Podcast: Joy-Centered Learning for the Reluctant Learner

Joy-Centered Learning for the Reluctant Learner

This podcast episode addresses a specific question: What do I do about children who refuse to learn—children who:

  • balk,
  • throw fits,
  • and are consistently in a bad mood about their education?

How do we address this?

What we need to do is step back from insistence and coercion and rediscover the joy of learning—whether that comes through interest or directed school subjects. I will offer you a strategy for how to recapture some of that connection and joy in learning, even in relation to academic subjects.

Listen to the Podcast

Show Notes

Can Learning and Pleasure Co-Exist?

There’s a dichotomy that we’ve accepted that children are driven by pleasure alone and that, left to their own devices, would simply play with LEGO or watch their favorite YouTube channel all day. We don’t believe that there is inherent beauty or enjoyment to be had in multiplication tables, analyzing the grammar of a sentence, or writing about the Civil War. We see these as tasks that children have to be encouraged—or punished—into doing.

What this leads to is the idea that “real learning” occurs through requirement, and accidental-byproduct-learning happens through interests. Even if we say we value our child’s interests, we still see it as a secondary way of learning, a lesser way. Because it’s based in delight, the ethic that we’ve grown up with in the United States says that it’s not as valuable.

We know that there will come a time, maybe for college admissions, that they will need to prove that they know how to reduce a fraction—even if they can functionally do fractions while sewing or cooking—and we believe we will have failed as parents and teachers if we have not prepared them for that moment.

All Children Are Learning and We Can’t Stop Them

Whether playing a video game and calculating the risk factor of taking another hit and losing health, or deciding if they’ve measured their fabric correctly enough to make a cut, or changing up their written dialect when they’re texting a friend or their grandma, these are the decisions and critical thinking processes that are going on in our kids behind the scenes.

Learning is non-stop, it is largely invisible, and it is already tied to our school subjects—we just haven’t made the connection yet.

Seven Steps to Guide Your Child’s Education

1. Do nothing. Take a week where nothing is planned and let your kids do whatever is interesting to them. Spur that freedom by giving them even more opportunities to participate in their own lives.

2. Each night, reflect on what happened that day. Think of what your child actually did: from the big juicy conversation you had about their favorite movie series to the argument they had with their sibling and subsequent negotiations. Include everything they did and didn’t do. Assess how that child felt each day.

3. Tie the interest to a subject. Create a page with a box for each subject (reading, writing, math, science, history, grammar, personal interests & hobbies, miscellaneous). After you’ve listed the things your child has done, assign an item to each subject area. This will help you recognize how the things your kid has already done are adjacent to school subjects. Force the relationship if you have to.

4. At the end of the week, take those sheets and ask yourself: What’s missing? Are there any subjects that haven’t been naturally touched by their day-to-day activities? If you notice that something is missing, pause and think about how to address that one thing. You can support the development of what is already occurring by fanning those flames, but you really only need to focus on what’s missing.

5. Share with your kids. Show your sheets to your child and acknowledge how much they are doing meaningful activities. Your kids are using the tools they have to build their best life, and your job is to build on those tools to make their lives even happier instead of making them less happy in order to learn something we think they need to know.

  • Tie in the subjects that they are lagging in and show them how those subjects can enrich the activities they already love doing. Help your children discover the beauty inside the subject they don’t love by brainstorming with them the areas in their life where it may already be showing up in their life.
  • Set up a schedule to grow this skill. Build an interval training program to help them build up to a meaningful goal over time with built-in breaks.
  • If your child doesn’t feel fired up about a subject and you are out of ideas, hire a tutor or take an online class. Allow yourself some outside support.

6. Accommodate a child’s preference for when. Put this school subject into an hour of the child’s choosing when possible and try to create an environment that supports the child. Add a little coziness and warmth to the subject.

7. Only pick one lacking subject per month. When your child gets into a habit or routine, you can bring in another challenge the next month while continuing the previous one. Most of the time, refusal to learn comes from overload.

If you are trying to decide if this approach will work for you, keep in mind that you are ultimately in charge of your child’s education. During a year that feels abnormal, give yourself permission to experiment and see what would happen if you put your child’s joy at the center of their learning life. You may be surprised to see how much growth occurs.



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