Monday, January 11, 2010

Problem Solving in Your Home School


CHALLENGE #1: Academic Struggles
CHALLENGE #2: Distracted Child
CHALLENGE #3: Poor Relationship with Parent
CHALLENGE #4: Resistant or Lazy Attitudes
CHALLENGE #5: Lack of Confidence
CHALLENGE #6: Bickering Children
CHALLENGE #7: Overwhelmed Mom

Several kinds of challenges demand extra focus and patience by home schooling parents. From personal experience, I am keenly aware that these can evoke such frustration that you are tempted to give up. But in each of these situations, home schooling can be a huge benefit, even from a strictly academic standpoint. Add in the opportunity to shape our children’s character, teach a faith-filled world view, and build strong relationships with them, and we’ve got something to treasure for a lifetime. Just take a little time to do some prayer-filled brain storming, and I am sure you will eventually come up with the answers you need. God is waiting for you to seek his heart for your child!


“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to him.” James 1:5

“For the LORD gives wisdom,

and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
Proverbs 2:6

The struggling child -- one who is trying but just not getting it -- takes endurance and understanding, even when you are working one on one at home. I can’t count how many times I have introduced a new concept or handed out an “independent” lesson, and then expected my child to understand it instantly. It's enough to make her head spin, yet here I am griping, “Just why don't you get this?!?” Maybe we rush them because we want to finish the workbook by the end of the year, but we are not slaves to the curriculum. Or maybe we rush them because we have other things to do -- a house full of people and dishes and dirty laundry that need our care. Teaching just takes time, and your child’s education is not the place to cut corners. Slow and steady wins the race. If you have a child who truly doesn’t seem to have sufficient “brain power” to be a roaring success in academics, please remember that it is not intelligence that God values most -- it is what is in the heart! Also, your child can function in life without mastering every single scholarly skill. Here are some tips for dealing with the struggling child:

  • Stick with your child as long as necessary to get the job done.

  • Use repetition and continued practice, and be sure to stress that this is not a sign of failure!

  • Catch and remediate problems before they become firmly set in your child’s brain.

  • Find out the learning style that most fits each child, and try something different, something new, something interesting, something that clicks.

  • If you don’t understand the material and can’t get up to speed with it pretty quickly, consider hiring a private tutor or at least consulting with a trusted mentor.


“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business
and to work with your hands, just as we told you,
so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders
and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

“My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart...
Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you.”
Proverbs 4:20-21, 25

Is your child easily distracted from his work? Does he react to sensory overload by letting his mind flit aimlessly like a butterfly from one thing to another? Does he often get headaches or feel like he is going to explode with frustration? Is he a wiggle worm or a fidget? If so, you might be tempted to yell, “FOCUS! FOCUS! FOCUS!” Here are some ideas for helping your distractible child concentrate:

  • Keep the lessons short with a change of pace every 15 minutes or so. No marathon study sessions for this child!

  • Let your child work with his hands to engage the brain more fully. Sometimes a child who seems distractible is actually a tactile/kinesthetic learner!

  • Allow a “hyper” child to go out and run around for a few minutes to get the wiggles out.

  • Check for foods or other allergens which might cause your child to act up.

  • Minimize the noise of TV, radios, computer games, and chattering siblings.

  • Prepare ahead of time for recurring problems.

  • Declare war on the household clutter that throws brain cells into a frenzy of disorder.

  • Choose a quiet well-organized study area where your child can easily find and put away his supplies and assignments.

  • Provide a portable book bin and lap desk for a child who needs to roam the house to find a quiet spot.

  • Use a large three panel display board to set up a “private” study cubby for your child at your dining room table. (Thanks for Barb Dell for this tip.)

  • Consider that your child might need an occasional nap to get his brain back!


“...but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.”

1 Thessalonians 2:7

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Ephesians 6:1

“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.”
Ecclesiastes 9:17

This one can be the most frustrating! The child is fully capable of doing the work, but refuses to cooperate because of a poor relationship with you. In my opinion, he needs two things: a rebuilt relationship and a respect for authority -- in that order! It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Strategies for dealing with the persnickety child include:

  • Lay aside most of the academics for a little while, since you are not going to make much progress right now anyway.

  • Rebuild positive experiences: Do fun things together. Sit and talk. Show affection. Make a favorite meal. Find something to praise.

  • Try to iron out any recurring or hidden conflicts.

  • Watch your tone of voice when you are giving instructions and correction.

  • Include your child in decisions about curriculum. When you build rapport with your child, it will be much easier to work on basic respect-for-authority issues.

  • Establish a firm “no whining” rule. If you whine for it or argue about it, the answer is no!

  • Do not accept disrespectful words, tones or actions such as foot stamping, pouting, or door slamming.

  • Work on first time obedience. You should not have to repeat a request over and over again with an increasing pitch of impatience in your voice.

  • Present a united front with your spouse. Do not allow your child to “divide and conquer.” Even if you disagree in your mind, you can pleasantly say, “Your father said to do this, so you need to obey him.”


