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"I can't do it": Resistance to Learning

by Beverley Paine

A family has been homeschooling their seven year old for a few months, and things were going great but recently the daughter is losing interest, saying "I don't get it" to school work that her parents knows she can manage.

She says she doesn't get it, yet you say she can. When this happened to me (with different children, not just my own), they honestly couldn't do it right then, in that moment. My assumption, based on cultural and social expectations as well as knowledge of the particular child, was that they could and for some unstated reason (and again, my assumptions ran riot) had decided not to get it. In my mind the child was choosing to refuse to do it and that got my back up.

Eventually it dawned on me that I needed to step back and have some faith, trust that the child was actually telling me the truth and in that moment really didn't think she could do it.

The problem usually isn't academic. The problem usually has to do with self-image. That's where the defeatist self-talk is originating.

A child removed from school is no longer immersed in the competitive academic and social structure of the classroom. While this provides enormous relief, it strips the child of the one measure she's used to by which to gauge her ability: comparison with her peers. She's been trained from a young age to grade herself against them, not to notice what she could and couldn't do or know last week but does now. Many home educated children suddenly find themselves in a bit of a vacuum, not knowing if they're doing okay, how they are doing, if it is working.

And more than that, the bulk of learning occurring in the classroom is probably peer learning - children helping each other understand the lessons. Many parents new to homeschooling buy a box of books or online programs and get their children to work steadily through them, often sitting beside them or nearby, ready to answer questions. The informality of learning which came through peers is missing. Parents can fix this by relaxing about the school work, by chatting casually about life and learning and anything and everything during the school day and while the child is doing her bookwork. They can expand on the lessons by using materials and activities that relate to the topic or illustrate a concept. They can balance bookwork and lessons with play, especially board, card and dice games, word play, charades, etc. A great school teacher would do this too.

But it is important to listen to what the child is saying: "I don't get it" could be answered with, "Exactly what is it you aren't getting? I might be able to help. Let's look it up on Google." And so on. Get to the heart of the problem. Find out exactly what the child is talking about. Chances are the child might say something startling such as, "I'm no good at maths." To which you might ask, "Who told you that?" And there you have it, an opening into discussing issues relating to self-esteem, confidence and motivation that doesn't sound or feel threatening to the child. No one at school was ever seriously interested in this aspect of the child's development.

There are other reasons why children suddenly start finding learning difficult. I would be also be checking for any changes in the child's social or physical environment which may be adding stress to her life. Late nights, illness, inadequate diet, too busy, over-stimulation, worrying about issues the parents might be considering (even if they think the child doesn't know about them) - these are a few of the factors that could be contributing to learning difficulties.

Another is mis-matching the learning activities and type of learning activity to the child's learning style. In a situation where the child has only recently started home educating this might be caused because of the change in resources - books and materials - as well as method. Home educators are fortunate in that they can keep trying different approaches until they find one that matches their child's learning style. There are learning style articles and quizzes online that can help parents identify their child's preferred ways of learning.

Whatever it is the child isn't getting, she won't get it at school either. It's not easy being a parent, and being attentive and identifying our children's needs takes time and yes, we're busy people and yes, time is precious, but nothing is more important than listening to our children and helping them resolve their problems.

Beverley Paine is a regular contributor to Homeschool Australia, a Facebook group. It's a great online community of parents sharing their experiences and supporting and encouraging each other: no question is too trivial.

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Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active support of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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Welcome to the
World of Home Education
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!

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