How To Get A Reluctant Learner To Learn

How To Get A Reluctant Learner To Learn

Do you have a kid who resists everything you try?

You know the one, they’re fine until you mention that it’s time to sit down and do some math. You ask for a short journal entry about the day’s visit to a guitar factor, which they were so enthusiastic for and talked non-stop about all the way home. You get two sentences: “We went to a guitar factory. It was fun.” Getting them to read for the required thirty minutes a day is like pulling teeth.

You do your best to make it fun. But your best efforts are met with eyes rolled, huffs of breath and maybe even tantrums to accompany the stone wall of refusal.

In education circles these kids are called “reluctant learners.” But I’m here to tell you that there’s no such thing as a reluctant learner.

Kids are born learning and they can’t help it. They are learning every moment they are awake. They aren’t reluctant to learn, but there are a few reasons that they exhibit behavior that makes parents and teachers think that they might be.

Behavior is a symptom of something going on beneath the surface.

The key to turning the tide is in figuring out what’s going on underneath. They might be:

Lacking in Self Confidence

If your child has spent time in a learning environment where they were not particularly successful, it’s possible that they have acquired a limiting belief about their ability, which is causing them not to try. One bad teacher can do serious damage to a child’s self image and willingness to try.


It’s entirely possible that, without an adult sense of perspective on the subject, your child doesn’t see the point of learning a particular thing. Think about playing the piano: hours and hours of tiresome scales are necessary to train fingers and ears, but they’re not fun. If you want to play badly enough, you’ll endure them. If you don’t… well, how many of us quit piano for lack of perspective and boredom? Most of us.

Lacking in Good Habits

Education is half the content and knowledge that we acquire and half the habits that allow us to acquire it. Charlotte Mason said that the habits of attention, self-discipline, and observation were as important (more important?) to cultivate in a student than mastery of a particular subject.

Struggling With a Learning Difference

Don’t jump to the conclusion that your child “doesn’t want to learn” when it is entirely possible that there is some very good reason that learning in a particular way is hard for them. Dyslexia, dysgraphia, sensory, auditory, visual processing and spectrum disorders all affect a child’s learning curve.

Not Getting Enough Exercise

In order to sit and focus on a task like reading or math, most kids need to have an outlet for their physical energy. Are they getting enough exercise? Many kids live primarily indoor lives and are more sedentary than their parents’ generation. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting them moving.

Focused on Other Things

Perhaps your child is consumed by a particular passion at the moment: Dungeons and Dragons, Minecraft, Fortnight, the Harry Potter books, or something else that makes them reluctant to do anything else. While developing the habit of moderation is important, don’t lose sight of the fact that you could use that passion to your advantage.


We live in an era of parenting that subscribes to the gospel of busy-ness for families. If your child is scheduled from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed with activities designed to make them paragons of ability, it’s entirely possible that they just need a break.

Maybe it’s something else entirely… it’s up to you to study your child and figure out what is going on so that you can move forward together. How do you do that? Keep reading.

Figuring out why your child is reluctant to learn:

  • First: Set aside that panic in your chest that your child isn’t learning “enough.” Breathe.
  • Second: Remember that no one cares more about your child or their success than you. You have the ability to figure this out and meet their needs.
  • Third: Remember that your child is learning already. You’re just seeking to get better at directing that within a peaceful relationship.

Here are some things you might try in getting to the root of the problem:

Ask Your Child

It seems ridiculously obvious, but sometimes we forget to ask the other participant in the struggle what’s going on with them. During a period of non-conflict, ask your child, straight up:

  • Why are you struggling with (whatever aspect of learning is difficult)?
  • Is there something I could be doing more of, or better, to help you?
  • What do you most like learning about?
  • What do dislike most about learning (the thing)?
  • Do you have any ideas about how we can make (the thing) easier or more fun to learn?
  • What are your goals for your learning?
  • Who do you most admire? (This will give you clues to their interests, you can use that!)

Don’t forget to follow up with lots of “why” questions to dive deeper. Resist the urge to talk over or through your child’s responses. Genuinely listen. Then sit with what you learn.

Assess Past Experiences

Take a long hard look at your child’s educational background. Did they attend school and have experiences with teachers that damaged their perceptions of learning and robbed them of joy? Have you been butting heads with them for years without adjusting the method of learning or communication, putting in place a pattern of struggle in the relationship? Were they convinced at some point that they “couldn’t” or were they given a limiting label?

Is there anything you can point to that has built a roadblock to learning for your child?

Do One Week of Observation Journalling

Without changing anything, take careful notes on one week of your child’s life, not just your structured learning times and educational interactions. What do they enjoy? What do they do well and with ease? Where are the struggles? When does frustration enter the picture? Note foods eaten and behavioral responses. Note hours of sleep, reading, exercise, screen time, play time and social interaction. Look for patterns. I had a friend growing up with severe learning and attention difficulties that were solved almost entirely by removing red food dye from her diet.

Do a Schooling Detox

Sometimes, the path to perspective is to step away from a struggle entirely. Your child will not suffer in the long run if you take a week, or a month, or a year, off of your educational trajectory. If your child spent time in an institutional schooling situation that was not positive, this can be absolutely vital. Remember that during the detox, your child is still learning.

