What's a good way to motivate and support children who are struggling to learn a certain school subject?

29  Answers

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As a homeschooling mom to three daughters who each have their very own distinct learning style, I am constantly on the lookout for ways of supporting and fostering a love of learning. Whenever I see one of my children struggling I look for a way to incorporate what they already know into the equation. Usually by being able to draw upon previous knowledge with which they are already comfortable we can bridge the gap to learning the new material.
For example when my oldest daughter was learning to write I had the hardest time getting her to concentrate on correctly writing her letters. It wasn't until I incorporated her passion for dinosaurs in the equation that I was able to get her to focus. She was much more willing to take her time and focus on writing an "A" for an apatosaurus than she was just copying letters from a random workbook.
And the *single most important followup* to any lesson is to incorporate what they learn into how they play. By encouraging your children to play with their new knowledge you increase their level of retainment and actively promote further curiosity.

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I completely agree with you and LOVE your answer. Playing fosters all kinds of learning, creativity and curiosity. Thanks for sharing your answer Kristen!

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Patience is key to supporting children who are struggling with a certain school subject. It's easy to expect instant gratification, but sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of practice to master a skill.

It's also important not to get frustrated in our ability to teach, because a child can feel the frustration from his parents/teacher, which only makes it worse. Instead, I always try to give the subject a break for awhile and then present the material in a new and fun way. Whether it's using fun terminology (like saying a number is jumping or that two numbers are dancing together), inventing a game, finding a hands-on activity, or combining it with a subject the child really enjoys.

Sometimes when we start fresh and demonstrate the work in a new way, it clicks in the child’s mind and leads to a sensitive period. It also doesn’t hurt to add an element of fun!

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Thanks Lori - I agree patience and fun should go hand and hand, shouldn't they!

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“Our aim is not only to make the child understand, and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core.” – Maria Montessori

In Montessori education, the focus is on following the child. I truly believe that following the child’s interests is the best way to help a child who’s struggling with a certain subject … and to help any child meet his or her potential. This can work with any age. I've found Montessori principles helpful as a Montessori preschool teacher, homeschooling my children through high school, and encouraging my children as adults.

Some Ideas:

Develop a unit study based on an interest of your child, providing plenty of interest-based activities in the subject that’s causing difficulties … or just provide interest-based activities in that particular subject area. If you can, use concrete, hands-on activities to help your child understand abstract concepts. That’s very important with young children and helpful at any age (especially with kinesthetic learners). When your child is concentrating, don’t interrupt. Let your child complete a cycle of activity. And have faith that if you follow your child, your child will want to – and can – learn.

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I love that quote by Maria Montessori. Using concrete materials to teach abstract ideas is one of my favorite characteristics of Montessori. And yes, children have a strong desire to learn. We just need to find the right fit for their form of learning. Thanks for sharing Deb. Loved your answer.

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Find something the child loves and use that to inspire him or her. For example, I once had a student who wasn't keen on writing assignments, but once I let him incorporate football into assignments, he begin to enjoy it.
For things like math - turn a skill with which they need practice into a game. This almost always works.
A third thing that works well with my particular children is to make up songs (or use already available songs) to help them learn what they need to learn. Skip counting songs, for example, or songs to learn the presidents or the states and capitals.

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Adding a song to help memorize is always a winner in my home. Great ideas, Julie!

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First, LOVE covers a multitude of wrongs... make sure you are in love with your child. Not who you "want" your child to be, but who they really are!

Then, remember that curriculum is YOUR tool, you are not a slave to it! Mix and match, change it up, and maybe even -- don't finish the book (I hear your gasps...it's okay!).

Your responisibilty is to be the student of your student. Keep learning and trying new things, until you find the successful key to unlock learning for them. And, for you moms of more - this means you will be busy. I recommend calling on divine assistance, every day to accomplish this!

On a practical note, I have found Unit Studies to be the most effective tool for our family. We can learn together - but at everyone's individual levels and learning styles. Plus, they have made learning FUN and memorable (which is our goal, right?)

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What a refreshing response to the question. Love does conquer a multitude of wrongs. Thanks for reminding us. I've also called on divine assistance. :) Thanks Renita.

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I like to step back and look at the big picture. I find something positive about whatever the child does when working in the difficult area. I love to remind my children that I'm more proud of the fact they try when they face a challenge than when they succeed at something that comes easily.

Sometimes, I will find something that really matters to that child. If it's an object, I will buy it. If it's an activity, I'll make it a flashy certificate. I tell the child that when they reach a defined goal, it's theirs. I keep it in sight. The goal might be just making a reasonable and consistent effort. I make it clear it is totally up to the child. And I provide whatever support is needed.

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Follow their lead

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Good point about loving unconditionally and extending compassion, Heidi! If our children feel loved and respected, it's much easier for them to feel secure enough to persist until they're successful at something. :)

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This is exactly why I love homeschooling - you can tailor-make your approach and style so that every child loves to learn and manages at his own pace and learning style!

I wrote how to turn those frowns upside down where I suggest you:

1.Assess - find out what is wrong or why your child struggles. I list many factors.
2.Plan - pray, play, keep things simple, short and sweet, find fun activities that build skills
3.Motivate - I have a whole list of ideas in my post, but here's a sneaky preview:

# Plan your timetable together. Let them choose with you.
# Put 1 fun activity in each day.
# Create short lessons.
# Use the motivational ideas such as the workbox systems/ ticking off a task list/ surprise gifts/ sweets for completed work(I don't endorse this, but it works for some) / star charts etc.
# Do difficult work in a new way. Play educational games, fun drills, songs. Use different techniques until you find the one that works best.
# Stick to the time limits. Keep the lesson short and sweet.
# Keep one day of the week for informal studies/nature studies/ music/ art and poetry.
# Be prepared. Set up the schoolroom the night before. Put out a new activity or create a surprise. Kids love this! A simple encouraging note at their place will do wonders! You’ll also start the day with a twinkle in your eye!
Blessings,
Nadene
http://practicalpages.wordpress.com

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So true, Nadene! My family always loved the freedom homeschooling gave us. My kids are adults now, but my son still says one of the things he liked best about homeschooling was that we could make the subjects more interesting. :)

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If a child is struggling with a subject, I first re-evaluate if the child is developmentally ready for the concept being taught. If I feel that he is ready, but just having a bit of trouble grasping or retaining the concept, I try to change my approach to teaching the concept. If we have been using a text, I might use board games, manipulatives, field trips, crafts, educational videos (Brain Pop in particular), iPhone apps, computer games, etc. I might even call in another adult or older child to try to present the material as sometimes all that is needed is to hear things worded differently.

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I totally agree with changing approaches if something isn't working. It's amazing what manipulatives, songs, games, and field trips can add! :)

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My tip is to try something new, think outside the box! If your child isn't getting something, it's our job to make sure it get's through to them, not theirs. Be flexible, just because you purchased a curriculum doesn't mean that it is going to work for your family. Be willing to change it up if it is not working.

Be creative, make it fun by using manipulatives that your child is interested! We like to do lapbooks if available, and play games that promote that subject.

If it's a memorization issue, come up with a jingle, poem, or visual to help them remember.

Mostly, try not to get frustrated. Your child is probably just as frustrated as you are, and so it won't help if you are both having a bad attitude ;o)

Erica
www.confessionsofahomeschooler.com

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Great answer, Erica! We used lots of manipulatives, songs, poems, and games. too. And it's true that patience can go a long way as well. :)

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To motivate my children when they are struggling with a certain subject--first of all, I check my attitude. If I am enthusiastic about the material, my kids will pick up on that, and they will less likely to begin with an attitude of failure. I never enjoyed math once I got into my middle school years, and my oldest son doesn't like math either. I have committed to making math less intimidating for him and more of a part of our everyday lives by incorporating math games into our days and finding a curriculum that was a better fit for his learning style. Don't be afraid to set aside something if it isn't working and try something else. Also, I keep in mind that all my kids are different and have different learning styles, different attention spans, different personalities, and different favorites. What works with one may not work with the other. Another tactic that works really well for us is to break the material up and work on it for shorter spans of time -or- do the less favorite subject first to get it out of the way. It is also better to stop and go back to relearn material than to keep moving along when a child doesn't "get it." Stopping to spend two weeks working on the times tables or division is better than struggling through to move ahead.

