9 great ways to motivate your reluctant learner

Try these practical pointers to encourage your indifferent learner to get fired up about studying.

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We’ve all been there ― you’re trying to help junior revise for his spelling test and he insists that he’s paying attention, yet his body language tells you otherwise. His body is slumped over the table, he fidgets endlessly, rolls his eyes when you ask a question and replies with snarky comebacks.

If this is happening to you, know that it’s happening in other families as well. Most children will, at some point, show some level of disinterest in a school subject. But this doesn’t mean that they are lazy, lacking in discipline or couldn’t care less about making an effort in their studies.

However, a reluctant learner may simply not understand the subject, lacks confidence or has difficulty with comprehension and memory skills. Notes social and behavioural therapist Katy Harris, who has a keen interest in children’s behavioural problems, “Sometimes, they are simply intimidated when offered a narrow framework of what it is to be a learner.”

Parents who are overly obsessed with academic outcome and excellence, rather than who put the focus on the learning process ― the attitude, awareness, courage and determination to do well ― can also put a child off his studies.

“The fear of doing badly can actually create a low-grade panic that pulls a child away from the work and makes him take a detour towards ‘nicer’ experiences such as day dreaming,” Harris explains.

A reluctant learner may simply not understand the subject, lacks confidence or has difficulty with comprehension and memory skills.

While motivating a reluctant learner is about as enjoyable as pulling teeth, you have ways to turn things around. Harris shares nine effective strategies on helping your reluctant learner to find an interest in his studies...  

STRATEGY #1 DON’T LET YOUR TODDLER START SCHOOL TOO SOON
WHY As some tots may not be physically, mentally and emotionally ready to be in a school environment, it could hinder their academic interest later on. If you still want junior to join a preschool, choose one that teaches through play. “Research around the world points to the fact that playful environments have more problem-solving opportunities and exposing a young child to a wide sense of enquiry about their world will ultimately give them the interest and confidence needed to learn faster later,” notes Harris. One of the biggest benefits your child will reap from this is a stronger social and emotional life, plus, a sense of self. “This develops self-motivation to be the best person you can be, rather than simply someone who does the things asked of them,” she adds.
HOW TO DO IT Look for a preschool environment that has a wide variety of activities for your child. Find one that offers plenty of stimulation, staff trained in early childhood development and a curriculum that focuses on holistic development. It’s also important to make sure your child looks happy and fulfilled.

STRATEGY #2 CHANGE IT UP
WHY “If we want flexible children, we must be able to approach tasks and learning from many angles and adapt to what works for each individual,” Harris explains. Sometimes, trying to memorise the times table or spelling words can get tedious and draining. So, before you lose your child’s attention, quickly introduce another method of learning.
HOW TO DO IT If it’s spelling junior is struggling with, there’s no better way to boost his vocabulary and familiarity with words than through reading. Harris says this is best done with picture books, comics, hanging words around the room or even using signs that you find in public places such as toilet or exit signs. If they prefer to enjoy words or numbers with games and conversation, focus on that. “Make it fun, find your inner child and figure out ways to do things with enjoyment, imagination, mess, disorder and a good dose of laughter,” Harris suggests. “Feeling good provides the chemical reactions that stimulate engagement, determination and good staying power through challenges.”