Motivating Learning

There has been a lot of ideas tossed around about ways to get our boys "going" on different subjects, but here is where I am stuck.  The average idea is to get the boy moving along by providing "lessons" on his favorite subject, but my son (8) has no favorite subject!  I mean, he does Legos, plays on the computer and listens to his books on tape (he is still a beginning reader).  He would do this all day long and does this far into the night.  Granted he listens to "books" that are well beyond his reading ability, and he can tell you every detail sometimes, but he still has no interest in anything else:  no dinosaurs, no bike, no tree houses, in fact he hates to go outside.  I give the Legos a lot of space because I believe learning takes place in them, but he is not the kind of kid who seems to be motivated to learn.  THIS MOM is going out of her head to motivate him to move beyond where he is because he seems to be at a stand still and its been a long time at this point.  I want to spark the love of learning in him but I can't seem to find a big enough blow torch.


Here are some tricks that I have found helpful with my 10 year old boy:

  1. Don't fret...he is learning more than you think.
  2. Never let him know that he is learning something.
  3. Schedule a certain time of day that you "expect" something from him.  We started with a feeding the animals rotation.  Our biggest problem was the lack of ability to follow instructions and carry out tasks.  But when I would try to drop too much on him at once, he would get discouraged and not even try.
  4. Sneak in little teaching moments (science, for instance) and point things out like, "Hey, look at that bird!  I wonder what kind of bird that is!"  Then ask him to help you find out.  Or ask him how to spell words when you are writing a letter.  He thinks that you need them.
  5. Love goes a long way.  I have found that love and acceptance with discipline as a sidekick has been the formula for progress in our family, whether it be in homeschooling or family relationships.
  6. Don't try to change too much at once.
  7. If this doesn't work, try something else.  This was just my last week's plan. :)
  8. In every plan, pray without ceasing!
God is blessing your efforts.  All He expects from you is to care enough to try!
top of page

Sometimes, you just gotta MAKE them.  I used to have a rule when kids were little: "If it is nice outside, kids are outside."  Period.  They'd counter with, "there's nothing to do..." meaning, "I haven't any imagination to play by myself."  And I'd come back with "FIND something."  End of subject.  Over and over and over again.  Then one day, they LIKED going outside and began to find things to do, and I actually had to go looking for them to bring them back in (we live in the country adjacent to 80 acres of woodland where they can roam free but not get lost).
Your son likes math.  Legos (and patterning, building) develop pre-math skills.  I have yet to find a way to present memory by rote (which has to take place in mathematics) and make it loads of fun.  You can divide up the Legos and make him count them, add them, subtract them.  How many Legos make whatever it is you made?  How did you figure out how to place the Legos to make the creation stable?
He likes to read, too.  Only try reading TO him, instead of using the tapes.  He doesn't HAVE to sit still while you read (that rule was made by teachers to keep order in a classroom) unless he wants to see the pictures.  (I like the heavily illustrated texts for this: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan collectors editions, Pooh, Dinotopia -- yes, go Dinotopia!  THEN you can discuss how ridiculous the theory of evolution is!!)  The nice thing about those titles is that they are not written down to the kids, but force the kid to elevate his/her understanding while being interesting.
I have found that sometimes I have to be really involved in their learning processes, that even unschooling takes MY time.  It isn't all the child choosing and doing, but there is a partnership.  Try a LOT of crafts, hands-on stuff.  He's eight:  he can bake cookies, make rock crystals, bake a cake, subscribe to Experiment of the Week.  Have him write a poem for you (don't be shocked:  boy poems go something like Levi's classic "Terrible Fish" where he eats the terrible fish and it is just a silly sing-song rhyme).  He can make his own clay.
I suspect he isn't "interested" because he doesn't know HOW to begin and he is overwhelmed by the prospect of a change in his routine.  Sometimes it isn't so much that kids are unmotivated to learn, but they are overwhelmed by the possibilities and they don't know where to start. It's hard to find out what they are truly interested in until they explore a little.  His routine, what you described to us, that's his comfort zone.  Your job is to get him out of that zone and exploring.  If you lived near ponds like us, now is the time to go study froggies, if you are close to a wetlands.  (Note: he's too young to wander into a wetlands alone.  Mom has to learn to like slime. hehehe)
I hope I helped, not added to your confusion... Jaci
top of page

Hi!  I get the feeling that even though you are very frustrated, there is a forest hidden among all your trees.  You say he's very interested in computer; I would capitalize on that!  What kinds of things does he do on computer?  The sky is the limit on subject matter via computer, and he may find interest in something off the wall after being exposed to it through the computer.  Provide lots of different programs for him, including creative writing programs, they can be a lot of fun!  And then pour a cup of coffee, and relax!  He sounds completely normal for an eight year old!
top of page

Have you tried "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons"?  I just bought it and my 12 year old daughter who is just beginning to be able to sit still and pay attention long enough to get through a few sentences is having great success with it.  Here's why: the print for what she needs to read is real big, large enough for her to be able to trace letters with her finger when she doesn't remember them on sight; they use special tricks that really work to key her on special sounds, like the letters 'th' and 'sh' are connected, and every long vowel has the line over it, and silent letters are smaller.  (Before this book, I would have to provide constant running commentary to her on how to approach these letters, she would never remember.)  And, every little story in the book comes with a cartoon illustrating it, placed conveniently after the story so you can hide it with a piece of paper (they tell you to do this), so the motivation is to read the story, then you get to see the funny picture.  This really works for us.  Tonight Esma was asking for a new Bible, and I was explaining I had been waiting until she would really be able to read it.  She said that the big book (that's "Teach Your Child") would help her enough so that she will be able to read her Bible.
top of page

I think there is a book out by Mary Hood about setting up learning centers in your home.  I haven't looked at it, so can't necessarily recommend it, but it sounds interesting.
I think the biggest part of a 'learning environment' is being available to your children.  Listen to their questions and help them find answers.  For the younger ones especially, let them be part of your daily routine as much as possible.  This one is hard for me... when I cook dinner, I prefer to do it alone.  I really like to retreat to my upstairs room and work on my projects.  For my sanity, I need a certain amount of alone time, but I try to balance it. Another biggie is that the parents model lifelong learning.  I try to let my kids see my reading, whether it be the newspaper or a magazine or a novel or a non-fiction.  Verbalize to the kids your frustrations about learning the computer and let them see how you overcome that.  I know there is a stage where your hobbies are pretty much put on hold because of the demands of very young children, but I think a curiosity about the world modeled by the parents goes a long way.
Beyond those.... stick up posters with the alphabet or numbers where the younger ones can see and ask questions... give the older ones access to the kitchen for cooking (and cleanup)... games, whether they are 'educational' or not (even the simplest board game includes counting)... Letting the kids use 'real' tools as much as possible rather than toys. A real hammer and saw for messing around with wood rather than a kids tool set, for instance.
Collections are always good.... I know Jami has his coin collection... that could bring up many questions... who are the people on the coins?  How were they chosen to be on the coins?  What metals are the coins made of and why?  Or maybe go for walks and gather leaves and identify them.
I think having reference books handy is great if they are used.  Again, the parents need to model this.
I have at different times kept a notebook handy for the kids to record their questions.  Maybe right now they're not interested in pursuing the answer, but at some time they might be. Joby went through a stage where he carried around a small (3x5) notebook as his 'scientist notebook' to write down questions he had or observations he made.
Hope this helps,
top of page

"The Porch Swing" is maintained by
Return to "Frequently Discussed Topics"