How do you do a detox? Tell your child what you are doing and why. Then remove all educational expectations from the child and let them know that they can spend their time as they wish, within your family’s particular parameters for community living.

During a detox I still required my children to do their chores, participate in family activities, honor the screen time boundaries, and make community minded choices. Beyond that, it was up to them.

During the detox, make sure that you are doing your observation journalling, look for patterns.

Assess Your Child’s Habits

In the pendulum swing away from the overbearing and authoritative parenting of previous generations, many families have also moved away from establishing good and productive habits in their children. It’s my view that this is a mistake.

The reality is that we are all developing habits and those habits rule our lives, how we use our time and experience the world, and our eventual success. If we aren’t actively building good habits, negative ones are forming in the void. Here’s an article to read more about the 4 main categories of habits and how we can bring mindfulness to their formation.

It’s possible that your reluctant learner simply has bad habits.

Evaluate Your Biases

Think long and hard about your own educational experience, your expectations of family life, and the lifestyle you have chosen. Consider your own biases around education, child life, and your beliefs regarding the way things are, or should be.

Consider the possibility that the problem does not rest with the child as much as it does with your current approach. These can be big pills to swallow as a parent, but it’s vital that we ask the hard questions and be willing to do the personal work. Ask your partner or a close friend to help you see more clearly where you find your vision clouded.

Get Your Child Tested

If, after careful assessment, observation, and reflection, you believe that there is something more going on with your child, don’t be afraid to go through the process of having your child evaluated. You pediatrician can point you in the right direction. Your local school might have services available for learning evaluation. Don’t be afraid to invite the community to support and assist you and your child in solving the problem and acquiring tools to build towards success.

Strategies for Engaging All Learners

A child is considered a “reluctant learner” when they don’t wish to engage with the educational process. So, how do we get them to engage? Well, there’s not one formula that works for all kids, but there are some general strategies that can help. Remember that there are no quick fixes. It’s likely that it took months or years for the problem to develop, it may take a while to improve it as well.

1. Focus on Relationship

At the end of the 20 year long haul of parenting, what is the most important outcome? Relationship with your child, right? Start by focusing on that.

In periods of non-conflict actively build your relationship with your child through positive interaction and activities, community development within the family, and tool building. A strong relationship is not one that is free of conflict, but it is one where the good outweighs the struggle and both parties feel motivated to keep building forward. Give your child lots of reasons to want to do the work of building their relationship with you forward.

2. Learn About Learning Styles

Do you know your child’s learning style? Take the time to discover it. At least 80% of what you teach your child should be tailored within their learning style. It’s okay to ask them to stretch 20% of the time to strengthen and build their ability to learn in other ways, but for core and key material, as well as anything that is a consistent battle, work within their learning style.

3. Structure for Success

Keep lessons short. Be sure that there are regular milestones that are achievable. Celebrate small victories. Involve your child in structuring their own time and learning plan so that they have ownership and feel empowered in the process.

Motivate periods of intense effort with appropriate rewards. Work up to your goals slowly.

4. Build Confidence

Odds are good that your child knows that you believe they are struggling and not succeeding in a particular area. Begin countering this negative belief by association through positive reinforcement and confident affirmation of ability.

Never talk about the struggle your child is having when they could overhear you.

Express your belief in their ability to overcome and succeed publicly and when you think they aren’t listening (when out with friends and your child is playing within earshot). Point out success. Underscore that struggle and failure are ALWAYS precursors to success. They aren’t a problem, they’re only stepping stones. Of course your child will struggle and fail sometimes, we all do. That’s good! Keep going.

Never, ever, compare your child to anyone else.

5. Build Productive Habits

Habit building takes time and persistence. It isn’t always fun, but it’s vital.

If you’re realizing that you’ve allowed your child to lapse into habits that are now working against him, talk that through and make a plan together to build new, productive habits. Remember to start small and work incrementally at your goal. If the ability to focus on a math lesson, or read for half an hour a day is your goal, then start with just five minutes, set a timer, and celebrate joyfully when the five minute mark is met! Stick with just five minutes every day for the first week, then inch it up two or three minutes at a time every few days until you reach your goal together.

Try This: Let Your Reluctant Learner Teach You

If you’re consistently frustrated with your child’s reluctance to learn in a structured way, surprise them this morning by announcing that you’re giving them a whole week “off” of “school.” (The detox described above)

Then, challenge your child to point out all the things they can learn their own way, in their own time in that free week. Admit the fact that you probably don’t see all the things they are learning and you need their help so that you don’t miss anything really important. Be open to the possibility that “learning” might be conquering the next level in Fortnight and be willing to celebrate anything they identify as learning or success.

For the entire week, refrain from directing or criticizing their learning process in any way. Do the observation journalling exercise (described above) and let your child know that for this week, YOU are the student of THEM.

At the end of the week, set aside time to think deeply and process what you’ve learned, observed, and recorded. Then talk with your child about what they learned in the week and how you can move forward together toward the goals you’ve set for and with your child.

Resources for Anti-Racism As A Family

Resources for Anti-Racism As A Family

Dealing with racism is hard.

