How to Deal with a Young Reluctant Learner

How to Deal with a Young Reluctant Learner

You ask your child to complete an assignment for school and you are met with resistance. Do you force them to finish, have them set it aside for another time or just toss the assignment altogether? You’ve probably had a reluctant learner at one time or another if you have homeschooled for more than a few days! Once the excitement of “doing school at home” wears off, the resistance kicks in!

How to handle a reluctant learner depends on the age of your child. This post is about homeschooling the young reluctant learner. I share about homeschooling an older kid who hates doing school work over here.

Focus on the Basics

The goal of homeschooling a younger child is to develop a love for learning and to build a solid foundation in spelling, reading and math. When your child shows a disinterest in an assignment, ask yourself if the subject is necessary at your child’s age. Kindergartners don’t need science or history yet. First graders can get by with handwriting, spelling/phonics and math lessons. Don’t push it if it isn’t necessary.

Also ask yourself if the lesson is crucial for getting the subject material across. If it is an extra activity that you can skip without missing out on important information then let it go or switch it up a little to make it more interesting to your child. You want your young reluctant learner to love learning while still laying a solid foundation in academics.

Discover the Reason for the Reluctance

It is important that you discover the reason behind why your child is resistant to an assignment or activity so you can address the issue appropriately. Is your child being lazy? Are they resisting out of disobedience and defiance? Is the subject material too difficult for them or does it require the use of a skill that they are struggling to develop? Is this a subject area or type of work that they are disinterested in?

Getting to the root of the problem is the first step in finding a solution! Let’s look at each of these possible reasons for a reluctant learner and see what options you have for turning your reluctant learner into an enthusiastic one!

Reluctant Learners

Lazy or Disobedient

If your child is refusing to do school work out of laziness or disobedience then those character issues need to be addressed. You might need to put the assignment on hold for awhile so you can deal with clear defiance or disobedience. If your child is just being lazy then you might issue a warning about a privilege or toy being taken away if they continue to neglect their school work.

Be careful not to confuse laziness with a lack of maturity though. Young children need to do school work in small chunks of time, broken up by physical activity and play. Also keep in mind that what looks like disobedience might be frustration over an inability to grasp or tackle the lesson. It can be hard to decipher what the real issue is so have grace for your child and try to remain calm and supportive while prayerfully determining whether your child’s behavior needs correction or they just need a little break.

Subject Too Challenging or Requires Use of a Skill Still Being Developed

Is your child reluctant to do the lesson because the material is too challenging or requires them to use a skill they are struggling to develop? If so, slow down the lesson or only do part of the activity. Younger children get frustrated and discouraged easily when new information is hard for them to grasp. Take your time! There is no rush!

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Sometimes my own children have fought against doing an assignment because it requires writing and they are still learning how to properly form their letters and numbers. I have done several different things in these situations. Sometimes I let them dictate the answer to me and I write it in for them. Other times they have used number or letter stamps to “stamp” the correct answer onto their paper.

Homeschooling allows you to make adjustments to your curriculum to better meet your child’s needs. Take advantage of this by getting creative and finding ways to make the lesson easier to tackle.

Disinterest in the Subject or Method of Learning

Often times a child’s reluctance to doing school work is due to a lack of interest in the subject or the method in which the material is being presented. Ask yourself if the subject is necessary at your child’s age. If not, then don’t push it. You’ll cover it in the years to come.

If it is a subject that needs to be covered then reevaluate your curriculum and research your child’s learning style. Do they match up? If not, you might want to tweak your curriculum to better meet your child’s learning style or use a different curriculum all together.

This is the time to get creative, try new approaches and see what works best for your child. The early years of home education are a great time to try new things without the worry of your child missing out on something crucial. Remember that the early years are for fostering a love for learning. Your child won’t love every subject or activity but you can probably find a way to make most of them more tolerable.

One More Thing to Keep In Mind

I never want my own children to think that complaining will get them out of something they dislike doing. While the activity may be too challenging or the lesson may be boring to them, I usually have them do a small portion of the assignment with my assistance. I express my understanding that the lesson is causing them frustration and offer my assistance in helping them complete a very small section of the lesson. I stress the importance of not giving up while acknowledging that the lesson probably wasn’t the best one to tackle that day.

This post was shared at Hip Homeschool Moms.


  1. This is such a great post. For us, a dyslexia diagnosis was the answer we sought. In finding that answer I learned that I need to work with my daughter in a different way in order to get her reading well. She is now devouring chapter books.

    • Meagan,
      Thank you for commenting and sharing about your daughter. I didn’t mention dyslexia or other learning challenges in my post so I’m thankful you offered up your experience for others to learn from. I’m glad you found the answer to your daughters struggles with learning and to hear she is loving books now! Such a good encouragement for other moms who might have a child with dyslexia.

  2. This was very helpful! Thanks Janelle!

  3. I agree; it is so important to lay down the foundation of having the child enjoy learning. Thanks for sharing this wonderful advice with #SocialButterflySunday! Hope to see you link up again this week 🙂

  4. Janelle, I’m so glad I found your site. I’m dealing with a particularly reluctant learner and I’m considering the option of homeschooling. I believe the reluctance is due to a character issue which makes me think that it will remain regardless of the method of schooling we choose. I find that he’s satisfied with just doing the work (because it’s required) but not concerned at all about the quality. Even if an answer is wrong he’s happy to leave it as is. Aargh!!! How do we help our kids find their own motivation?

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