Teaching Tips - General


In order for a person to learn, they must be motivated first (they must be "interested" in learning).

Motivation is "the desire to take action now." To be motivated, there are two conditions necessary:

  1. The person must "want" something.

  2. The person has to "believe" they can get it.

This may seem overly simple, but it is very useful in practice. If you are having trouble teaching your child (assuming they are ready), checking these two criteria could prove very useful to you.

If a child (or adult) doesn't want to learn something, or doesn't want to work on something, it can be from either condition not satisfied.

Positive Motivation

Theoretically, you can use a positive or a negative reason to get a child to want something.

You can make a child "want" something by making them afraid of a punishment if they don't accomplish what you want, but for most things people don't learn very efficiently with fear, and it leaves emotional scars.

You can also use "carrot" motivation, by rewarding them for learning something. This can work, but it can also get them to produce the results without learning.

The best way to motivate positively, to get them to "want" to learn, is to get the person "interested" in the topic.

Getting a Child Interested - Want

Here are some ways to get a child interested in a subject:

  1. One way to get them interested in a subject, is to "attach" the subject to something they already want.

    For example, if a child is interested in animals, you can show them how math can help them calculate how much food to buy, how to build pens for them, the cost of looking after them, etc.

    If a child is interested in computer games, you can show them how math can help them win a particular computer game. Or if they want to make computer games, you could point out that programmers need to know math.

    The key is to find something they like doing now, or that they want to do in the future, that needs what you are teaching them.

    In other words, make the learning "useful" to them, make it "relevant" to them. What can they do with this knowledge (that they "want" to do)? If they see how they can use it, they will make sure they learn it.

  2. Another way that works very well for home schoolers, is a hands-on activity that has the lesson in it. This works very well for things like science, but with some creativity it can work in many other areas, too.

    For younger children, if you want them to write a story, you can try getting them to act it out in a mini-play first.

    If you want to study a particular country, if you know someone who came from that country, get them to tell you and your child what that country is like (or choose to study a country because you know someone who came from there).

    Also, search the Internet for hands-on activities, especially science experiments.

  3. You can do the activity, or study the subject, yourself. For example, the Suzuki method of teaching music starts out with the child watching the parent take music lessons (and then watching other children take the music lessons). Every time I play the piano, my son wants me to teach him some piano.

    This works well with physical activities, like cooking, cutting materials, painting and other art, using tools, etc.

    And when they want to try what you are doing, don't let them try it right away. Let them see that you like doing the activity, and don't want to stop yet. Their desire to try it will increase if they have to watch you for another minute or so.

    Sometimes, the parent just being interested in a subject can get some children interested.

  4. Let them play with apparatus or toys that involve a subject. For example, I know a boy who received a meter for measuring voltage and current from his father, and immediately was more interested in electronics.

    There are many kits and crafts available in hobby craft stores that can get a child more interested in a topic.

  5. Computer programs with games can get a child doing more math and English.

Getting a Child to Believe They Can Do It - Belief

This is a very different problem from a child not "wanting" to learn something, but it may look the same - they may appear to not "want" to learn something because they "believe" it will be very difficult or impossible for them to do.

Sometimes, because of some bad experiences, a person believes they "can't" do something, or it will be very difficult for them to do it.

When a person believes they are incapable of doing something, they can't put much effort into it. There's just no point in trying if you "know" you are not going to succeed. To the child, believing they can't do something looks the same to them as "knowing" they can't.

To fix this, the person needs to have a series of positive experiences, to show them that they can do it. There are a number of things you can do to help your child believe in their own ability.


NOTE: This assumes that the child is actually capable of doing the skill or learning the knowledge, that they are physically, mentally, and emotionally ready, and that they do not have a disability that is preventing them from learning it. If you suspect your child has ADD, dyslexia, or any other learning disability, get your child tested as soon as possible. If your child has already been diagnosed with a learning disability, there are special teaching methods for each disability, that may help you. What is on this site may also help you, but be careful with it, and always do what you find works for your child.

Positive Learning Experiences

To give a child a series of positive learning experiences, you will probably have to go back to easier material or skills. For example, if your child in grade 5 believes math is difficult, you may have to go back a year or two, till you find things they can do easily, and work forward from there. Especially with math, because it is so sequential, the student must have a good grasp and ability in what has gone before, or it will be difficult to learn new things. A few problems like this can convince almost anyone that they are "not good at math."

It is also very important to be extremely patient with someone who is struggling because they don't believe they can do something. The key is to create positive fun "successful" experiences.

Lots of help from you, the parent, may be necessary at first.

Another possibility is to get a curriculum or program that breaks things down into very small steps that are easier to learn. Some home schoolers I know really like the "Key To" series and they say it does this (we have not used this, so I don't have an opinion on it myself). Also, some curriculums are more interesting to some children than others, so changing the curriculum can sometimes help with this. But even with a better curriculum, you will probably still have to help them for a while until they see that they "can" do it.

Another thing you can do is explain the psychology of believing to them. There is an old saying, "If you think you can or you can't, you are probably right." You can try to show them how an "I can" attitude, and an "I can't" attitude, seriously affects a person's ability to accomplish new tasks. Along with explaining this psychology of believing, you can also teach them the affirmation "I can!" You just get them to repeat this a bunch of times. It may seem a bit odd, but it can reach them at the "feeling" level which is where belief is.

Also teach them that lots of practice makes a person better and better at what ever it is they are practicing. This may seem obvious, but deep down inside, many people don't really believe this.

Teach them that for most things we do, we do them poorly when we first do them, because we just haven't got enough practice to do them well yet. Think of doing a new sport or learning a musical instrument. If you can't tolerate doing it poorly until you get enough practice to do it well, you will never become good or excellent at it.

Encourage them. Remind them that they can do it.


Remember they need to want to learn, and they have to believe it is possible (and not too difficult) for them to learn the new skills and knowledge.

When your child is not progressing in a lesson, or if they are resisting your teaching, check both of these.


Also, if you don't understand parts of this, don't do those parts. And when you try any of these ideas, if they are not working, stop doing them. If your child is getting a bit uncomfortable with a learning situation, they are probably learning very little if anything. People need to be comfortable to learn most things, and that includes children. Fear stops learning (of most things, especially reading, writing, math, science, etc. or in other words, virtually everything we are trying to teach them).

So, do what you see works best for your child.

Home Page
Should You Home School?
Getting Started
Teaching Tips - General
Sell It
Love It Into Them
Increasing Learning Through Impact
Encourage Your Children
Don't Help Them Too Much
Look After Yourself
Layer Teaching
Concept By Concept Teaching
Hands-On Teaching
Use Intensive Focuses
Teaching Tips - Math
Other Articles
HS Internet Sites
HS Word List
Books to Help You HS
Contact Us
Advice Warning
Privacy Policy

Get more great articles at The Homeschooler's Notebook, here: