Seven “Sweet” Ideas to Transform “I Hate School” into “I Love Learning”
By Faith Berens
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
“I am at my wits end! My child says he hates school! He takes a really long time to complete his work and writing is particularly laborious for him. He tries to avoid doing his work (unless it is a topic of real interest), by putting his head down, moaning, and he often ends up in tears. Any suggestions?”
“My daughter doesn’t seem motivated or interested in learning. When we get the schoolbooks out, she complains about how hard things are for her or she zones out. I want my child to love learning. Please help!”
—Comments from frustrated homeschooling moms
Sometimes children are frustrated and engage in avoidance behaviors because the text is too hard or the task we are asking them to do is overwhelming. Other times, there may be a mismatch between the child’s primary learning styles and the curriculum we have selected. Here are some simple tips to help ensure success.
1. Find your child’s “right zone” by ensuring the reading material is at an appropriate level for him.
Aim to provide your child with text and material that is just right—not too hard and not too easy—something he can do with just a little support (known among professional educators as the “zone of proximal development”). For reading material, teach your child and use the 5 Finger Rule: On any worksheet or text (book) have your child read out loud. As he reads, if he struggles with or has to be told five or more words, the text is too difficult (frustration level). If it is too hard for him to read independently, read aloud to him.
Sources for easy readers, decodable books, high-interest low readability books:
2. Prime the Pump!
Before beginning a lesson, be sure to prime the pump for learning. Try to provide a visual hook, an exciting question, real-world experience, or creative way to set the tone for the new concept or lesson. It is important to link new learning to what your child already knows. By activating his background knowledge—tapping into what he knows or thinks about something will not only make learning more meaningful, but will also increase attention and memory.
3. Keep lessons “short and sweet.”
One of the Charlotte Mason methods of instruction is short lessons—I call them “mini-lessons.” Lessons that are short, but succinct and powerful may be the way to go, particularly for our Wiggly Willy learners! Set a timer and let your child know the expectation and schedule. Reward him with a fun activity, such as a break to go outside and ride his bike or play a learning game, once the mini-lesson is over. Use the “break” time for oral review and reinforcement of the concept just taught.
4. Allow for oral narration and dictation.
Many bright, but struggling learners have difficulty with the “output” of handwriting. They have much to say and use wonderful vocabulary, but when you put that awful writing utensil in their hand it is like they become different children all of a sudden! Allow this type of child to be freed up by using oral narration, dictation, or use of a voice recognition software program, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking.
5. Dare I say it? … Forget the workbooks!
Hands-on and unit study-based curricula:
- Life of Fred Math
- Math U See
- Right Start
- Hands-On Equations
- Teaching Textbooks
6. Modify existing curriculum and approaches.
Sometimes taking what materials we have and our common teaching approaches and “tweaking” them can really do the trick. For example, my daughter really does not like doing timed drills on worksheets for math. She is a hands-on and creative learner. However, if we do those same problems on a white board with colorful markers, or better yet, turn the task at hand into some type of competition or relay race (yes, I will race her up to the board to do problems), she gets so into it! Have a child who resists workbooks, fill-in-the-blank pages, etc? Cut apart the workbooks and use the content to make projects, posters, flipbooks, or lapbooks.
- The Hands of a Child
- The Ultimate Lapbook Handbook by Tammy Duby and Cyndy Regeling
- The Big Book of Books by Dinah Zike
7. Shake up your routine.
I have found that by alternating between academic or disciplinary subjects such as spelling, math or language arts and the more inspirational and creative subjects, like art, music, nature study—and a physical activity—really helps my own daughter. Also, allowing our children to have some choice about what they would like to do can be very motivating. I try to let my daughter choose which of her favorite things will follow her math lesson—that way she is really motivated to buckle down and get math completed successfully! Try throwing in some bonus time for educational computer learning games. Finally, when we all start to become tired, frustrated, or bored with an approach, routine, or have a case of the “humdrums” we switch gears, take a different approach, or take a field trip (even a “virtual” one can add some spice to our learning!).
Websites for virtual field trips and learning games: