The Non-Eager Learner

Many families have children who are so smart and so eager to learn.  They talk early, they read early, they are full of interesting questions about the world around them.  They are easy to teach and really,  they practically teach themselves.

And then there are other children who are not so eager to learn.  And I find amongst this “category” there are different groups of children…There may be the type of child that may not be interested in much outside of their own bodies and when food will be served.  They do not display  much interest in those abstract letters on signs or in books, and are not too interested in writing or math.  These are the kind of children that want to eat their way through any kind of main lesson.   The second type of child I have observed are the children that are very dreamy children.   Perhaps they are living in a little world of their own and are not too interested in coming out of that.  We probably all knew very dreamy children growing up.  Maybe we were those children growing up ourselves.  They don’t seem to have a lot of questions about the world around them, at least on the surface.  Maybe they do inside but they don’t ask the questions outwardly, and don’t give too much of a reaction to the things you try to bring as a teacher.  

I think perhaps the third type of child, whom I would NOT consider a “non-eager” learner are the “do-ers”  who really have so much to do that they just cannot sit down to any sort of book work.  I think these children come along just fine, and homeschooling gives them the time and space to be who they are.  They often seem to come into their own in the later middle school and high school years.  I would like to talk about that group in another post.

The typical advice I see for this on the Internet and in talking to teachers about “non-eager learners”  is one of two avenues.  For children in school, the recommendation is to volunteer in the classroom, dialogue with the teacher, sit with the child for homework.  In the homeschooling camp, the advice more often seems to be expose your child to a lot of things, take note of what a child likes to DO and see if you can build off of that, and don’t worry about a “passion” until high school years.

I think any of these pieces in and of their own can be helpful, but as always LOOK at the child in front of you.  Here are a few of my ideas to ponder as well:

For tiny children, under the age of 7, you probably know what I am going to say.  The American school system has now changed to the extent of what I studied in second grade as a child is now the kindergarten.  I feel there is far too much “academic” head work in kindergarten and PreK right now.  In fact, there was a recent article in the Washington Post discussing how the emphasis on academic skills is at a great cost to the child in terms of social-emotional skills and the development of the bodily senses.  If your child is in school, look at grade placement closely.  At this point in time, I have to say older age for the grade is better because of the ridiculous work level. Also, look at rhythm and  routine – is your child getting energy out and having time for free play in the hours after school?  Can you look at alternative schooling situations that match development?

The flip side of this, I think is to establish a good RHYTHM of work.  If your child is in school and expected to do homework and such, this is important, but this is especially important in the homeschool environment for children under the age of 7.   Your child can weave in and out of your work in the Early Years, and absolutely have plenty of time for free creative play and outside play,  but they should not just wander all day long with no adult input if you intend to do some sort of grades schooling that involves sitting down and doing something that you help to direct.   There should be things that are theirs to do in the family, and they should be able to imitate what you are doing and want to join in.  Rhythm in the early years is the key to easier homeschooling in the grades, especially in the beginning grades when children are learning how to be more academic learners.

For children between the ages of 7 and 9 in the homeschool environment, I offer you the ideas of Rudolf Steiner in his lectures, (not  in the school form).  Ages 7 to 9 should still be a good amount of bodily movement – look and see where your child’s physical development really is.  Lack of core strength can really impede writing, for example, and also affect visual convergence and speech.  Look at your child.  Also, think about how much DOING you are asking for versus just sitting and doing something.  It may seem easier to have story, drawing, summary, but I feel this is not at all what Rudolf Steiner intended.   If children this age are able to sit for long periods and don’t want to move, I worry, quite frankly. 

The main challenges I hear from mothers of children this age is a complete disinterest in academic skills (practicing writing, reading,  etc); lack of memory for academic skills; inability to sit still for academic work. Sometimes learning challenges are apparent in this stage, and little things together can add up to a bigger picture of learning skills.  For example, for children who are non-eager learners, maybe reading and writing is difficult in any way or shape or form, but puzzles and mazes are also difficult, crafts are not welcomed, there is not an attention to a task such as cooking.  This could be something bigger than simply “not wanting to.”  If you are concerned about the possibility of learning disabilities or visual problems, I suggest you speak with your health care team.

If you feel there are no challenges, I think one way to approach this age group is two-fold:  working within the physical body and then short bursts of practice as you see your child respond to best.  Choose what you require to be written carefully, and know that in many children academic skills involving lots of writing may not blossom until later ages.  You can introduce, keep it short, be persistent,  circle round and build on things, but you are waiting for development to unfold.   Build great vocabulary and concepts through storytelling and wonderful stories.   Watch and observe your child, use the things your child enjoys within the context of the curriculum, read together, do real-life math and games and know that it really is sinking in.  Focus on doing, and short practice. 

For children between ages 10 and 14,  this should be when interest in the outside world and  academic skills are typically increasing.  For some children, this academic leap will be in fourth and fifth grade, for some children this will be in fifth and sixth grade (I am talking about a homeschooling environment, where we have more time and space to let things ride).  Usually by seventh and eighth grade, many things are evened out and there is a greater ability to start “true academic work” of writing, more examples of critical thinking and original work.   Again, always be on the lookout for any learning challenges that are impeding the way and have not yet been worked with. 

