely be frustrated and resistant to doing school work.  Again, the unit study approach is effective for most learning styles and may be just what you need for a child who has become resistant to learning.

Learning struggles:
If a child seems to really struggle with learning in a specific area, or across the board in all subjects, then it’s important to check into the possibility of a learning glitch or learning block Dianne Craft, (www.Diannecraft.org) has material available to not only evaluate your child for learning blocks, but also to help remove those learning blocks. Her approach is based on the belief that some people have an issue with the two hemispheres of the brain not working well together, causing learning blocks or glitches. She has developed a Brain Integration Therapy that has proven to be quite effective in helping kids with this issue. This therapy helps re-train the brain hemispheres to work together in learning and processing information.  It’s also simple enough for nonprofessionals to implement and has become popular among homeschool parents who are dealing with struggling learners.

According to Dianne Craft, there are four learning gates that might be blocked: the visual processing gate; the visual/motor (writing) processing gate; the auditory processing gate and the attention/focusing/behavior gate. An example of a visual processing gate block would be reading reversals after a child has passed age seven (such as on=no; of=to).  Or if a child doesn’t seem to be able to memorize sight words, or phonics sounds don’t stick, then there might be an auditory processing gate blocked.  Dianne Craft does a great job of helping you evaluate what, if any, learning gates might be blocked, and then gives you step by step directions on how to help your child overcome that learning block.  If a child has a learning block, it can cause them to be resistant in their learning. (Check out her website at http://www.diannecraft.org/ for more information.)

Learning Environment:
If you have a resistant learner, you also may need to assess your learning environment. Kids need clear guidelines and structure, and need to know what is expected of them.

Also, some children will learn better if they are in a well-lit place with a table or desk to sit at, while another child will prefer laying on the floor in the family room. Think about what you prefer when you are working or learning something. You can also ask your child what their preferences are for a learning
environment.

Motivation to learn:
Children need motivation to learn; and often with a reluctant learner, after discerning what is the root cause of the reluctance (attitude or ability); you need to focus on how you can motivate your child to want to learn.  In the book, “The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling”,  Debra Bell lists motivational strategies that are excellent.  I’ll list a few here, but I encourage you to get her book and read through what she has written for a more in-depth explanation.

1. Build faith in your child that they have the ability to learn – praise them and encourage them; they will fulfill your expectations of them. Tell them they are a good learner and that you know they will do well.

2. Adapt to their learning style – especially in subjects that are difficult for them.

3. Re-evaluate your methods and your resources – are they working for your child?  What worked for one child might not work for the next. Be willing to make changes in how you are teaching or what curriculum you are using.

4. Use outside influences: another teacher, a co-op class, peers.

5. Introduce an element of competition by using games or contests.

6. Use rewards such as a library program for reading, or the Pizza Hut Book-it reading program. Any method that helps them earn something that they’ve been hoping to get.

7. Use discipline when there’s an obedience or sin issue that needs to be dealt with. There needs to be consequences for disobedience. Helping them deal with a sin attitude in their heart is our job as their parents.

In conclusion, children who become resistant to learning need our help to get them back on track to become eager learners again. If your child has become resistant to learning, pray for wisdom to discern whether they have an attitude problem or an ability problem.  Check out these resources I’ve recommended in this blog and find what will help your child overcome their struggles.  God has given you these children to raise and teach; and He will give you the help you need to keep them on track and motivated to learn.

Sources:
Bell, Debra. The Ultimate Guide To Homeschooling, 3rd Edition. Tommy Nelson Publishers, 2005

Craft, Dianne. Brain Integration Therapy Manual. 2013 Edition.

James, Mary. Smoothing the Way Comprehensive Teacher Training Course. 2010.

Tobias, Cynthia. The Way They Learn. Tyndale House Publishers,1994.

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