Since I put out the article How to Homeschool A Child Who Doesn’t Want to Do Any Schoolwork last year, I have received literally over a hundred letters asking me for help and advice.
I have tried to answer every one (please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if I missed you somehow!) but I thought that since it’s obviously an area where a lot of us are struggling, it might be good to share the occasional letter on the blog with my comments. I also asked a bunch of iHomeschool Network friends who lean towards the interest-learning end of the scale to weigh in.
I received one this week from a mom who is clearly at the end of her rope wondering how to teach a child who doesn’t want to learn anything! Here’s what she had to say:
“Hi, I just read your post about kids who don’t want to do schoolwork. I’ve tried to turn my 13 yr old loose to let him learn anything he wants. He got some video game history books at the library, sort of perused them, then blamed it on me that he didn’t get to study what he wanted because the books were due. He’s totally against anything he thinks is schoolwork, anything that takes more than 3 seconds of thinking, and anything that is going to have to be tweaked or redone. Do you have any suggestions? We are yelling at each other these days. I’m pleading with him….just learn SOMETHING!”
She also added the following:
“I might also point out that he is gifted. Everything I give him is boring. He is very asynchronous, and can do fractions in his head, but still has to count on his fingers to add. He has the vocabulary of a 50 yr old man, but he still plays with toys sometimes. Busy work drives him bonkers, and he’s forever questioning “Why? What’s the point of this? Why is this essential for learning?
Also…I used to buy him things at the thrift store for him to take apart. He learned to connect a battery pack to VCR parts and make them move. It was so cool! And then one day it stopped. Now he doesn’t care. “
Wow. What a rough position to be in! Here’s my take on it:
So what advice do my iHomeschool Network friends have to offer about how to teach a child who doesn’t want to learn anything? Here are their takes on it:
“I would have a couple of questions first, has he always been homeschooled or did he attend school and for how long? How many siblings and what age? My 14 year old is very similar and I have found the more anxious I get about her learning, the more I focus on what she isn’t doing versus what she is doing. Do he have any learning issues? My daughter is dyslexic.
I want to mention one other valid issue: If you think your son might be addicted to gaming or some other type of media, investigate it. I find that kids who have addictions to electronics struggle finding anything else to be interested in. A great book to read on this topic is Glow Kids (how screen addiction is hijacking our kids and how to break the trance) by Nicholas Kardaras.
“Sounds like both child and Mom are on overload. I suggest spending a few days, a week not doing anything school related but still spending time together. Play games, go see a movie, go to the zoo, hike, do things that allow both to reset and connect. Then have a calm conversation about learning. What are his goals? How does he want to spend his day at home and see what can be learned and gently implemented. A few days or a week (more if needed) will help discover what can be learned about what he needs and wants, and what mom needs and wants and then come up with a plan to gently implement.”
From Katrina at Rule This Roost:
“Student-led learning can be a hairy subject, especially with teenagers. Teens are caught between childhood and adulthood and that alone is a struggle. But, what might not look like learning to us parents, could be the one thing that drives our kids’ passions and interests for the rest of their lives.
There have been a lot of kids whose interest in video games has led to reading about them, writing about them and even designing them! So while it seems like a pretty taboo way of schooling, it can actually be very beneficial and amazing to watch. When you make the decision to go with student-led learning, you let go of the idea of controlling what and how your child learns. As the parent, you are the facilitator, the provider of resources, partner in problem solving and their number one cheerleader.
Can we problem solve the library debacle? Can items be rechecked, or even purchased if they are a favorite that will drive curiosity and creativity? Can he have a budget that he solely controls for what he believes he is interested in? Sit down together and come up with a plan. Anything that seems to be an obstacle can be solved together calmly. Model for him a calm, respectful and reasonable conversation that is proactive and not reactive. That alone is a MAJOR skill that he can carry into his teen years and adulthood.
I have also heard of a split approach between student-led interest and traditional homeschooling. It could help you ease into totally student-led homeschooling. To meet both of your needs right now, you can split the week up into interest-led days and must-do days. He picks the interest-led days in their entirety and you choose the must-do days. Of course, they can be intertwined (where you build on his interests), but he would still have the freedom to choose his interests and projects and you would still have the comfort of having certain requirements he must complete. But, don’t dangle the carat of interest-led days if it won’t truly be his interests (no matter what they are). Staying consistent will be the key to making this work.
I suggest taking a couple of days to come up with your plan with him. This will give both of you a break from the schooling side of things, and will let emotions settle down a little. It can be so difficult to put complete trust in our children. But, I believe that when they are entrusted fully with their own learning they can truly move mountains. It is important that as parents, we listen to our kids and really hear them out without taking offense to their feelings. That is the only way we can build strong connections.
I wish you the best! You’ve got this!”