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no pressure... a BIG no no... make it fun.... make it entertaining....

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no pressure a BIG no no... Make it fun. Make it entertaining.

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Make the subject interesting, so the child will become engaged and want to learn more. For instance, often the subject of history is boring to children. Enter, the movie "Night at the Museum", and suddenly the subject comes alive. Do this for your child. It means spending your time and trying your patience. But, the reward will be amazing. Here's a blog about 10 ways to motivate your child who is struggling.

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As a christian home schooling mom, one of the ways that i have found helpful to motivate my kids in their school work is by sharing Scripture with them, reminding them that God is for them and that he has given them the ability to do their best in their school work. i remind them often to do their school work with the attitude of doing it to please the Lord, rather than just to please mom and dad.
when it comes to helping a struggling student, i have tried to learn how to find curriculum geared towards the personality and learning styles of my kids. for instance, once i realized that my daughter was an auditory learner, i switched her to a math program that she listend to and watched the lessons being taught on the computer and she began to love math AND do well in it. when i tried another child on an auditory math, i realized that he didn't learn as well that way, so i switched him to a colorful, yet challenging math program which he has done very well with. i think the key for me was just knowing my kids learning styles and being willing to adjust to meet their leanring needs.

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I would want to know why that child is struggling. Is she just being lazy or is there a real problem? Is the material too difficult or were the basics not well-learned? If there's no real reason, then look into ways to just get through it together! There are plenty of subjects that I don't care for, and I try to not project my attitude to my children. Maybe they'll love algebra!

We pretty much repeated 4th grade math because we changed to a different curriculum that didn't work. I switched back mid-year and it worked out much better. We're doing the same thing this year with Latin because I don't think my daughter learned the basics well enough to move on to a translation curriculum. My daughter has done Prima Latina, and Latina Christiana I and II, but we're doing First Form Latin instead of Second Form because she's just not ready to move on yet.

While there are many "tricks" to making learning fun, sometimes, you just have to do the next thing. Mix up the tasks, the schedule...Do that least favorite subject first to get it out of the way and make more time for the fun stuff.

That's the great freedom of homeschooling. You know your child and can best accommodate the needs of your children. I love setting the schedule that works for us and using the materials that best fit each child.

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I think you should find ways to incorporate the child's other interest into the subject being taught. Not only that but set goals and help your child reach them. In the end it's important for the parent to stay positive cause our attitudes rub off on our children. If we get frustrated the child will to.

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As a Christian home schooling mom, one thing that has been helpful for me is to share Scripture with my kids, using verses that remind them that God is for them AND that he has given then the ability to do their best. I've reminded them that God wants them to do their school work with the attitude of doing it for the Lord, rather than just to please mom or dad.
When it comes to a struggling student, i try to find curriculum that is geared towards the personalities and learning abilities of my children. for instance, when i realized that my struggling child was an auditory learner, i switched to a computer taught math program where my daughter listend to and watched the math lesson being taught and she began to do very well in math. i had another child who didn't do well with the auditory math, but does very well with a colorful, yet challenging math curriculum. the key for me was just knowing my kids and being willing to make adjustments in order to meet their learning needs.