As I’m writing this, the North American world is in the midst of reeling in the aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmed Arbury, and Breonna Taylor. Protests and riots are filling the news and police brutality and systemic racism are topics being discussed everywhere.

In the midst of all of the things that are heartbreaking during this time, I am hopeful. I am hopeful because, while the violence is a terrible thing, the conversations it is pushing have been too long in coming and need to be had.

As parents, we worked hard to make sure that our kids had a diverse experience.

We intentionally built relationships in communities with people of every colour and of diverse lifestyles.

A large part of our desire to travel extensively with our kids was drawn from a wish for them to see and experience the world as it really is and to live in places where they were the minority as a means to developing compassionate understanding. Evenso, their white skin went with them and the privilege that is attached to it followed. There’s no avoiding that, so we talked about it. A lot. Constantly.

We didn’t (don’t) always get it right. But we have worked to grow forward together, to develop active listening skills as individuals and as a family, and to acknowledge our own biases and our experience of race as white people within the rainbow of people who inhabit the planet. It’s heartening to see my adult kids now engaging in activism and using their privilege to work towards leveling the playing field. We aren’t there yet (not by a long shot) and there is still work to be done.

This week, I wanted to put together a list of resources for parents to use in conversations with their children about systemic racism and family activism. It’s not enough just to speak the right words, we must take action and responsibility together.

If you have resources to add to this list, please send them over!

Things to Read:

This book is for adults and teens.

Written by a white lady, for white people. If you don’t yet understand the difference between racist acts vs. racism, this book will break it down for you.

It will also help you unpack the ways in which white people’s fragility when it comes to discussions of race is impeding progress. Ever said, “Not all white people…” or made a move
to correct or defend your position when challenged by a conversation on race? This book is for you.

In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo does a masterful job of helping white people see whiteness as a racial issue and helping us pull that massive plank out of our own eye before pointing at others. It’s a call to cultivating the stamina and humility we need to have the really hard conversations that are necessary to advocate for change.

I highly recommend every parent read this to help frame and steer the inevitable conversations you’ll have with your kids, no matter how young.

Required reading for young adults

This is billed as “young adult” fiction, but The Hate U Give is truly required reading for anyone who wants to begin to understand what it’s like to grow up black in America.

I’ve recommended this book before. I’ll recommend it again.

READ IT. Make your teen kids read it. Talk about it. Get uncomfortable. That’s where the change starts.

How to Choose Anti-Bias Children’s Books

The Social Justice Books project, by Teaching for Change, has compiled this helpful guide for parents and teachers on how to evaluate a book for bias and how to choose books to use with your kids that are anti-bias.

If you’re not sure where to start or what you’re looking for, I highly recommend starting with this list.

They have also compiled an incredible 60 book lists of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators.

Compiled by this list has summaries of 31 incredible books just for kids to open conversations about race and de-colonize history. No matter what you are using to teach history, you should be intentionally adding books that are from a non-white perspective. For too long, the narrative of history has been a white, Colonialist one. This list will help you change that.

Research from Harvard University suggests that children as young as three years old, when exposed to racism and prejudice, tend to embrace and accept it, even though they might not understand the feelings. By age 5, white children are strongly biased towards whiteness.

To counter this bias, experts recommend acknowledging and naming race and racism with children as early and as often as possible. Children’s books are one of the most effective and practical tools for initiating these critical conversations; and they can also be used to model what it means to resist and dismantle oppression.​

Beyond addressing issues of race and racism, this children’s reading list focuses on taking action. It highlights resistance, resilience and activism; and seeks to empower youth to participate in the ongoing movement for racial justice.

These books showcase the diverse ways people of all ages and races have engaged in anti-racist activism, and highlight how race intersects with other issues, such as capitalism, class and colonization. The majority of books center activists of color, whose lives and bodies have been on the front lines of racial justice work, yet whose stories often go untold.

The essential work of white activists is also included — to underscore that anti-racist work is not the responsibility of people of color; and exemplify the ways white allies have stood up against racial injustice. This list was curated by critical literacy organizations, The Conscious Kid and American Indians in Children’s Literature.”

Websites & Blogs to Read

The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad Black voices writing for young readers. Our flagship initiative is 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade, and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by Black creators. You can read more about the members of The Brown Bookshelf here.

On the Latinxs in Kid Lit site you’ll find a range of books for children and young adults that highlight the Latinx experience… dive deep, there is some really good stuff here!

Their vision is to:

  • Engage with works about, for, and/or by Latinxs.
  • Offer a broad forum on Latinx children’s, MG, and YA books.
  • Promote literacy and the love of books within the Latinx community.
  • Examine the historical and contemporary state of Latinx characters.
  • Encourage interest in Latinx children’s, MG, and YA literature among non-Latinx readers.
  • Share perspectives and resources that can be of use to writers, authors, illustrators, librarians, parents, teachers, scholars, and other stakeholders in literacy and publishing.

How to Talk to Kids About Race

How to talk to kids about race and books that can help is a great resource list of books for adults to advance their own learning and books for kids that will help open discussions.

21 Podcasts That Confront Racism in America

Podcasts alone won’t fix the undeniable racism, inequality, and injustice that Black Americans face, but they can deepen our understanding of the oppressive systems at work and our role in abolishing them today and every day. 

