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What To Do When Children Resist Being Taught

© Beverley Paine

"Can anyone please offer any suggestions as to what they do when their child wastes time, whines or sooks when they are supposed to be doing bookwork? My daughter is almost 6yo and is very good at the work WHEN she sets her mind to it but for the best part, if I am not able to sit close to her when she has work to do, she is distracted by anything and everything and she has a good attention span - it just seems to be set bookwork. Do people use rewards, punishments, bribes?"

This was my experience in the first few years of homeschooling and nothing I tried seemed to work and I tried lots of different things... bribery and threats, pleading, star charts, making learning 'fun'...

It was really hard and I felt that I was failing all the time and worried that my children would grow up absolutely useless. Well, they're grown up now. Thomas, my youngest, will be 19 in a month, has been unschooled since birth. Robin and I are totally rapt with how he's turned out. I read a book by Julia Webb (UK researcher) about a decade ago on grown up homeschoolers. She said that unschoolers tend towards starting their own businesses and seem unwilling to work for someone else for very long. Thomas is a lot like that. He doesn't know why anyone would want to work five days a week when there is so much to do every day. He busies himself around home - mostly working on cars or computers, but also helping out with the house renovations, garden, landscaping, taking care of our animals (about 100 assorted chooks, guinea pigs, geese, pigeons, ducks), housework, etc. We live on four acres so there's always something that needs to be done. He does computer jobs for pocket money and to keep his car on the road. If he wanted to he could be working full time fixing computers in this area...

I think Julia is spot on when she indicated that unschooled children grow up with different values, but with strong work ethics. My children are diligent workers, but only work on things that are important to them. However, they'll go out of their way to help others. April's loyalty to her employers (past and present) makes her an asset to their businesses - she believes that doing her best to help their businesses grow will help them employ other young people, as well as improve her working conditions. This was not the outcome I imagined 15 years ago, when she'd slack off, whine, and even cry doing her bookwork...

Back then I backed off - I couldn't think of anything else to do, having tried punishment and reward to no avail. First of all, I said "pick a page you want to do, or can do". Basically, do anything, so long as it looks like learning... give me some paper evidence that learning is happening and I'll be happy! Eventually I began saying, "what would you rather do right now?" And then finally, just about everything she did was negotiated first - we'd talk about what I wanted her to achieve, what she wanted to do/achieve, the different ways that could happen, what we'd need, how much time would be needed, etc. We slowly gave up the rigidity of a structured curriculum written by someone else and did more and more activities related to our immediately daily life. Which, as it happens, was a very busy life embued with a great deal of practical skills and knowledge.

Occassionally I'd have a fit of insecurity and bring out the books and ask the kids to do a few pages everyday for a week or so. I couldn't force them to do it on educational grounds. They knew that doing a few sums or pages or writing wasn't a real education. But they'd do it for me, to make me feel better about being a homeschooling mum. Every time we did this it was obvious that even without doing any reading, writing or arithmetic for a few weeks or months, their skills in all three areas had advanced. A few days of what we started calling 'playing school' was a tremendous boost to MY confidence in unschooling. We did this for years - I am a slow learner!

One thing I can say for sure: that if I wanted my children to do anything they didn't particularly wanted to do, without a fuss or whinging, or if I wanted them to do a good job, then I had to BE with them the whole time. I learned that this was THE fastest way for them to become competent and independent at this tasks. Helping them, working beside them, modelling the skills I wanted them to learn, fast tracked this process. Whinging and whining at them, yelling instructions from the other room, was a complete waste of time and didn't promote healthy and happy relationships within the home. For better or worse, homeschooling is hands-on for the parent. I've found that self-instructional material works best when the children reach the teen years and have had plenty of time to develop self-discipline through playing and pursuing hobbies largely on their own. If we use the same methods that teachers use in schools we get the same behavioural problems that teachers in school get!

When Thomas was approaching 14 I felt that he ought to know how to do maths on paper, just in case an employer ever asked him to work something out. Much of my worry about my children's education was based on my fear that people would think less of me if my children were 'failures'. That was a hard truth to finally accept and deal with. I asked Thomas to work his way through two maths books, doing about 30% of the problems, enough to check that he understood the mathematical concepts and methods. Thomas never needed reminding to do his 'bookwork' and would sit, often for an hour or more, three or four days a week, slowly working through text book. Occasionally he'd ask for help, but mostly he taught himself whatever he didn't already know.

We are taught that when children resist our attempts to educate them there is something wrong with the child. My experience is that it's not the child, but the method and resources we're pushing onto the child, and sometimes simply 'when'. I learned that homeschooling life is so much easier, and the children enjoyed learning so much more, when I matched their learning styles and needs to what I presented. This meant working out what kind of learners they are, when they learn best (what time of day, what kind of conditions best suit them, etc). It took me about ten years to sort all this out! As I said, I'm a slow learner.

Someone stood up at a (Christian) conference in Qld last year and said that even if you don't deliberately teach your children at home, they'll still get a better education than they would at school. It's really hard to fail your kids at home. They will learn an incredible amount through conversation, from watching the television or browsing the internet or playing computer and other games, from having so much more time to play and pursue their hobbies and interests, from the access to wide variety of adults and children in the community, from the opportunity to be involved in many more household chores than they would if they were at school all week... It all adds up to a wonderfully rich and meaningful education. The rest - the bookwork, unit studies, narration, excursions, etc - they're all bonuses. It's easy to see why homeschooled kids are turning out the way they are - valued and appreciated members of their communities.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

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 supporter 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 children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since 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. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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