“Do everything without complaining or arguing...” Philippians 2:14

“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” Proverbs 10:4

“One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” Proverbs 18:19

A child might be intelligent, but if he isn’t also diligent, he’s totally wasting his potential. A motivated student, excited about learning, can virtually teach himself a lion’s share of academic material as he gets older, but the lazy one tries to squeak by with the bare minimum of quantity and quality. If this tendency goes unchallenged because it seems to take too much of your emotional effort, you can predict trouble in later school years and the rest of life. It’s easy to let this child slip through your fingers, but you care about his future, don’t you? I’ve often said that we shouldn’t rush our children, but some of them need a good strong push to get them moving at all. For the resistant or lazy child, try these tips:

  • Include your child in the academic goal setting process and listen to his opinions.

  • Research learning styles and learning disabilities. Are you teaching to his strength?

  • Give your child an honest evaluation of his efforts and abilities.

  • Offer extra help and time with difficult subjects.

  • Make the work more interesting.

  • Set up a regular routine for school work.

  • Write down specific instructions or assignments for children who tend to forget.

  • Supervise closely to make sure your child is staying on task and out of trouble.

  • Use natural consequences such as loss of privileges if work is not done.

  • Hold your ground and stick with it until it gets easier.

  • Teach your child about the busy bee and the hardworking ant!


“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

Some children may seem lazy when they are actually afraid. If they try, they might mess up, so they don’t try at all. They need confidence! For your hesitant or fearful child you may want to:

  • Be your child’s personal cheerleader and coach. Find at least one of his strong areas to praise. When you see even a small amount of progress in a tough area, play it up!
    Promise your child that you will do whatever it takes for him to succeed.

  • Assure your child that you will accept him even when he makes mistakes. (Note the plural word there!) A “failure” is actually just an opportunity to learn a new thing for the next time you face the same situation.

  • Avoid comparing your child with others. Even if you don’t mention his name in relation to other people’s successes, if you are constantly praising their siblings but staying silent about his own progress, he will notice it!

  • Do not allow siblings or other relatives or friends to tease your child about his weaknesses.

  • Break down each task into such small, easily attainable bites that little successes build up their can-do quotient.

  • Give your child ample time for private, independent study, especially about topics which personally interest her.

  • Set the example and let your child see you try something that you have been afraid to do!


“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” Psalm 133:1

“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace,
along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments,
because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel;
instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” 2 Timothy 2:22-24

Bickering is the another common problem in a home school! Such a problem is not easily solved, but here are some of my survival strategies for dealing with sibling spats:

  • Hold a “peace summit” to iron out specific recurring conflicts in practical ways. “When this situation happens, this is what we will do.”

  • Purchase extras of commonly used items that are hard to share, such as colored pencil sets.

  • If one child is teasing or yelling, take away the privilege of talking for a half hour.

  • If two children are continually arguing over an item or privilege, don’t let anyone have it.

  • Do a Bible study on peacemaking and conflict resolution using The Young Peacemaker by Corlette Sande (

  • Read Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining and Other Bad Attitudes... In You and Your Kids!, by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller.


“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:
"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength...”

Isaiah 30:15

“She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks....
She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
‘Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.’” Proverbs 3:17, 25-29

While your frustration over messes and interruptions may partly stem from poor organization and life management skills, much of it just comes with the territory of home schooling! Here are some practical ideas for improvement:

  • Get a good night’s sleep!!!! This alone will cover a multitude of sins!

  • Prepare lesson plans and supplies ahead of time so you are ready to teach.

  • Teach your children to take turns working with you, and not distract you when you are trying to help someone else.

  • Use an answering machine during school hours so you can stay off the phone.

  • Evaluate your schedule and slice out unnecessary activities.

  • Have at least one quiet hour to yourself in the afternoon.

  • Schedule regular tidy times for everyone to spend ten minutes cleaning up.

  • Recognize the difference between a happy mess which happens when a child is actively working on a project, and just plain clutter, which hangs around indefinitely. Be patient with the first kind, but ruthless with the other!

  • If you find that a certain object or set of objects is constantly being scattered around, put it way out of reach of the offenders until they learn to clean up better!

May God bless you with abundant wisdom as you do some sanctified brain-storming to solve your home school problems!


“Careful study and wise discrimination are needed on a parent’s part
to ascertain a child’s peculiar faults.
Each parent would do well to ask himself, or herself,
“What are the special faults of my child? Where is he weakest?
In what direction is his greatest strength liable to lead him astray,
and when is it most likely to fail him?
Which of his faults is most prominent?
Which is them is of chief importance for immediate correction?”
Such questions as these should be considered at a time favorable to deliberate judgment,
when there is least temptation to be influenced by personal feeling,
either of preference or dissatisfaction.
They should be pondered long and well.”
H. Clay Trumbull in Hints for Child Training,
originally published in 1890

1-2-3 Ideas to Remember about Solving Problems

  1. Pray for your children, and work at building good relationships among all family members.

  2. Check to be sure that the curriculum and learning environment are good fits for your child’s learning style.

  3. Assure your child that you will do what it takes to help him succeed.

This article is an excerpt from my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.

Related Posts with Thumbnails