Here are 21 podcasts that help you confront anti-Black racism head on. This is by no means an exhaustive list — in fact, think of it as your starter kit to being a more informed ally.

Movies That Tackle Racism in America

Common Sense Media has compiled a great list of black history movies that tackle racism in America with wonderful little summaries as well as a suggested age that children will be ready for the movie.

Super helpful.

Here are 17 more films, shows, and documentaries that can help educate your tweens and teens about race.

Try This: Open Dialogue With Your Kids

Even very young kids can have conversations about race. Ours started when our not-quite-year old daughter freaked out when her godfather entered the room with his hair “out.” He always wore it in braids, but this morning, he’d brushed it out into an afro and the difference shocked her. We all laughed. He ran upstairs and put his hair “away” and then we all sat down to talk about why Poppy’s hair was different from hers. The conversations continued from there and took us around the world.

If you’re not sure where to start, turn on the news and look for current events to open the door to discussion. Or work to decolonize your bookshelf, art collection, and music repertoire. Or choose a movie the presents an experience different from your own and talk through what you observe and learn.

And, of course, begin with yourself and let your kids see you actively working to develop your anti-racist powers through listening, studying, reading, discussing, and the historic and current issues. Lead by example in deconstructing the Colonialist narrative and broadening your kids’ understanding of the world and the people in it.

This is the very best of worldschooling, folks!

Do you have a resource towards developing anti-racism as a family? Please share it! We’re collecting them for ourselves and others!

How to Teach Kids at Multiple Grade Levels Together

How to Teach Kids at Multiple Grade Levels Together

How do I teach kids at various levels together?

If you’ve got kids of multiple ages at home right now, this question just got very real. For most people, school closures mean that there are kids of multiple ages needing help for multiple subjects and parents everywhere are struggling.

Your questions might sound something like this: 

  • How can I be everything to everyone? 
  • How can I teach letter sounds and square roots at the same time? 
  • How do I manage all of the lesson plans for several children and minimize the prep time required? 
  • I’m spending hours preparing eight to ten sets of lessons per child, depending on what the schools have sent home, for two or three or four children… how do I keep all of the balls in the air?
  • WHAT do I do with the pre-schooler in the meantime?

As with most questions related to education, there are multiple answers, the one presented here has grown out of a careful study of educational history, our family’s multi-generational legacy and a good dose of common sense.

This is what I recommend for people who are intentionally homeschooling for the long haul, but it’s just as applicable to parents trying to cover all of the bases with kids home during the school closures.

First: A bit of educational history

Although much can be said of the origins of our current educational system and its roots, traced through Germany and influenced by the Hindu approach to mass schooling to support the caste system, I will, for the sake of space and sanity, discuss only the American system of mass schooling, which began to fall into place in the latter half of the 1800’s. 

Up until the advent of institutional schooling in America, “education” took on one of three forms: 

  • Homeschooling 
  • Private tutoring
  • A one room community school

Often, in the course of a childhood, more than one method would be employed in the schooling of a young person. It was out of this system (or non-system) of education that such great minds as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were born.  

My grandmother, and her mother before her, taught in several one room schools. I have seen the pictures.  She taught clear through the depression, without pay part of the time. Some of her students lived in abandoned box cars and came to school hungry, so she set up a local food program to feed as well as educate the kids when they got to school. 

Her schools lacked funding, books and basic necessities…and yet the children learned. She had more than fifty students at Starkey School in Michigan, between the ages of five and eighteen, all by herself, when she was only a year or two older than the oldest pupil. And yet, the children learned. 

My grandmother did not have eight sets of eight lesson plans per day, one for each grade level. She did not work eight times harder than a teacher today who teaches only one, or at most two grades at a time. So, how did she do it? How can you do it, with your two or six instead of fifty?

My grandmother had an advantage that we do not have today:

She wasn’t steeped in the public school mentality.  She herself had attended one room schools, it did not seem odd to her to have twelve year olds sitting beside five year olds and sixteen year olds helping eight year olds. 

One of the biggest obstacles to home education today can be our preconceived notions of what “school” should look like. 

I know, as a trained teacher, it was for me. I had to consciously let go of all I had “learned” about education and ask anew, “What does it mean to be educated?”

If I intended to teach my own children because I didn’t want a public school education for them, then why would I seek to replicate that which I was trying to avoid in my living room? 

I had to set aside John Dewey’s ideas about age-segregated classrooms, which find their roots in misapplied evolutionary theory, and begin to think of education in the same light as any other sort of growth: not segmented into little boxes, artificial levels, or grades, but rather as a fluid, ever changing organism in continual motion, along with the development of the child. 

While the schools are closed and your kids are all home together, it is a great time to experiment with other ideas of what education can look like, especially if those other ideas also lighten your load as parent and teacher!

Who decides what people should learn?

Before we consider the practical aspects of teaching several children at different levels all together, let me ask you this: 

  • Who says five year olds should be learning letter sounds, digraphs and one syllable words? 
  • Who says nine year olds should be learning about the middle ages but that government should be saved for ten year olds? 
  • Who says that times tables need to be mastered at age eight, and not before, or after? 
  • Who says physics and chemistry are to be saved for high school students and then taught in isolation? 

