Homeschooling / Unschooling

When Children Resist Learning

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When Children Resist Learning

One comment I’ve heard often from people unsure if they would be able to homeschool is ‘my kids wouldn’t listen to me’ or ‘they would never want to do any work’. Some homeschoolers find the same, that their kids seem to resist any type of teaching or anything that they might think is ‘learning’. I’ve heard people wonder if this means they are not good at homeschooling and they are failing their kids, and what they should be doing to get them to do their work. Some people put it down to bad experiences with learning or teaching in the past, and this definitely might be the case. But, reflecting on what I’ve learnt from my children so far, I’ve come to realise that a certain amount of resistance to learning (or rather, being taught) is normal. Let me explain…

My kids love to learn! There is no doubt about that. They are learning from the minute they wake up in the morning, to when they close their eyes at night. And sometimes I swear they even learn new things in their sleep. They have never been to school/preschool/kindy/childcare and so I’m certain they’ve never had any unpleasant experiences with being taught. People tell me sometimes that my children are ‘easy’ and ‘suit homeschooling’ because of how obviously they love learning and they conclude that this means they are easy to ‘teach’. But in actual fact if I sat them down and told them that I needed to teach them something, they would not be all that cooperative. Unless it was something that they were very interested in, there would be fidgeting, complaints of boredom, very little concentration, endless questions about why we have to do this and when can we stop, and they would probably end up just getting up and doing something else. Now if you saw only that of my children you might think that they didn’t want to learn anything and were incredibly hard to teach!

What I’ve figured out so far on this journey is that what they are resisting is direct teaching, not learning. Kids want to learn! They don’t see learning as a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. My children love learning so much and it is so personal to them, that they want to take ownership over it and keep it all to themselves. They want control over their minds and what they learn. And isn’t that understandable? So how do kids learn everything they need to if they don’t want you to teach it to them?

Well, I’m not a teacher, but luckily I find what my kids need is not so much a teacher but a facilitator. Letting them have control over what they learn doesn’t mean I just leave them to it and do my own thing. If I don’t expose them to any new experiences then they won’t have a chance to know what’s out in the world! So instead of ‘teaching’ I provide an environment to stimulate and inspire them.

When Children Resist Learning

Full of materials to encourage independent learning, creativity, problem solving, and questioning.

When Children Resist Learning

When your world is full of inspiring materials, resources, and experiences coupled with plenty of time for free play and being outside, then learning happens easily.

When Children Resist Learning

When Children Resist Learning

When they come to me with questions I might encourage them to find the answers themselves. Or answer their questions without going into extra detail and trying to pack in as many educational facts as I can. Kids know when you’re doing this and I can be met with an eye roll when I try! They don’t want the answers to questions they haven’t asked yet. They want the opportunity to work things out for themselves. And isn’t this a good thing? I don’t know about you but I’m not aiming for children who want all the answers given to them. I’m aiming for inquisitive, self-motivated, confident learners.

When Children Resist Learning

No, I don’t think showing resistance to direct teaching is a bad thing. I think it’s the sign of a healthy independent mind. Someone who is confident in their own ability to learn. Someone who loves directing their own learning and is not prepared to hand that job over to anyone else. And that’s ok by me.

When Children Resist Learning


In the images above, the girls are playing and learning with our much loved
Spielgaben set.
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January 30, 2015 at 4:16 am

More spielgaben stuff! We just got one for christmas and love seeing others play!

    January 30, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Oh our girls use it every day! I’ve ordered the upgrade kit and can’t wait for it to arrive.

      March 19, 2015 at 11:13 pm

      I am hungry, I am thirsty.This both inspires and poses more questions.I have been home schooling for almost two years. I have been through several different methods and no method. We tried cyber schooling but that was too difficult for all involved.
      Yesterday, I asked my younger son, who sems rather pissedoff all the time, if he wanted to go back to school/His answer was Yes. but not to the old school and I am afraid I won’tknow what everyone else knows. I asked how he thought he might learn what he doesn’t know and where he might find out what he needed to kno, since we really had no idea. He has been really mad at me, because he wants to do harder math and so I said, look around, we have a harder math book. Try it and see. So, he did. But, quickly got sidcouraged and quit. I find that everyday,my kids come down stairs and want me to tell them what to do. When I tell them what to do, they get very angry.If I ask them what they would like to do, they don’t know and they get angry.
      My son’s are 10 and 12 and so while I still strongly encourage play, I do want them to take responsibility and be a member of our house that contributes to the mess and the clean up. I know that I have enabled them to be this way. Not on purpose. I just sort of got stuck in doing thins for everyone, when they were small. Now, no one wants to do anything for themselves. I am hungry , Iam thirsty, I can’t find my clothes, where are my socks, I am bored.My younger son likes sports and sports only, well also clash of clans. I am not able to nor do I wish to be his only playmate in sports. He signed upfor baseball, just finished basketball and weather permitting or not, I take him to the play ground or some where to play outside everyday.

        April 25, 2017 at 3:50 am

        I have experienced this. I am starting to have weekly reflection mentor sessions with each child. They are asked what does God want you to learn? with questions like what hobby, book, talents, skills, goals, physical goals, interests, service in and out of family, relationships, chores, subjects, brain games, music, poetry, art, etc. does God want you to learn this week? I write it down for them as they listen to the answer in their own selves. Daily I have them write a to-do list of what they think they are supposed to get done- with God’s help, that day. Always start with a prayer and have them listen to the inner self. This has worked better then anything I have tried. For the difficult boy, I make him list 3 things before he can go. He can lay on his back and ponder and pray until he lists 3 things God wants Him to do today. I can suggest things etc. I also put my kids in charge of 1 breakfast, 1 dinner, 1 lunch a week each. And they do have jobs they are in charge of. I sit them down and ask them what they prefer. I give them a permanent job for a specified amount of time. ex. month, few months, week, etc. and that gives them confidence and skill in that job. I add jobs slowly as they get good at the jobs or I switch jobs as needed. Introduce 1 or 2 new jobs and tell them it is their responsibility. It makes it easy when I need the trash emptied or dishes put away because it is always the same kid I call to come take care of it. And if they don’t like the job, I tell them it will change next month or what ever and then they can have a different job then.

