When your child doesn’t love to learn – engaging a reluctant learner

As someone who loves to learn, it can be hard for me when my girls are a reluctant learner, especially if it is something I REALLY enjoy or find interesting. Sometimes it might be a slight hesitation to do any sort of learning work that day, but it can also drag on and that is where we get this term “reluctant learners” and it can be a challenge to motivate them.


Simply put, a reluctant learner is a learner who appears not to be eager, willing and ready to learn what you want to teach. They are hesitant or unmotivated. Maybe they simply do not understand the subject, lack confidence or have difficulty with comprehension and memory skills. There can be a number of reasons for the reluctance. But one thing is for sure – it can be frustrating as the educator or as the homeschool parent. Yet we don’t want to push them. The idea isn’t to force them to do the work, but to motivate and encourage. 

Learning at home. Little boy doing difficult math


There can be many reasons for a child to be reluctant to learn:

  • Hunger or tiredness
  • No connection to what is being learned
  • Dealing with issues at home
  • Boredom or think the lesson is irrelevant
  • Lack of confidence in their ability
  • Struggling to understand
  • Not seeing the reason why they should learn

All of these can apply to the classroom and at home. And remember that really, we don’t ever really know or understand all the reasons.

Parents who are overly obsessed or pushy with academic excellence can also put a child off their studies. When children feel pushed to strive it can often have the opposite effect and they will withdraw or put a hold on learning. There is a way to encourage them to do their best without being overly pushy with high expectations and demands on their education.

frustrated child sitting at desk


Because there are so many different ways a child can be a reluctant learner, not all of these will apply in each situation. Some of these will do better in a classroom and some better at home. 

Use their interest

– following what your child is interested in can motivate them to want to learn. They love dinosaurs? Then let your reading and writing activities be all about dinosaurs. Science is a key interest? Delve into science topics while focusing on the skills of learning. 

Consider their physical needs

– Are they hungry? Get them a snack. Do they need a nap or a break from learning? Maybe go and take a short walk to get energy back. 

Have a safe learning environment

– When a child knows they are safe to express ideas and opinions, they will usually be comfortable to share. Our children should feel comfortable and safe to make mistakes, as well as to be who they are. 

Focus on the relationship

– Probably one of the best ways to motivate is to have a meaningful relationship with our children. Show that you care first for them as a human. This is definitely easier when homeschooling. But all children need to know that they are seen.

Let them be involved in the learning/Give choices

– Let your children be involved in the learning process, in what is being learned. Allow them to speak into the topics and what the lessons will be. Let them decide where they want to sit for their lesson or homework. 

Use their strengths

– When you know a child’s strengths it can be a great motivator. Highlight what they are good at and how they could use it in the lesson. 

Don’t start academic rigor too soon

– Starting children in academic preschools can have the opposite effect. When our children are not physically, mentally and emotionally ready to be in a school environment, it could hinder their academic interest later on.

Change it up

– You don’t have to follow the same routine or schedule. You can also change how you are learning. Even being outside can be a great change. If your child is reluctant to work on their math problems or spelling, get outside and write in on the driveway or jump to the correct answer. Listen to an audiobook rather than reading. Watch a video that demonstrates the process. There are many easy ways to change it up. 

Work to their learning style

– Make sure you are incorporating ways that your child likes to learn in the lessons. If their strength is auditory, you can read the chapter. If they need to move, allow it. 

Set small goals

– Sometimes it can feel daunting to have a lot of work in front of you, or knowing that you will need to put in hours of work to master something. Break it down into smaller goals so that your child can see what they are achieving, and can feel good about meeting these goals.  

Get help if you feel there is a learning disability

– Difficulty in learning can certainly lead to reluctance. If you suspect that there might be a learning issue then talk to your child’s doctor or to a therapist. If your child is at school, then involve the teacher. You might not need to go and do all the formal testing just yet (though it can be beneficial), so it is good to talk it through with someone. If there are learning issues then it can help you make the changes you need or provide the support/accommodations needed to make learning a success.  

brother and sister learning at home

So, the good news is that while your child might be reluctant now, it doesn’t always have to be that way. I know that I worry about my daughter’s reluctance to read, but she will get there. I can keep motivating her, encouraging her, and showing her how amazing books can be. The journey will be worth it. 

Be kind to yourself as well. If you are a homeschool parent I know that we can take it all on ourselves and feel we have failed because our child isn’t interested. Brush it off, shake

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