The answer: Public school curriculum developers.

These folks try to set national standards which are adhered to by all districts, and most private schools as well. This herd mentality to education guarantees a somewhat homogenous outcome and the ability for a student to finish fourth grade in California and begin fifth grade in Delaware with a minimum of disruption or overlap in curriculum.

That’s a good thing if you’re trying to create one particular type of consistent educational outcome.

The real question is this:  If you are not in the public, or private, system right now, why should you care? 

You shouldn’t. If your seven year old loves rocks, teach geology. If your four year old can read the basics, buy him real books and get out of his way. If your nine year old is just barely “getting” his times tables, then meet him where he is and provide arenas for him to experience success, rather than feeling left behind.  Step outside the box you were raised and educated in.

So, you have two kids, or six. The school has sent home a curriculum packet or online learning that is stressing you out every single day trying to do it “their way.” Your kids are gritting their teeth and muttering at the screen. Your heart knows there has to be a better way, but you can’t for the life of you see what it is. 

Here’s the answer: A return to the one room schoolhouse mentality. Even if only for the short term while schools are closed.

Teaching One Room School Style

The building blocks of education can be divided into two groups:  the three Rs… Reading, Writing & ‘Rithmatic… and everything else

The three Rs are skill-based and progressive. You have to learn your letter sounds before you can read  little words; you have to have a grasp of many little words before you can read a novel. You must make straight and curvy lines with a pencil before you can make letters. You must make letters before you can write words. You must be able to add before you can understand multiplication and subtract before you can understand how to divide. These subjects require a person to begin at the very beginning, and build skill one step at a time.

The “everything else” includes, history, geography, literature, science, art, music, physical education, memorization, life skills, and… well, everything else. 

There is no need to compartmentalize these subjects into specific grade levels, or to fragment what you are teaching within a given subject to three different children. For example, there is no need to be teaching “neighborhoods” to your five year old, “states and capitals” to your ten year old, “land forms” to your eleven year old, and “Africa” to your fourteen year old. Pick one geography unit for all of the children to study at once and then teach each child what he is ready to learn within that unit. 

Example: From a family unit study on “North America”:  

Hannah, 13, is making a North America Notebook. 
She writes a one page summary of facts about each of the United States and Canadian provinces. She colors a map of that place, and sometimes a picture of the bird and flower that represent it. She includes summaries of the lives of important people from that state and what they’ve contributed to American culture. 

Gabriel is 11, he too keeps a notebook and is reading books about characters from the various regions. He’s making lists of places he’d like to see in person: Yellowstone National Park is at the top of his list. He is writing short summaries of books we’ve read about various individuals from particular states and their histories.

Elisha, 9, keeps a notebook too. His project, since he was very small, as been to collect postcards from the places we visit. Of all the kids, he’s most excited about the Friday night “state meal” we’ve been fixing based on the traditional foods from one of the places we’re studying. He’s long been our “map boy” and is always happy to point out where we are, where we’ve been, or where we’re going. He loves to colour maps and he’s always excited about getting the Jr. Ranger badge at every state park we visit. Because he’s interested in landforms, we’ve been talking about those and checking out books from the library that talk about geology and landform geography in North America.

Ezra is 7.  Last time we studied North America he was 1 and his big project was learning to ride in the car with a happy heart and see the world from the backpack, high atop Daddy’s shoulders. Now he’s big enough to give narrations about the stories we read, and has kept journals on our travels. He is learning where Grandma and Grandpa and other important friends and family live. He likes to look at the maps and ask Hannah where the things he points out are. He is learning that some states are warm, and some are colder. He has wondered aloud why there are no lines on the ground between states when there are lines on a map, so we’ve been talking about arbitrary political divisions and how they influence the culture, history, and politics of a place.

In a one room school model:

Each child will have their own phonics or grammar program and progress at their own rate. Each child will have their own math program and work along at their own level. Each child will practice reading every day, receiving encouragement from the other children on different levels than he is. Science, Geography, History, Art, Music, and almost anything else you want to teach can be done as a group. 

The principal is simple:  Teach to the oldest and let the learning trickle down (a different take on Regan’s economic policy!).

  • Read books aloud that are geared to your oldest and supplement with books for the younger children. 
  • Do projects that can be adapted to include the smallest baby and the most gung-ho teen.
  • Encourage older children to learn by teaching. 

You know well how much YOU learn by preparing lessons for your children, pass on that gift to your older children by allowing them to design activities and lessons for younger siblings. Watch documentaries and online materials together and encourage discussion where everyone, regardless of age or experience, participates and shares what they are interested in and learning around the topic.

Take a survey of the minds beneath your roof and develop studies based on the interests you uncover.  Do your best to “live” the subject matter… eat the foods, build the artefacts, read first hand accounts, watch the documentaries, narrate (tell the stories of what you are learning) together. 

How to Make Multi-Level Teaching Work

This part is easier than it seems. If your kids are working through a schedule for the day, set aside some blocks of time for working together, and some blocks of time for independent work.