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I always like to think that maybe a child is not motivated or struggling in a subject because they might not be ready for that concept. What we do in our home, is instead of dropping the subject, we might step back a bit and shorten the lessons, try creating games or work the concepts into life lessons. Many times the child is truly lacking self confidence in themselves that they can do the lessons required in a subject area. We never give up working on the subject just our approach to it. It's been our experience by using play and life lessons allowing our child to gain her confidence, then return back to the material, she is much more receptive. This is not going to happen over night as some children truly need more time to develop in the areas needed to do certain things. As an example, last year Selena was strong in her reading, but showed little interest in math. I created many math games using bottle caps, a number line, and using many toys. Before Selena knew it she was doing simple addition and subtraction off the top of her head, this built her confidence to move forward in this area. I truly believe that last year she just wasn't quite ready to learn these concepts in the traditional manner. This year we are seeing a less reluctance when the math book is pulled out. She now demonstrates that she is ready developmentally to perceive the math concepts. My rule of thumb is never think that because other children the same age as your child is doing certain things that your child should be as well. Every child develops differently and at their own pace. Give them a chance to develop the skills and maturity it needs to learn new concepts instead of worrying about what other children their age are doing.

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I totally agree with individualizing the learning, adding games and manipulatives, and allowing our children to progress at their own pace! :)

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I really think you can't motivate someone...the must be motivated themselves. You can certainly support a child. If a child is struggling in a certain school subject, I would find a way to incorporate something they are passionate about into that subject to make the learning fun! For example, if your child is a Lego maniac (like our son) and he was having problems in Science or Math or English etc...I would use the Legos to my advantage and use them to create a learning environment/assignment where he would want to learn. If your daughter is passionate about dolls or art, I would that to my advantage and create an environment using those "props" to teach them. Children will learn quicker and eager when there is something they LOVE or are passionate about incorporated into it!

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Great answer, Melissa! I truly believe in following a child's passions. My son would learn anything transportation related, and my daughter loved anything to do with dolls and/or dance. Finding ways to incorporate kids' passions into learning makes learning easier and more fun for everyone. :)

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Make the subject fun by making it hands-on and interactive. Play a game, read a book that interests them related to the subjec, do a project.

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First, i think it's so important to understand that learning looks so different in each child. There's no reason to panic if a child appears to be 'behind' or frustrated by a certain school subject.
Secondly, the number one motivational tool that a mom has at her disposal is *herself*. Children want one on one time with their parents - taking the time to give that child individual attention will do wonders for their education - & for your relationship too. Plod through - question by question - with your child - take interest, time and have the patience to take each tiny victory. It'll come...

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First, Mom take a breath! You need to take a step back . If possible, put this subject to the side for a bit, or go back a chapter, just step back. I would then go to prayer for guidance. I seek daily for wisdom to see the BIG picture and to know the best way I can encourage and grow this amazing child. My biggest advice is for neither you nor your child to give up on mastering a subject. I had one student struggle with reading for years. However, once he had mastered a firm foundation, through repeated practice, that child advanced several grade levels in reading all in just one year! It was on his own timing. He ended up embracing reading not hating it. I think that was because we would not let him give up. He kept getting back up and trying again. A lesson that crossed boundaries and impacted all of life.
Often, it only took repeated practice and so I would offer rewards for hard work and consistent training. An athlete does, so why not a student? I also found that often it was I who needed to change my approach in teaching the subject. Maybe I needed to make something more Hands-On, or a video worked better than just reading a text. Sometimes I just needed to offer something that was more visually appealing or centered around a passion. We might add in some music or a field trip. We try to make everyday a little different. Create an atmosphere for family life long learning and make learning fun!
Everyday, we also all needed encouragement! By focusing on the positive growth while pointing out the errors, the child grew in confidence and was soon spotting errors on his own. Before long the child was encouraging me and others as he learned that it is a gift we all need. These are just a few tips to enocurage you to keep on encouraging and running your race. Best wishes!

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As a homeschooler, I believe people should stop dividing education into "school subjects." Life isn't divided into subjects, so why should education?

What lights up your child? Dinosaurs? Math? Ballet? Science fiction? What? Let your child pursue that, complete with books, projects, writing, talking, and whatever else he or she enjoys doing. Most "subjects" that attract children often incorporate many areas of study. When we're interested in something, we read about it, talk about it, perhaps create posters/diagrams/maps/etc. about it. We may seek out documentaries on our new area of interest. Maybe we write about it. The point is, we naturally approach a new area from many angles, which is how children learn best, as well.

