Motivating the Unmotivated Learner
There are many things that can make home education a daunting task, but one of the most difficult things to deal with is a child who simply seems unmotivated to learn. The lack of motivation can be subject specific (i.e., the child that hates math) or you may be dealing with a child who appears to show no interest at all in the educational process. Whatever the cause, both parent and child can find themselves frustrated when there is no noticeable desire to learn.
Getting to the heart of why your child seems disinterested in learning may take a while, and depending on the child, you may never pinpoint a specific reason. Here are a few things to consider when dealing with an unmotivated learner:
1. How do you as the parent approach the school day? Our children will take their cues from us. If we begin the school day with grumbling and complaining, our children will be influenced by that. If we speak negatively about learning or make it seem like it’s a mundane task to be trudged through each day, our children will suffer. Our attitude, tone of voice and interest in what we’re teaching our children is instrumental in how our children will view the importance of education. Ironically, when I taught in the public school system, one of the things that we did DAILY, without fail, was to gather the students at the beginning of the morning and sing “motivational, warm-up” songs. For roughly 15-30 minutes I would set the pace for our day, by leading the students in encouraging songs and stories to get them excited about learning. What are we as Christian home educators doing to set the tone for our days? Think of creative, Christ-centered ideas to start your morning. It could make a world of difference!
2. How is your day structured and when do you tackle the more difficult subjects? Our oldest child is not a fan of math...and that’s putting it mildly. She does well with math, but she is a perfectionist. Learning new concepts in math can be difficult for her because she is more concerned with getting the right answer than taking the time to learn the new skill. We have learned that it is better for her to do math first thing in the morning. She usually grabs her math book right after breakfast and starts her lessons. When we’re learning a new skill, I plan our day so that I can take extra time to sit down and do problems with her. Knowing that I am there to help her motivates her to not get so upset when she makes a mistake or struggles with something.
3. Does your child see the bigger picture in what he/she is learning? Have you ever heard someone ask this question in regards to teaching/education: “When will I ever need to use that?” It’s a very honest question and usually we hear it when someone is deciding the importance of learning a certain subject. “When will I ever need geometry?” “When will I ever need to understand how to figure area or perimeter?” The list can go on and on. This type of comment, if not checked carefully, can easily lead to a child who lacks motivation. The likelihood that our children will be asked what a prepositional phrase is outside of the walls of our home is slim to none. That doesn’t make learning rules of grammar any less important. At some point, our children will need to know how to speak in public, make financial transactions and think logically through very tough decisions. The skills that they are learning now will prayerfully help them in the future. As home educators, we have the blessing of picking curricula that will best suit our children’s interests and abilities. We should be cautious of being too short-sighted with what we think they may or may not need later in life.
4. Have you ruled out the fact that your child may have a learning difference/deficit (visual/hearing impairment, cognitive delay, speech delay, etc.)? Prior to homeschooling our children I worked in the field of Special Education for several years. As an Early Intervention Specialist, I sat through many observations of young children who seemed disinterested in learning. Many of these children did end up having clinical diagnoses for their behavior. On the other hand, there were dozens of children that I encountered that simply needed glasses, specialized adaptive tools (books on CD for students who needed more auditory input) or occupational therapy (to assist with fine motor skills). If you suspect that your child’s struggle has a more significant underlying issue there are tons of resources out there to help. The National Institute for Learning Development is one. You can find them at www.nild.org.
5. Have you prayed and asked the Lord to give your child a renewed desire to learn? Sometimes as a parent and educator, praying is my last resort for dealing with my children’s struggles with learning. I have learned that prayer should indeed be my first response. I love my children and I love to see them thriving and doing well with the things they’re learning. The blessing of seeing their excitement when they finally get the hang of something is so wonderful! During the times when they are having difficulties, it is imperative that we teach them how to pray and trust God for his help and provision. Is there anything impossible for God? The answer of course is, no. The Lord loves us and he patiently listens to our prayers, even for things as simple as helping our children learn to read. Teach your children how to pray. Teach them how to persevere through tough lessons. Faith in God is ultimately the best motivator for anything that we do.
Thanks again for reading. We love you. Send us a prayer request if you’re currently struggling to motivate your child or if you need a little extra encouragement. We’d be honored to pray for you.