If I had a third grader, a fifth grader, and a pre-schooler here’s how I would work it out:

Schedule independent seat work for each school aged kid for an hour when the preschooler is most cheerful during the day (mornings?) or is napping (afternoons?).

Get both kids at the table with their assigned math and language work and be available to tutor them during that time. If your preschooler is awake, set them up with some crayons and paper so they can “do school work” too, or maybe some playdoh or duplo, or something that will hold their attention for 10 minutes at a time, have several of these activities in the wings to trade out a new one when the first one starts to wear off.

Do any read alouds during meal times. While they are having lunch is a great time to read a chapter of a book aloud to everyone.

Watch any documentaries, YouTube videos, or other content related information together and discuss it out loud.

During the block of time when your preschooler is most needy, make sure that the older kids are set up with some aspect of the project that they can work on independently. Maybe this is a project they have chosen, additional reading or watching, or some creative application that doesn’t require your input. CHALLENGE THEM to come up with their own ideas for what they would like to work on within the larger theme.

Try This: Look at your home the way my grandmother looked at her one room school. 

Look at education as just an extension of the other growth your children are experiencing and nurture it in much the same way. What you will quickly find if you let go of age segregated learning in favor of this more homogenous, natural style of teaching and learning is that your children will rise to the occasion. 

They will love learning together, and teaching one another. The young ones will stretch to show that they can “keep up” with older siblings, who will be trying to learn even more and loving their position of teacher and encourager. 

The kids will take ownership of their educations, and frequently teach YOU a thing or two about the subject at hand. Instead of some students being higher, or lower, or ahead, or behind, or smarter, or average, all are learning together and growing together.  

Quietly, beneath the subject matter, the mess of projects, the joy of story hour, the questions asked and answers searched out together, another type of learning is occurring. Children in a learning environment with people of various ages are learning something else that other children are often missing out on. They are learning to relate socially in a real world setting. Children in one room schools, or similar environments, learn to interact with the old and the young. They learn to hold their own intellectually with people of all ages and abilities and they learn to see themselves as parts of a world larger than their own experience.  

If this concept is new to you, start simply, with just one subject.

Maybe it’s history, or geography. Maybe it’s Science, or Art.

  • Gather materials around the same topic that will appeal to each of your kids at the stage they are at not.
  • Gather a few more that will stretch them.
  • Brainstorm an action plan for real world learning that orbits your topic, this could be travel (for later, when restrictions are lifted), museums (many of them have collections or tours online during the school closures), documentaries, YouTube videos, books, people you know with experience, classes, festivals, or anything else.
  • Involve your kids in the idea generation and the planning, to build excitement.

Then, make an action plan together for the learning… or download ours!

How to Get Your Kids to do Chores (Cheerfully!)

How to Get Your Kids to do Chores (Cheerfully!)

One of the big opportunities, but also one of the biggest struggles, in having kids home all the time is getting the housework done. Having more time at home together means that we have the freedom to teach our children about real life, through real life.  Now is the time to pick up some of the slack around life skills that gets overlooked when kids are in school.

I used to be surprised when new families we’d met would ask some version of the following question:  “How do you get your kids to…cook, clean, play together, do laundry, shovel the deck, unload the dishwasher?”…Pick a skill!

I didn’t know how to answer.  I didn’t know how we got them to do it.  It seemed like they were just born doing those things and liking it.  It came naturally to my children, as it had come naturally to me as a child.  Didn’t other children do the same?  Evidently not.  

So, I became a student of other families. 

Sure enough, Mom was doing all the work. The kids were often grumpy and discontent with their stuff, their siblings, with life in general. The kids thought my kids were WEIRD for doing all of the things they did. The parents thought we were WEIRD for making/letting them. I admit it, we’re weird, but we like it, and our kids like it.  

But the question remained, “HOW did we get our kids to work and be happy working?” 

After thinking through all of the tricks and training tips we had for teaching different skills it occurred to me that it really was none of these things. 

It wasn’t about charts or cards or incentives or any of that. It was about attitude.  

Kids want to be wanted… 

They want to be needed. They want to be loved and admired for their prowess in a variety of arenas. They want to be the best at something. They want to climb mountains and conquer uncharted lands and do things that no one else that they know who is their age can do. Just like we grown ups. 

This is what causes our children to work and like it. 

Our two year olds proudly put away forks and scream bloody murder if anyone else tries to do it for them.  Our ten year old daughter matter of factly served baked salmon, steamed asparagus, fluffy rice, salad and bread that she had prepared, from start to finish, completely by herself to guests around our table. Of course she should cook, it was her night. She beamed proudly when the guests exclaim over her accomplishments. She knew that she was doing something important, and she was justly proud of her accomplishment as any hostess three times her age. 

When Ezra was four, every morning he hollered after me to, “WAIT Mama!  You CAN’T do laundry without me!!”

And so I couldn’t. He believed that he was the only one who could push the three buttons in the correct order to start the morning’s wash, probably because he couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone else do it. Laundry is HIS job. 

I remember one winter when snow was thick and frequent. One particular day we’d had a thick snowfall.  Lots of it.  As another foot or so roared down off of the roof and crashed onto the deck Gabe leaned around the corner and peered out the door to survey the damage. “That’d be my job!” , he announced, before heading out the door to clear it off, knowing our friends were arriving that day.

