Do your children like being at home? Do they look forward to learning new things? 

Or do they grumble and whine? Do they wait for you to force them to do their schoolwork?

Think back to when your children were toddlers—gaping at something shiny making a rainbow on the wall, running up to show off their artistic masterpieces, digging in the dirt just for fun. Can you remember the days when they begged for just one more story or tried to discover how many objects a magnet would stick to?

What happened? How did they go from youngsters who love exploring the world around them to preteens and teens who, at best, just get through the schoolwork to be done so they can “have fun”, or at worst, fight learning kicking and screaming? We are all created with an innate curiosity about the world around us. But somewhere along the way, many children lose that, and curiosity and a willing desire to learn are replaced with a lack of motivation and a resistant spirit.

There must be a better way, right? 

Let’s take a look at 5 observations we can make about how children learn. These are your ticket to building a habit (or reestablishing a habit) of loving to learn.

They need to move. This is an uncontested fact, and it doesn’t just apply to toddlers either. Children of all ages, including teens, show an increased level of learning when they are able to move around—walking, jumping, fidgeting with things in their hands, doodling. Moving their bodies actually helps stimulate their minds. And when their bodies and minds are stimulated, they tend to be happier. 

This is a hard one for parents. We have been conditioned to think that our children must sit still at a table to truly “do school.” This is a lie. Homeschoolers are free to break that mold so our kids associate learning with fun and joy, not the torture of sitting still.

They learn best through hands-on experiences. This is especially true in younger ages, but even high schoolers will benefit from applying their knowledge in real life. Worksheets have their place, but they are no substitute for using all of the senses to learn and explore. Use the kitchen, the outdoors, manipulatives, real paper books, toys, museums, local businesses, and projects to help your kids use all of their senses. When children see a reason for their learning and make connections with the real world, you will see their pleasure in learning skyrocket.

You may be thinking, “That is doable for a 10-year-old, but what about a 16-year-old? They need to spend time on the computer and in textbooks, right?” Yes, they do, but there should still be ample time on most days for hands-on learning. Help your children see how what they are learning applies to real life (more on this in next week’s blog).

They imitate those around them. Imitation is a key learning mechanism for all of us. We see it most readily in young children, but we all do it. I know this is a hard question, but are you living out what you are teaching? Are you approaching your daily responsibilities with joy? Are you pursuing learning in some way? If not, maybe you need to consider leading by example. This may be the single most important thing you do to help your kids love to learn! Children are experts at spotting hypocrisy, and it will dampen their love of learning if they aren’t seeing it modeled around them.

How can you model this? Pick up a good book and start reading in front of them. At the dinner table, talk about something interesting you have heard or learned. Pick a new skill to learn or subject to study, even if you only have 15 minutes a day. Smile as you go about your day. Ask God to show you how to do everything with a joyful heart. Remember, your children are watching you. You probably won’t see results overnight, but be patient. 

They are more willing to try new things with a supportive parent by their side. Whether they admit it or not, kids need to know they have your support and understanding. And more than that, they want you to experience life with them. Deep down they want to relate to you and know that they are your number one priority, not just a side gig.

How does this work? You don’t just plan activities for them to do and tell them to do them. You participate with them. You do the experiment with them. You try the newly learned math problems with them. You brainstorm ideas for an essay with them. Knowing that you are in it together will make all the difference in their attitude. Hearing “Sit down and finish your spelling lesson” will evoke a much different response from hearing “Let’s finish that spelling lesson together.” 

You may not do every lesson with your child but knowing you are there for them will build your child’s confidence and enjoyment of learning.

They learn best in short segments. Those short attention spans can be quite the trial, but it takes time for children to grow and mature. Today’s society often puts pressure on parents to push their kids too hard and too fast. If you don’t want your child to lose their sense of wonder and curiosity, don’t force them to sit and do focused learning for long stretches of time if they are not ready for it emotionally and physically. 

Homeschooling gives you the opportunity to observe your unique child and see how they handle focused learning time. Each child is ready for various amounts of this at different ages. Children cannot be boxed into one timeline. Whether you have a first grader or a seventh grader, keep the lessons short and sweet. Your children will come to count on this and will be more likely to approach learning with a happy attitude.

Take-aways for a happy homeschool:

  • It simply isn’t true that if children are sitting still, they are listening; movement stimulates children’s brains and will help them love to learn.
  • Find ways for your children to learn using all of their senses; it will engage their minds and hearts.
  • Children learn more than you think through imitation, so model joyful learning in your own life.
  • Learn alongside your children, supporting and encouraging them; learning is more fun with someone to share it with.
  • Keep lessons short and engaging to help replace dread with excitement.

The transformation from whining about schoolwork to joyfully and independently pursuing learning won’t happen overnight. But these simple steps really can jumpstart the process. With a little effort and a lot of grace, your homeschool can be a place of laughter and joyful exploration.

Part 2 will look at how you can help your older children move from grumbling about schoolwork to passionately and independently pursuing learning.