Nearly every homeschool parent will at some time encounter their child’s intense resistance to learning a specific skill. I don’t mean widespread, multi-subject difficulties in learning, but a resistance or refusal to learn a specific subject or skill.
What can you do when you find yourself face-to-face with a child
- who staunchly resists learning how to multiply?
- who, even after weeks of covering the rules, “can’t remember” to use commas and periods when writing?
- who openly refuses to get busy on a copywork assignment?
- who conveniently loses school supplies or breaks the pencil lead when it comes time to tackle a hard lesson?
Here is what I’ve learned to do when a child refuses to do homeschool lessons.
Too Much Effort for Too Little Benefit
Resistance to learning in one specific area is usually related to one or both of these factors:
- The child finds this particular skill especially difficult and chooses to give up rather than press on in learning.
- The child deems this skill unimportant and irrelevant to their life; therefore, the topic is not worth the effort of learning.
Homeschooling a child who obstinately refuses to learn a particular skill is incredibly draining. Whatever subject the area of resistance is in—math, language arts, foreign language, handwriting, etc.—very quickly becomes a time of day the entire family dreads.
What can you do to facilitate learning when your child is resistant and either outright or more subtly refuses to do the homeschool lessons you’ve planned? First decide if the refusal is because the topic seems too hard or if it’s because the topic seems irrelevant.
Handling a Child Who Gives Up on Challenges
If, after assessing the situation, you think that your child has decided that this skill is too hard and has given up instead of pressing forward, you have several options at your disposal.
1. Take a Break
Consider taking a break from the topic. After some time has passed, reintroduce the topic.
Sometimes we parents do rush into new topics and levels before our children are really able to complete them. The beauty of homeschooling is that you get to set the pace! It’s better to revise your original schedule and postpone a too difficult task than to press forward and create frustration for all parties involved.
2. Build Confidence
If you recognize that the refusal comes from a lack of confidence rather than lack of ability, keep working at the same level, but adapt your strategy in order to show your child that he or she can, indeed, understand the material and perform the skill.
Build confidence—and a growth mindset—through small successes:
- working on smaller pieces of the problem before putting the pieces together to make a whole
- pointing out your child’s small successes in this topic
- reminding of previous successes in other difficult areas of learning
3. Try Something New
Adapt your teaching strategy, and don’t be afraid to try a different curriculum. Sometimes a child will mightily resist learning with a certain curriculum because they don’t understand it. Something about that particular curriculum doesn’t mesh well with their brain. I, myself, thought I was bad at math in high school until I switched to a different set of books that suddenly made sense to me!
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Showing a Child Why the Skill Matters
If it seems your child refuses to do homeschool lessons primarily because they don’t see the importance or relevance, your task is to convince them otherwise.
In our own homeschool, I found myself facing a child who found coins boring. She refused to memorize the values of quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies. Weeks had gone by, and we’d tackled all manner of story problems using coins. Still, every day she asked, “How much is a dime? I can’t remember!”
At first I was frustrated and, indeed, surprised! I mean, of all early math concepts, isn’t currency one of the most interesting and hands-on? One with the most practical applications? The kids have their own piggy banks—shouldn’t they want to know what the coins in those banks are called and how to tell immediately what each coin is worth?
This was not a topic I had expected resistance to, but I was facing it. So I decided to lead a discovery session of sorts, asking, “What do you think might happen if you don’t learn how much each coin is worth?”
It took some time and some prompting, but eventually she came up with some solid responses:
- “You might need to pay for something and get really embarrassed when you don’t know what coins to pay with.”
- “If somebody knows that you don’t know how much your coins are worth, it would be easy for them to cheat you and to make you pay more money than you really needed to.”
This discussion did not result in an instant love of the topic. But it did start us on a more productive track when it came to math problems involving coins. Instead of whining and pleas of “I can’t remember!”, my student had the new motivation to reach into their brains and apply the fact that copper-colored pennies are worth 1 cent each.
3. Don’t Give Up
Even if you determine that the best strategy in your situation will be to take a break and wait before re-introducing a much-resisted learning topic—don’t give up! The day-to-day frustrations of homeschool are not what composes the larger picture of what you are accomplishing with your family.
Homeschool families prioritize relationships with each other along with the individual child’s relationship with learning over curriculum completion and skill mastery. These priorities are exactly what help give us the tools we need when facing situations where a child is refusing to learn.
No, you may never look back with fondness at the homeschool year when it appeared your son would never capitalize anything, but you will look back at your years of homeschool and come to cherish the challenges that you overcame—together.
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