Later that afternoon, as we Mamas sipped tea and visited, Gabe and his eight year old friend came up the stairs and plopped six neatly pressed and folded napkins on the table, “Here Mom, we ironed these, I taught James how”. And so he had. Isn’t it completely normal for one eight year old to teach another how to iron cloth napkins on a snowy afternoon when they’re sick of playing outside?  

So what’s the point? 

That my kids can do great stuff? No, of course not. They aren’t doing anything special. We all have to learn to cook and clean and do laundry. 

The point is that kids CAN do things and SHOULD do things and WANT to do things…even if they don’t act like they do. 

They want to matter. They want to accomplish things and be proud of their accomplishments.  Why not channel that enthusiasm and drive to conquer things into chopping and stacking a huge pile of wood? 

Just like we as adults get pleasure from giving to others and contributing to society, our children want to give back and feel like who they are and what they think, feel and do MATTERS in their world. What is their world? The four walls of your house.

A good friend of mine who came late to the idea of training life skills put it this way: 

“I was doing everything for them because I thought that’s what a good mother should do.  But now, the house runs so much more smoothly and they actually LIKE working for the family, they’re proud of it!” 

Of course they are!! 

Training kids to work isn’t rocket science… 

There are a million books and charts and systems out there to help get you started. But you don’t really need them. 

All you need to do is change the attitude in your home toward work. 

There is no faster way to motivate a kid to work than to casually mention, within ear shot of the kid, to some adult visiting your home, “You should see what Gabe did, that big pile of wood over there, he moved it ALL by himself. He’s becoming quite a self sufficient guy! I can’t imagine how we got by without him!” 

Or mention to the dinner guests on Monday night, “The bathroom is the second door on the right, it’s very clean, Elisha is the best bathroom cleaner we have!” 

Justified praise, praise they’ve earned for a job well done, is the best motivator.  

Strategies for Success in Developing Work Ethic in Kids

Set times for things…

In our house, we had set blocks of time (5 to 15 minutes) four times a day for “housework.” In the mornings we did the big things, like toilets, trash cans, or a closet. At noon we did a “ten second tidy” of bedrooms. Before dinner we did a “ten second tidy” of common spaces. After dinner we cleaned the kitchen for the day and did any remaining tasks.

Working together for set periods of time makes it more fun.

The 10 second tidy…

Set an alarm for ONE MINUTE (or two minutes) and give the space you are in the fastest tidy up job you can swing. RUN from room to room to return things to their places. Vacuum on warp speed. Fold blankets like it’s an Olympic race.

Set jurisdictions…

Give each kid a jurisdiction, perhaps for the day, the week, the month, whatever works for your family. Make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what and then praise or hold accountable as necessary for the status of their jurisdictions.


The fastest way to make a kid hate work is to make them feel like they’re the only person being “made to” work. Always work with your kids and model the type of job you want done and the attitude you want it done with. 

The attitude is half of the job…

There were times when my kids struggled with their attitudes around their work (I struggle with mine sometimes!) I can’t tell you the number of times that we had the discussion over the two parts of a job: 

  1. The task itself (proficiency)
  2. Cheerfulness (attitude)

There were many times when a certain child was sent back to sweep the stairs again, because, while the stairs were clean, the attitude was not. If a toilet is cleaned with slamming and stomping, it is not clean.

Attitude is everything. Anyone can strong arm a kid into doing a particular job and fighting the entire way. Helping a child learn to work with cheerfulness, THAT is the real victory. Put some elbow grease into this one. It pays off in the teen years especially!

Rotate tasks…

Make sure all kids are learning all the jobs by rotating the tasks. Our task chart rotated daily, so that no one got too bored and no one felt like they were getting slammed with the “bad job” for long periods of time.

If you’ve got little kids who are just learning and aren’t “great” at a particular job, layer them in between older people on the same job who will make sure that a whole week doesn’t pass with a substandard outcome :).

Choose cheerful!

My friend Melissa used to say this, about a million times a day, to her kids. I stole it. But this is not about the kids. This is about YOU. YOU need to “choose cheerful” in teaching kids to work and working alongside them. They will never learn to work cheerfully if you don’t.

If you frame the work as something that has to be “gotten through” they will pick that up. Instead, frame work as the ability to serve people you live with and love, a way to build community, and a way to exhibit the habit of careful stewardship. We want to take care of what we have! 

It’s especially important to choose cheerful when the kids are NOT. 

Try This: Don’t MAKE them work, LET them work. Not FOR you, but WITH you. 

Develop team spirit. Conquer the big, hard things. Create Olympic events out of the little, mundane things.  Work is a happy part of daily life. A way to give back to the community and develop self worth, or at least it should be. 

Take advantage of this time you have together at home to think through where your kids can up their games in contributing to housework and where you can teach them how to do the next big thing. Home care lessons are vital “adulting” skills for later!

How To De-School Your Children

How To De-School Your Children

De-schooling = Thinking Differently.

De-schooling is a process often mentioned in homeschooling communities; it’s considered a vital part of the home education journey and whether you intend to send your kids back to school or not when they re-open, the process of de-schooling is still going to be vital to your learning journey at home over the coming months.

