I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this week’s Blog Cruise question, “How do you help your child if he is struggling to learn?” We’ve dealt with this issue several times, and have discovered five different reasons for learning struggles.
The child could be overwhelmed. In fact, this is what most people refer to when they talk about a child who is struggling to learn.
We’ve tried temporarily dropping the topic (especially for young children), approaching it from a different angle, having siblings teach (very helpful), and just hanging in there. Since many learning difficulties arise because children are pushed into formal learning before they are ready (Raymond and Dorothy Moore wrote on this extensively), temporarily dropping the topic has been our method of choice. Yes, it can be a bit nerve wracking for mom to think outside of the box and to allow children to learn at their own pace, but sometimes it is necessary.
Of course, occasionally there’s a serious learning issue that has nothing to do with readiness. For a homeschooling family it may be important to remember that a ‘professional’ at a school will rarely do as good a job as a loving mother at home using one of the special learning programs available. Sending a child to school is not the solution, although making use of professional help can be. Many families turn to specially designed programs to help a struggling child.
But not all struggling learners are facing material that is much too difficult for them. I was surprised to discover the following ‘learning problems’ in our family.
The child could be under-challenged.
What do you do when your bright child suddenly cannot manage to do the next level of the assigned work? …when he struggles in vain for hours to learn a miniscule concept that you’re almost certain he knew before?
The answer is that perhaps he did learn it before, and can’t figure out what it is he’s supposed to be learning now. Let the child challenge that chapter, topic, or whatever. I’ve let children, even those under 10, study a topic on their own and just write a test. The joy on those little faces was incredible. What a relief they experienced! And even if the test showed that they needed to work on one or two concepts, they were so happy to finally have something real to learn and to be able to move on.
Even if a child is not struggling, allowing him to challenge material that is much too easy is only common sense. However, since a child must thoroughly know the foundational material if he is to succeed later on, we’re careful to have very high standards. What’s more, in some areas such as language and mathematics, ‘over learning’ is critical to fluency and future success.
The child could be unmotivated.
For a young child, this is Mom’s problem. An older child needs to accept some responsibility, however. Occasionally, being unmotivated is due to the material being too difficult or too easy. Sometimes the material may seem useless to the child. And sometimes the child may have ‘better’ things to do.
Obviously, it’s important to ensure that the material is presented in an interesting way. Learning is a joy and a privilege, and we should not lose sight of that.
When lack of motivation becomes extreme, I occasionally have to realize that my purpose for a certain course needs to change. My goal is no longer for the child to learn the subject matter; instead, my goal is to teach perseverance, determination, obedience, or diligence. In a case like this, knowing the subject matter merely becomes an indication that the child has practiced these character traits.
The child could be disobedient
We’ve had this more than once: A child did not understand how to do something but absolutely refused to listen to my explanations or follow my instructions. (OK, so I’m not great at explaining things, but that’s no excuse for outright defiance.) This, obviously, needs to be treated like any other disobedience issue, remembering that both parties are probably quite emotionally involved by this stage.
The child could be just plain lazy
Yes, children, like parents, have issues with self-centered laziness. The solution to this and other sins all comes down to the same thing: we’re not on this earth to please ourselves, but to love God and each other. And we cannot do this on our own, but only through our Lord Jesus Christ. Teaching that is, of course, the essence of Christian parenting.
May God bless us as we work diligently and lovingly with our children to help them learn facts and skills as well as Christian character.