When Homeschooling Isn't Fun

This is a video transcript. Scroll to the end to watch the video.

Deb: Hope, what question are we looking at today?

Hope: Well, the question we’re looking at today is one that probably every homeschooling family encounters. It is, “What do I do when my child doesn’t want to do the school work?

Deb: Actually, I don’t think you see this much now [at the beginning of the year] because we’re all in the honeymoon stage, but probably around Christmas time, and certainly when you start up again, it’s like, “Oh, do we have to do this?” What are some of the reasons kids balk at doing their school work?

Hope: Well, there’s a lot of reasons kids balk. We did some brainstorming beforehand so we’ll go through some of the ideas that we thought of, why children may or may not want to do their school. One of the reasons right off the top is it may be too easy or too hard for them. If it’s one or the other that may cause them to not want to do their school work.

Deb: So drilling down and finding out, what is it? Why are you reacting to the school work? If it is too easy, what are some of our recommendations?

Hope: If it appears too easy, have them test out. There’s often placement tests with the school work or go towards the end of whatever the assignment is, such as the end of the construction set or towards the end of the math book or whatever. If they can accomplish it, move them up a grade. Don’t hold them back and make them bored with something that they already know.

Deb: Exactly. Okay, if it’s too hard?

Hope: If it’s too hard, again, you’ve got to drill down and figure out, why is it too hard? For math, if it’s too hard, probably you move back a grade.

Deb: You probably have skipped something. That happens a lot, especially the homeschool realm where you will try a curriculum one year, and you won’t try it the next year. All math programs don’t line up identically and if you’ve jumped courses you have may have missed a very major component in the math.

Hope: Or if your child was faking it all along it, typically around fourth grade is where it hits, and you realize they didn’t actually understand these concepts from the beginning. So you need to go back and work it again.

Deb: Figure it out, and go back and do that.

Hope: But if it’s not like math, if it’s more a construction set or something similar… One of the children that we are homeschooling right now through foster care struggles with fine motor skills. So things like that can be too difficult for them.

Deb: What we’ve seen is, there is resistance to doing it because it’s beyond his ability. It makes more sense, then, to take the project that would take another child maybe 15 minutes to do, but for him hours, to just dial it back and say, “Here’s all I want you to do. Just this very simple thing.” In fact, when you were little you could not see… in the construction realm, you couldn’t look at a 2-D picture and figure out what they wanted. And you cried a lot on that. So we learned. Okay. Don’t tell her to build the whole car. Just tell her, “All you have to do today is find the axle, put in the axle, and you’re done.” The next day, now we’ll find the wheels and put in the wheels. We tried to make it as simplistic as possible. And that’s all you needed to be able to develop those skills. So if you have a child who cries during the construction time, dial it back. Or if, in fact, their fine motor skills are just not able to do what other kids their age are doing, that’s okay. Take them back a step, get something bigger, bulkier to put together, but don’t say it’s not important. It is important. These are very important skills.

Hope: I guess we should address that little bit. One of the reactions that often homeschool families have when their child doesn’t like something is: Well, it must not be for them. It’s not worth pursuing because they’re not into construction, or they’re not into art, or they don’t really like this so we’re not going to do that. We believe that that is actually very detrimental to your child, to not pursue and give them a well-rounded education just because they don’t like something. Figure out why they don’t like it. Figure out what the issue is behind it and then address that.

Deb: If possible! So then you have to look at it. If they don’t like history, it could be the approach. It could be that it, again, is too hard, too easy. But you have to step back and say, “Is history important? Well, yeah. History is important. So, how am I going to make this more palatable to my child?” Math, the same way. Construction, the same way. So you step back. You look at it. You say, “We’ve got to work with this. How can I make it better?” Probably the easiest way is just to dial it back and make it, instead of a hours-long project, a 10 or 15-minute project. Any child can get in and get out that fast.

Hope: Yes. Another thing we looked at were learning styles. It could be that the curriculum you are using is not tailored towards your child’s learning style. So if they’re kinesthetic and you’re doing an auditory learning that’s not going to work for them. So make sure you’re addressing what learning style they are.

Deb: One example we were thinking of is science. In our own family some of you loved doing experiments and some of you hated it. That’s okay. All I want you to know is the science. So if you if you can get it by reading and believing the experiments do what they say they do, great! But a kinesthetic child will want to actually see it in action. So play around with learning styles and figure out which way is best.

Hope: Exactly! So, attention span. We’ve talked a little bit about that here. If they have a short attention span, break it up. The beauty of homeschooling is you don’t have to sit down and do school for four hours straight. Do an hour here, half an hour there. I know growing up we had a beautiful desk that Grandpa built for us and a beautiful little area to work on our school. We didn’t do school on that desk pretty much ever. We did it on the shelves at the warehouse. We did outside. We did in the living room. So we broke our school up a lot. We moved around. We weren’t forced to sit in a certain spot and do school for a long time. So look at attention span, I would say.