I personally  find the often quoted, “Everything evens out by fourth grade” to be a fallacy in homeschooling.  Many times, children are reading around fourth grade, but some do not read well or are  not really interested in that until age 12.  Sometimes math has sort of evened out, but many times children don’t seem to “get math” until they are 12 and more abstract reasoning has developed.  I myself didn’t develop good math skills until I was a junior in high school and suddenly it all clicked in a way where I really understand the why’s behind what I was doing.  I have no doubt that this was some sort of developmental window  that was personal to me.  So, the years between 10 and 14, and especially  between ages 10 and 12,  require a good amount of patience and persistence and observation of the child on the part of the homeschooling teacher.

For children ages 14 to 16, I feel things should really be coming together at this point.  I know many mothers have talked about the “hibernation” of children at this age, but I see many homeschooled teenagers at this point developing or at least trying on emerging passions and interests in real life and then developing the academic skills they need to support that.    Many academic checklists cite the grades 8-12 as a time of “emerging abstract skills”, so that means that every child could have a timetable that is individual to himself or herself within that time frame.  It may not all click in eighth grade, but it might click in tenth grade or eleventh grade. 

I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences regarding working with “non-eager” learners.

Many blessings,

8 thoughts on “The Non-Eager Learner

  1. It is so hard when my vision of homeschooling does not match the reality. When all the love and care I put into planning wonderful lessons is met with disinterest or silliness or even rejection, anger or tears. With a child simply being a child. I can only talk about my own experience and say that with each passing year of maturity there has been more interest, more engagement, more joy in the learning process. But it is a slow process. It is a long, long journey. To all those starting out in grades 1 and 2 I say, hang in there. What seems like a thankless task can change into something incredibly rich and meaningful, but we have to be patient and wait. We have to meet our child where they are, not where someone else says they ought to be. We have to trust. Perhaps the hardest thing of all. I have a lot of experience in getting this wrong, but I just have to keep reminding myself of this truth, ask for forgiveness (from myself mostly) and start over again.

    • Licoricelovinglady,
      So beautiful and so true! I think all of us as veteran homeschooling mothers have really been there! Most of us has at least one child, if not more, who have been disinterested, silly, rejected school or were completely angry and belligerent…or who completely fell apart. I know I have!
      So, yes, stay strong and hang in there!
      Lots of love,

  2. I don’t have answers, but I am right there in the trenches with this. We’re one week into the school year, and while some things have gone well on some days, many of the activities I plan are met with “this is boring”, “I hated doing this last year, and I hate it this year too”, “I hate singing songs and saying verses”, “my ideal school day would be to do whatever I want”. Rinse and repeat all day long, no matter how fun I’ve tried to make things. While I am quite discouraged (last year was very rough, and the idea of doing it again makes me want to crawl under a blanket and cry), I am trying to have a positive attitude, be consistent, be authoritative in a warm way, and tweak things when I get flashes of inspiration about how to do things differently. My daughter has many extra challenges going on–ADHD, anxiety (she’s currently in counseling), and now a likely dyslexia diagnosis that I need to pursue. And the 9-year-change on top of it all. I discovered by accident last week that if I start the day off with some activity that is new, engaging, silly, and physically vigorous, it can put her in the perfect mood to mellow out, be happy, and then be in a place where I can slip in some of the things that aren’t her favorites (like reciting a poem or singing a song). This can change the course of the entire day. On the day in question, I had put numbers from one of the times tables on the wall and had her bounce tennis balls at them in order. She adored it, and after having such fun was willing to do pretty much everything I asked for the rest of the morning. Having some really fun activity at the end of the school day to look forward to when everything else has been completed is also a good incentive for her. The challenge is that it is hard to come up with the perfect activities on a daily basis.

    • Lisa,
      I love hearing from you, and I agree 100 percent. The opening can make or break it with a child who is already ready to run away from anything that smacks of “school” and yet, many times the children who have learning challenges truly do need the rhythm and yes, even the repetition that they so often fight against….I find some children start well with something really physical, some need to almost “slide into” school with just sitting and listening to a read-aloud, and it can all change on any given day. Great insights from you!
      Blessings and love,

  3. Thanks, Carrie. I have a very reluctant learner who is fifth grade 10. He was identified as dyslexic last year but the years of frustration trying to get him to read have really taken their toll on our relationship and our school days. (I’m teary here now!) I am trying very hard to back off this year and see what sticks from the curriculum and have his curiosity lead us. At this point, though, his love of learning is gone, sadly, as this is a big reason why we chose homeschooling. I wonder if it can come back.

    • Mary Lynn,
      Wish I was there to hug you and tell you it will be okay. One of our children has learning challenges, and I felt as if for a long time there wasn’t any love of learning…Hang in there! I think it really can come back. 🙂

    • Violicious,
      Great point! My own non-eager learner needs less and more space and more time. I think that might be a commonality across the board..Thank you for sharing!

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