The child who is struggling with a subject either isn't developmentally ready for that level or hasn't found a compelling reason to learn it. Once a child is ready and willing, learning comes much more easily.

Remember, just like in medicine, the first rule of education should be "Do no harm." Don't force learning on a child, just because a textbook or professional states that "children who are x years old should be learning y."

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Isn't it wonderful when your children beg to write a story? Read their library book before they are due? Master Spanish with nary a tear? But what DO we mommies do when they "buck our system?!"
Well, you muster up enough energy and enthusium for the both of you! I'm terrified of spiders but I can fake my way through that arachnid chapter in science with the best of them. And when one skitters across my kitchen floor, I stop to admire it with the rugrats and then pretend to safely escort it outside even if I'm actually going to murder it six different ways from Sunday as soon as they aren't looking. I personally find science projects and anything related to crafts about as much fun as plucking my eyebrows, but I engage my best acting skills and learn to have fun with my little mad scientists and crafters.
When my daughter balks at a task at a subject she simply detests, I have to find a way to be sympathetic yet firm, high energy yet simplistic, upbeat yet not fake. It takes reserves of patience I know are there, deep down inside if I keep my cool, keep my voice down, keep smiling, and pour another cup of French Roast. We'll get through those pesky fractions and I'll learn to appreciate spiders. Someday...

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Try letting the child be the teacher and the parent be the student. Through role play and role reversal, the child reveals what he or she knows but isn't put on the spot to have to be the one to provide all the answers rather the child can be led to observing how the parent seeks to find the answers. The parent can...

Start off by choosing an assignment the child is supposed to accomplish.

1. Raise a hand to ask questions (Let the child be the authority)
2. Ask simple question the child can answer (build child confidence)
3. Demonstrate out loud the thinking process (role model study skills)
4. Do a few of the problems of the assignment on a separate piece of paper (walk through the process)

Then switch roles and let the child redo and finish the assignment with the parent as the teacher.

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My go-to solution is to mix things up!! Sometimes it's just a matter of presenting the information in a new and maybe even FUN way and that's all it takes for it to click for them! I have a different learning style than my son, and so I often have to think outside the box when it comes to teaching him! Turn a simple spelling test into a game, do copywork or handwriting on a dry erase board instead of paper...simple LITTLE things can make a HUGE difference in their young minds!

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What an excellent question! Thanks for the opportunity to offer up my thoughts!

Let me first begin by congratulating any parent who recognizes that a child in the homeschool may be having difficulty. Children do not always say what they mean, thus discovering a problem isn’t always that easy to spot. Test scores and incorrect responses are obvious – clues such as children complaining of being bored, hating subjects, and trying to stall or wiggle-out of doing school are much more difficult to sleuth. And still, with all of that said, though keen observation skills usually work well, sometimes just listening to one’s heart or gut can be the best method of all.

So, how to motivate and support children who struggle? It really depends on the child – your child – the one only you know best. Some ideas, however, include spending extra time with the child, providing a constant stream of love and encouragement, and expressing an understanding of what the student may be going through. Additional help in the subject area might also be needed, to include special time with mom, dad, or even an older sibling who is able to help with the work, as well.

When these avenues have been tried and exhausted, a change of scenery may be needed. Many parents do not realize the importance of classroom climate to successful learning, so looking at when and where schooling takes place may provide additional clues. Children who are tired or hungry cannot possibly perform as well as those who are well-rested or have recently eaten a nutritious meal or snack. Classroom location counts, too, as outdoor distractions, indoor noises, room temperature and many other factors can affect performance. Most everyone will admit to being distracted by a chilly window, a pencil-tapping family member or the sound of the garbage truck at one time or another.

And finally, a change in curriculum, method or style may be in order. The very same child may actually flourish by having the right set of tools – whatever those may be – surprising everyone including himself! Exploring other options for teaching the same subject could be just the ticket to taking that child from struggler in an area – to becoming his or her favorite subject!

Marie-Claire Moreau




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