Character. Do you want to look at that one little bit?

Deb: Well, sometimes kids don’t want to do it because they don’t want to do it, and because you’ve never asked them to do something they don’t want to do. This is, from our perspective, a frustrating thing, when a mom comes to us and says, “We’ve used all of these curriculums and my child doesn’t like any of them.” They don’t know why they don’t like them, but they’re ready to jump ship and do something else. I’m not inclined to want to encourage that. I would be more inclined to say, “Figure out why what you’ve done in the past didn’t work and maybe stick with it. You’ve already invested x amount of money into that.” Why try again when it could just be a child who rules the roost and has never learned to do what was asked of him? To me, that’s really important. You need to look at… Is it too hard? Is it to easy? Is it the right learning style? But some of it is just going to boil down to, who’s in charge here? We get a lot of emails when people request a catalog. They’ll put a little comment in there. A lot of them are, “I’m looking for something my child wants to do.” Well, there’s a balance here. Yes, I want my children to enjoy doing schoolwork. It gives me great delight. But then, sometimes, they have to do what they don’t want to do. That’s kind of a balancing act there, too. Some families think, “The reason I homeschool is because I want my child to love what they’re doing.” But that’s not always going to be the case.

Hope: I think it will be a unique child that will always love math. With a lot of children that’s not going to be the thing. They’re going to need to learn math. It’s just a fact of life and this is how a lot of life progresses. As you grow up there’s things that may not delight your soul, but you still need to know.

Deb: It comes back to character training. Again, I’m not advocating staying with a curriculum that doesn’t meet all the other requirements. But if you if you’ve done your due diligence and it’s not a learning style… it’s not too easy… it’s not too hard… it’s within your physical capabilities… but you just don’t like it. Well, this is the time for us to grow in character.

Hope: Absolutely! These are the skills that when they have learned perseverance in this, then when they are grown, they can learn perseverance through their grown life, too, and everything that requires that.

Deb: Exactly. Because adulting is not a lot of fun.

Hope: It’s not! The last thing we thought about was motivation. It kind of ties into character. Often you can have hit all the things, but what’s the motivation to do it? For kids it’s appropriate and fair to say, “Not only are we going to say you need to do this, but we’re going to give you a reason to do it beyond just knowing the information.”

Deb: Because we work for a paycheck. None of our employees are doing it for fun. They’re having a good time, but they’re not doing it for fun. They’re going for the paycheck. Likewise, your children. When they really love it, if they love art, that’s rewarding itself. Some kids do like math, that’s rewarding.

Hope: I will say, as a whole, kids love Timberdoodle’s curriculum. So we’re not saying it’s not a fun program. It is a fun program. There’s a lot of fun involved, but at some point the fun stops, and you still have to do it.

Deb: So what are some motivators?

Hope: Growing up, one simple motivator we got was Friday Family Fun Night. For us it was movies. If you got your school list done by Friday, you got to be out watching the movie with the family. If you didn’t, you were in your room completing your list. That was a simple carrot to say, “Hey, get it done or this will be the consequence.”

For the little guys that we work with now, sometimes there are carrots and sometimes they are not. When you do school with them in the morning afterwards there are some “rewards” and fun toys that come out, and it’s a special play time with Grandma. After the school is completed when we do school in the afternoons, that’s not always the case. So you can have checks and balances. “Let’s do a little school now. Let’s do something fun. Let’s do a little school now. Now let’s move on the rest of our life.” It doesn’t all have to be scripted and exact.

Deb: When you guys were growing up we had you do chores. If you didn’t want to do your schoolwork, that’s okay. There’s plenty of jobs to do. You go out and do the dishes, pick up the living room, or whatever. When you’re ready, come in and do school work.

Hope: It’s amazing. We actually really wanted to do some school work.

Deb: They always wanted to do school work instead of chores! And we’re starting to do that with the kids. To say, “You know, you’re horsing around at the table. Why don’t you go in the living room and pick it up a little bit, and then you can come back out and do school work.” All of a sudden…

Hope: School is a privilege. In a lot of ways, school is a privilege. If you have too much energy, man, there’s so much that needs to be done around this place!

So hopefully that’s helpful to give you some ideas as you work through the rough spots in your school year to be able to keep the momentum going, and get a lot of enjoyment out of it, a lot of peace with it. Don’t fret about the small things.

Deb: Right. And if you have any questions email us at mail@timberdoodle.com, and we’re happy to try to answer them.