January 30, 2015 at 7:38 am

Oh sing it sister, I so get this! It’s the same here! Friends say, “mine would never sit down and focus on something like that. You’re kids just differnt.” But she’s been trained to learn and explore and learn some more on her own all her life! We’ve never schooled outside the home so she doesn’t know any different. And I love it! Just when we got home, “can I have some rest time? I have a project to work on.” If I had set up that project, forget it! This is why Montessori failed for us. I spent evenings putting out trays of things to learn only to have her go in a totally different direction. Now I just follow her!

January 30, 2015 at 8:02 am

I love this. I have a child who didn’t do well in public school as he didn’t like the direction. He is a joyful, passionate, creative, and fun learner. It wasn’t him, it was them. 🙂

January 31, 2015 at 6:58 pm

Brilliant post Sara! We have followed interst-led learning with our son and it has been the best way for him to direct his own learning about things he is interested in. Our daughters are doing the same thing. I think it is a wonderful way for children to have a deeper understanding of what they are learning rather then being told what to learn.

    January 31, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    Wonderful to read. It all makes sense. This is what I used to do with my 3 before they started school- dreamy, happy days! Now youngest is 14 and recovering from school problems and I need remind myself that I should facilitate learning, not expect him to do what I set him at home. We have just started flexi learning this month.

February 3, 2015 at 9:11 am

Thankyou for all your tips. I try to sit down with my children and pretend to be like a “teacher” never thought of if I’m making it fun for them.. they might want to stay in the chair a little longer LOL

February 4, 2015 at 10:24 pm

Oh Sara – this post couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for me! I’ve just started homeschooling my 5 year old, and told him we have ‘work’ to do. The resistance walls went up and after I questioned my decision to homeschool several times, I realised I’ve been ‘homeschooling’ him successfully for 5 years already. All I need to do is just keep doing what I’ve been doing… Playing… And Learning… (Both of us!)
Any tips on how to preach (teach) to the unconverted though? I didn’t realise how ‘different’ from my friends and ex-partner this choice is… TIA

February 6, 2015 at 10:01 pm

I am pretty sure I suck at home schooling. When my son’s were small , givng them oppurtinities like those above were easy. We cooked together, we played outside a lot. We did museum trips and we had a pots and pan band. We dug ofr worms and learned about catipillars and turles and they were eager and happy and I loved it. Now, they are 10 and 12 and the wolrd they want to explore is minecraft and clash of clans. All day everyday. They want to watch hours of t.v. and sit and eat. I wonder, how this happened. If I ask them what they want to do.I don’t know. If I set up projects that might be fun, they ignore them, because the computer is immediate and gaming is there world. It doesn’t matter what I provid. I did and we were all engaged and happy. I loved their years, our years together when they were toddlers and didn’t rail too hard. They were happy to do imaginative play, they were happy to be learning pp
They adored me, and though the days were long and sometimes I wasn’t much interested in the games we played I played. We went to bed and read stories and took bathes, them together and happy. They were excited and as I said content. Now as they ehad towards teen agers, they are bored. They want . I don’t know what! Mcdonalds, junk food, video games and American idol. I am an exceelent mom on most days, but my kids have changed. The structure of school gave our lives , a pace that mostly worked. The boy’s are growing away from me, I am now the enemy. Or at least he person to rail hard agiainst. I am dull and don’t get the gaming wolrd. I am mean for asking them to clean up after themselves. They now run the house and I feel like the kid. I deeply miss those easy years and activities I see here. My heart hurts and I am sad that home schooling has become such an epic failure with my older sons. I never imagined that it would be so hard and so unrewarding. That hurts too.

    February 10, 2015 at 9:54 am

    Hi Gailen, my heart breaks for you reading this. I am a homeschooler too, though my kids are still 5 and 7, there are those days that are so tough you think “I’ll just send them to school”. I can’t give you practical advice because of the age difference, I’m sure there are hormonal etc changes happening in your kids that have profoundly altered your relationship and connection with them.
    If I may suggest something, please do connect with other homeschoolers who have been in your boat, I think support is crucial for success, not only as a homeschooler, but also to ensure you get back that beautiful relationship you had with them.
    There are many facebook groups, maybe this could be a good group to start with? Or just do a search on facebook for homeschool/unschool/teen/tween etc, one of those. We go attend weekly a really big HS group, there are so many tweens and teens, and some parents had their moments of really struggling, but got through it and reconnected with their children, I think you really need the support of others to either give you tips or inspiration etc.
    All the best 🙂

February 16, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Great eye opening post. So true and I appreciate that you’ve shared this post with others. Found this post featured at Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop.

April 11, 2015 at 4:01 am

I’m so glad I have found your blog! It’s so refreshing to hear your experiences and the way you think. I’m very curious about this and feeling a strong urge to home school next year. My daughter is in kindergarten and already says ” I don’t like school.” ugh! I really don’t want her to already hate it, kindergarten should be great right!? Anyway, I struggle with the thought of letting children do as they please when it comes to learning. Allowing them to go about life with no schedule or anything, could this hurt them in the future with having a job? Sitting still is a part of life and having to do stuff. I wonder if they will still learn to tolerate these things in this sort of environment.

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