How to Re-ignite Your Child’s Interest in Learning
I recently had a fellow homeschool mom ask me a question that really got me thinking. She is in a challenging situation. Her daughter just has no interest in learning. At all. She’s tried everything she can think of but nothing seems to ignite her daughter’s curiosity.
I gave her a quick answer on the spot but her question left me pondering all day. I was out and about running errands but, when I got home, I sat down and wrote her a long email with all the ideas that I had collected in my mind.
Because I know that we all experience various struggles from time-to-time, I wanted to share what I wrote to her in case you find it helpful.
6 Steps to Re-ignite Your Child’s Interest in Learning
Step One: Take a planned break from school.
This is especially important if you have a rigorous or strict schedule. The break should be a minimum of two weeks but could be longer depending on how burnt-out your child is. Just decide ahead of time how long it will be so it doesn’t go on forever.
During this break:
Don’t talk about school or anything school-related. You need to give your child a complete break from any pressures, stress, assignments, everything. Think of this as a mini-deschooling time. If you are homeschooling other kids, give them a break as well.
Do focus on doing things you all enjoy. Play at the park. Watch TV. Go roller skating. Have a playdate (or two or three) with their friends. Go to the zoo…but don’t bring any worksheets or nature journals or anything. ASK your kids what they want to do and let their ideas take the lead. Have fun.
Do pay really close attention to what your struggling child plays with and the things they gravitate toward. You may already know some of their interests but maybe you will notice another toy or perhaps a TV show that they’re really into. Get a notebook for yourself and jot down what you observe. It could be anything and doesn’t have to have an educational focus at all. (Here is a great tool from my friend Katrina at Rule This Roost that you might find helpful.)
This list is going to be your plan of “attack” for sneaking school (and especially their most challenging subjects) into their life. Being interest-based is crucial. If they’re not interested in it, it’s going to be a huge fight all the way.
And this is why field trips are the backbone of our homeschool.
Ace is seriously into model trains. So I am getting more serious with his involvement in that subject. We are reading, watching, listening to, playing, visiting, and researching anything related to model trains. I have learned more about railroads, cars, layouts, engine types, gauges, and scratch-building accessories than I ever thought possible.
But that means that he’s learning too. He’s learning history, math, science, art, architecture, strategy and planning, carpentry, various branches of engineering (including basic electrical engineering), and so much more.
And all without a struggle or fight. Why? Because his interest makes him WANT to learn…without him even realizing he’s learning!
NOTE: Don’t be surprised if you discover that the pressure of your schedule or lesson plans ends up being part of the problem. You may have to get creative and completely change how you homeschool. It sounds intimidating but this kind of change can actually work miracles in your homeschool life…I know it did for ours.
Step Two: Once you have your list, try to think about ways you can expand on those interests.
Let’s say you discover your child is really into cooking and baking. Here are some ideas for ways you can expand on that interest. (Even though this example relates to cooking, you can apply these methods toward any interest.)
1. Find as many videos as you can.
Start looking up cooking/baking/food-related shows at the library and on Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, or any other video/tv service you have access to. If they’re interested in food science, Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” show is on Hulu and might be a great place to start.
There are also kids baking and cooking shows and competitions. That might really inspire their interest if they sees other kids similar in age doing what they love. But still don’t mention reading or writing or anything related to school/doing school.
2. On a similar note, look for related podcasts to listen to.
These are great to turn on during play time or when you’re driving in the car.
3. Go to the library and get as many books as you can on the subject.
Don’t restrict your search to the juvenile section either. Get cookbooks, technique and instruction books, best practice books, even resources on kitchen layout and design!
4. Find and follow food and cooking-related blogs and vlogs.
5. Get hands-on with the interest.
Some ideas related to the cooking theme include:
- Involve your child in the meal planning/grocery shopping process that you normally do at home. Choose recipes to cook, make the grocery lists, find the ingredients at the store, and then actually cook the recipes together. I know this is all super hands-on and time-consuming, especially if you have other kids. But even just a little bit of involvement might be enough to create a spark.
- Attend cooking/baking classes, restaurant tours, and food demonstrations. Groupon can be a great resource for activities like this.
Step Three: Consider adding games to your homeschool.
Gameschooling is an awesome way for kids to learn without it feeling like learning. Cait at My Little Poppies has lots of amazing resources, suggestions, ideas, and more all about Gameschooling. She inspired me to add game play to our homeschool and it has been wonderful.
Step Four: Let your child set the pace.
This can be so hard because you’re anxious for them to want to learn! And you’re scared they’re going to be “behind.” Especially if this has been an ongoing struggle.
But pushing too hard or too fast isn’t going to get you anywhere. Just know that your child’s pace might be slower than you want it to be but they’ll still get there!!! You have to relax in that.
Ace doesn’t go at my pace at all and it has been a big adjustment for me to get in step with him. I struggled for a long time because I fell prey to the public school model that I had to be the teacher/leader and he had to be the student/follower.
But I have found so much more success in being his guide – meaning that, while I follow his lead, I guide him on his journey. I meet him where he is and then give him as many opportunities, tools, and resources to explore his interests to the fullest.
Does that mean I just sit idly by while he does his own thing? No!
I’m there to ask questions that get him thinking about things in different ways.
I help him look up the answers to his questions.
I notice when there are opportunities to explore related topics and offer different resources.
However, I’m not there to push.
As soon as I notice that my gentle nudges are not interesting to him or are distracting him from what he’s trying to accomplish, I back off. I know from experience that if I push too hard, I can deter him completely and he will just shut down.
Step Five: Connect with your child on an emotional/relational level about it.
When they resist something you’re trying to do, give them some space but then come back later and ask them how they felt.
Try to find out why your child resisted. They may not be able to name it yet but letting them know that you understand their frustration and want to help might go a long way.
You could say something like “I noticed that you got really mad when we were working on that story. What was upsetting you?” Or “what were you having trouble with?” You could get more specific if your child can’t name what was upsetting them “Were you having trouble remembering what sounds the letters make?” (Or whatever it was that you think the struggle was about.)
Offer to give your child a hug to help and reassure them that you’re a team, learning and working together. If they feel it’s a “you vs. them” battle, that could be contributing to their struggles too.
You can also ask if they have any ideas for ways to help overcome those trouble spots. You might be surprised at the ideas your child comes up with.
Step Six: Try to relax about it all!
This step is much easier said (or written) than done. It feels counterintuitive.
Kids pick up on way more than we realize and your child will feed off your stress. They are likely already feeling pretty stressed about it, which is why they have become so reluctant to learn in the first place.
It’s really possible that your child feels self-conscious and upset that they aren’t living up to expectations when it comes to school. Especially if they have younger siblings or peers that seem to be picking up on this whole school/learning thing so easily.
Ultimately, every child, family, and homeschool is unique with their own needs, wants, and quirks. Nothing is cookie-cutter but that’s why most of us have chosen to homeschool in the first place!
You’ve got this.
Just keep trying different things until you find what works.
And don’t EVER be afraid to ask for help…especially if you think your child’s lack of interest in learning might be due to a learning disability or cause outside of your control.
Do you have a favorite tip or trick when your child doesn’t have any interest in learning? Share it in the comments below!