Family life / Homeschooling

When they don’t want to do schoolwork…

There are days (like today) that Josiah lacks the interest in doing “schoolwork”. Then there are days where he doesn’t just lack the interest, he flat out says he doesn’t want to do schoolwork. He starts faking that he’s tired and wants to sleep and starts pretending that he doesn’t know the answers to anything (and yes, I’ve tested this theory — when he gets like this he really is faking). At first I got extremely frustrated with his lack of participation. I know how smart he is and I know he can do it so why isn’t he doing it? He used to do this in preschool too. Some days he’d work great with the structure and some days you couldn’t get him to do anything.

At first glance it’d be easy to say that it’s an attitude issue — he’s trying to be manipulative; trying to get his way. Or you could say it’s a heart issue — he has this deep underlying problem that needs to be worked out before we can do anything. You could say that we are going too fast and that he really just needs a slower pace so he gets flustered during classwork. Or you could say that we are going too slow and that he needs a faster pace because he’s getting bored.

Instead of jumping into these bigger issues that could be causing a problem, maybe we should just look at the simplest answer:  He doesn’t want to do schoolwork that day. Just because he lacks an interest in schoolwork doesn’t mean he lacks an interest in learning.  The fact that he doesn’t want to do schoolwork means he doesn’t want to go over the calender, he doesn’t care what day it is, and he doesn’t want to do worksheets or listen to me talk while standing in front of the marker board. Even though we don’t do that many worksheets and I don’t stand up and lecture all the time (he is only in Kindergarten), there are days when he just doesn’t want structured learning. What does he want to do? He wants to play. Do you know what happens when a child plays? They learn.

Josiah's teeter totter he built.

Josiah’s teeter totter he built.

When Josiah has these types of days, we do a few different things. We might play Yahtzee. So not only is he practicing addition and skip counting, he’s also learning how to take turns and be a good sport and we’re getting to spend time together. We might go for a walk around the neighborhood. There’s honestly no telling what we might learn while walking. Last time we took a walk we talked about the fact that if there were no sun there’d be no plants, no oxygen, and basically no life. He learns about being aware of his surroundings and watching for cars and not playing in the street. Sometimes we walk over to the Dollar Store or go to the grocery store. There we talk about prices and money and what we need to provide for our family.

Sometimes he plays outside. Outside he learns that worms need dirt to survive and that they can drown if put into water. He also learns that he needs water to make the dirt into mud so he can dig a canal to the hole the dogs dug. In doing that, he learns about gravity because the water flows down the canal, not up it. Sometimes he just plays with his tinker toys. Watching him play with those is what impresses me the most. A few months ago he modeled the teeter totter that he saw at the park using his tinker toys. He had to figure out where to place all the pieces so that the teeter totter actually moved like it was supposed to. Last week he built a contraption that was supposed to project his cars forward. It had two pendulums and a red lever at the top of one of the pendulums. You pull back on the red lever and the first pendulum hits the second pendulum which hits the car or ball or whatever he puts there. He learned more about the mechanics of building and he learned about momentum and transferring energy.

Most every day I read to him from a chapter book so he’s learning listening skills and reading comprehension. Most days he has to read to me to practice his phonics, but on the days he doesn’t want to do schoolwork, I read a picture book to him and just ask him to read one or two words on the page.

He transference of energy project that he created.

He transference of energy project that he created.

There are a lot of other things that we do instead of “schoolwork” to make learning fun and make sure he learns every day and that is the goal. I don’t care that he doesn’t want to sit and listen to me talk or do worksheets. If he learns about gravity and learns to count by 5s, who cares if it is because he did worksheets or because he did it in the real world? The fact of the matter is, he will understand the purpose of why he is learning those things during schoolwork because he sees where they apply in the real world. Real world application is one of the major failures of the public school system in my opinion. The kids don’t understand why they have to learn the stuff they are learning.

To address those people that are concerned about his structured learning and the fact that he needs structured learning: There was a group of people a long time ago that decided children needed to learn by listening to lecturing teachers and mountains of worksheets. Time and uneducated adults are proving that theory wrong. Learning does not need to occur in a classroom of 20 children or a classroom of 1; learning takes place wherever we allow it. Children will retain the things they learn when they learn it naturally rather than regurgitating it from a textbook.

If your child is fighting the learning process, look at what they are really fighting. Are they fighting learning or are they fighting the method in which they learn? Most of the time Josiah is fine with a semi-structured environment. Even on the days when we do structured learning we only do it for about an hour and a half with breaks in between. On the days that I know it’s not going to work that way, why fight it? Why fight him? Why not take that time to show him that learning is fun and learning can happen in many different ways. I can make sure he learns everything he needs to learn during the structured times and I can make sure he learns everything he wants to learn during the unstructured times.

Research teaching methods. Traditional is what many of those “difficult to teach” children seem to be fighting against. They are fighting against worksheets, lectures, and tests. What I am talking about is unschooling. **From unschooling.com: Unschooling children are supported to pursue, or self direct, the myriad of things that are of interest to them, eat foods they enjoy and in quantities that are satisfying, sleep and rest according to their individual needs, choose friends of all ages or none at all, engage in the world in unique and powerful and self directed ways.** For our family we do relaxed or eclectic, which means we pick and choose from different methods. Some days we do traditional and some days we do unschooling. For some subjects we do primarily traditional and for some subjects (like science) we primarily do unschooling. I’ve heard of parents giving up on homeschooling because they couldn’t get their child engaged in learning. Don’t give up, just see if you need to change what you’re doing. Communicate with your child. There is nothing wrong in asking how they want to learn.

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