What is de-schooling?

De-schooling is the process of transitioning kids from a highly structured academic environment where their choices are limited and they are moving through a process that they have very little control over to a more holistic learning environment where there can be far less structure and where the end goal is often independent learning and self-directed education.

Does that sound daunting? Deep breaths. It doesn’t have to be. Remember that kids (humans!)are hardwired to learn and they are far more flexible and resilient than we give them credit for.

De-schooling is a process. On average it takes a month per year that a child has been in school to “de-school” them adequately. For some kids it will take longer, for others, it will take less time. Follow your child’s lead.

Let me tell you a secret: There’s no big secret to de-schooling your kids.

It’s not about the method you’re employing, the curriculum (if any) that you select, or the particular tactics of your family.

The secret to de-schooling lies almost entirely in your head. In the way you think about education. In your philosophy of family, childhood, and education.

During this time of mass school closures, it is the perfect time to experiment with de-schooling your kids. It may also help you adjust to the huge changes your family is experiencing by giving you permission to take a breath.

The first step is about changing the way you approach learning as a family…

Traditional vs Non-Traditional Education Philosophy

If you’ll allow us to get philosophical for a moment…A traditional educational philosophy says that:

  • Students must be actively taught
  • Experts are the only qualified teachers
  • Learning happens in a certain place & time
  • Lessons must be carefully prepared, with objectives & outcomes
  • Children learn best in homogenous groups

Through homeschooling, you and your children typically come to understand that:

  • Children can be trusted to learn
  • Passionate people are the best teachers of their subject matter
  • Learning is happening everywhere, all the time
  • The best lessons are often spontaneously generated
  • Children learn best in broad communities

But how exactly do you get from one philosophy to the other? De-schooling is the first step on that journey!

How to De-school

 1. Start by Defining What You Believe About Education

A good exercise for countering the “boxed” educational philosophy that most of us have inherited is to list all of the things you believe about education and the way children learn. The five points I listed above might get you started, but think more deeply and specifically for your family.

What do you believe about education and learning?

Post this where you can see it daily and until acting on it becomes second nature.

 2. Start Thinking & Doing It Differently

If de-schooling = thinking differently, then we must begin to not just THINK differently but allow our educational methods to be CHANGED based on what we have come to think about education.

If we believe that children can be trusted to learn, let’s trust them!

Carefully observe your kids this week and record (secretly of course!) what you observe them learning totally on their own! Pay attention in particular to things that don’t immediately appear obvious, such as:

  • Things they learn around the house – problem solving, measuring, building etc.
  • Things they learn when they appear to be bored – how they approach boredom as a ‘problem’ to be solved, how they meet their own needs or work to get them met etc.
  • Things they talk about, that may appear random, but which often give you clues as to what they’re noodling on in their heads.

Then. when you catch your child interested and learning on her own, ENGAGE…

  • Get down on her level
  • Show interest
  • Ask questions
  • Follow (don’t lead) the discussion
  • THINK about what you can follow up with later that will communicate to your child that she was heard, noticed, respected in her learning and that you are interested too

Perhaps this will be a book, a movie, a YouTube video, an online resource, a person you can introduce your child to who knows about “the thing,” or perhaps it will just mean bringing up the cool thing over dinner and sharing it with the people you eat with.

De-schooling = thinking differently, kindling natural interest and engaging with your child. It’s about encouraging your children to start paying attention to their own interests instead of being told what to be interested in, and nurturing this process in their own time.

3. Encourage Your Kids To Identify Their Own Patterns & Rhythms

It is really common when a child first leaves a school environment that they sometimes want to do nothing more than stay in bed for ages, hang out in their room and go to bed really late.

At school, they have spent their time living and learning on an imposed schedule which may or may not support their own natural rhythms and schedules. We each have  our own individual circadian (sleep/wake) rhythm – you yourself know whether you feel more productive in the morning or at night, and kids are no different.

A powerful part of the process of de-schooling is encouraging your children to begin to pay more attention to their own natural rhythms again, and work with these. This may take a while and is a good opportunity to practice (even more!) patience.

De-schooling is fundamentally about helping your children cultivate a different kind of independence.

This will serve them well not only while their schools are closed but well into the future too.

4. Give Yourself Permission to Adjust

Homeschooling is a HUGE change even when it’s been a conscious choice. With the enforced school closures , so many parents are now in a position they never even dreamed they’d be in.

Give yourself the time and permission to adjust. Sometimes just taking the time to acknowledge what a massive change this is – going from one system and approach to another, and unexpectedly too – is the very first step you need to get through with any resemblance of sanity.

It isn’t just about de-schooling your kids, it’s about de-schooling yourself and your family too; everyone’s facing the same huge change and everyone copes differently. Create space for this adjustment and give any wayward behaviour (from kids and adults alike!) a bit more patience and love than you otherwise might.

Use this time to de-school as a time of adjustment. If they (and you) still need structure, give it to them. If they (and you) need flexibility and chilling out time, do it.

You can’t and won’t leap from A to Z without taking the steps in the middle. Use what we homeschoolers have always known is a vital step in the process to help you and your family adjust, and give yourself a break. 

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