Teaching a Child Who Won’t Be Taught

How to educate a child who won’t be taught? It’s not a question I thought I’d ever need to answer, but life (and my daughter) decided this was the path we needed to follow.

Today, I’m going to talk about a few of the strategies I use to create a welcoming learning environment that steers my kids in the direction they need to go, without explicitly ‘teaching’ them.

Text: "Teaching a Child Who Won't Be Taught" "yellowreadis.com" Pictures: Boy in blue shorts and top lying on wooden bridge, minecraft pig on a white rock, pea pod on vine, young child in striped top playing with a tablet

Themed Zones of Learning

One of the best ways to encourage learning that I have found has been setting up “zones” of learning.  So, I have all the painting supplies in the one location, all the drawing materials in easy access, and a quick box of “Gaming Goodies” for when my kids want to create their own games.  These are in a nice prominent location. For my very visual children, having things where they can see them means they will be pulled out and used.

Games Drive Learning

One of the things that we have realised is that our kids love to play games. And for my kids, when they learn something in a game, it sticks. As a result, we have embraced ‘game schooling‘, and our lounge room cupboard has slowly filled up with board games and card games of all types.

But it is not just physical games – computer games have been wrangled into the grande learning strategy, and my hubbie and I (but particularly my hubbie) are always on the look out for games that encourage and enhance learning on every topic.

Image: Minecraft armour stand with pumpkin head. Green, blue and yellow background blocks

We have also found that engaging the kids where they are comfortable and building learning from there is the best way for them to stay interested. So we’ll play Minecraft in a LAN world, and I gently encourage them to explore what they can do. At the moment, my daughter and I are building a rainbow version of the Eiffel Tower, and done ‘building challenges’, created by my daughter, with specific sets of blocks on a theme. My son also started to use Minecraft to create mini-puzzles and stories for his sister to play through.

One of the best things about modern board games is the explosion of cooperative games. Cooperative games have allowed us to have a ‘no pressure’ environment without the usual win/lose stuff death spiral of ‘I will never play again!’. Over time, we have then re-introduced games with competition. This helped develop what I like to call ‘resilience muscles’ (NB. One of the best games to start with for kids with a fixation on rules and ‘the way things should go’ is Fluxx, which is a game of ‘organised chaos‘.

Favourite Games

For the curious, these are some of our favourite games by curriculum:



Pink monster cartoon with bunny ears, purple beanie and green pants on pale blue background

English / Reading


Image: Minecraft creation of redstone contraption in mincraft in black on yellow background. Teaching a Child Who Won't Be Taught, yellowreadis.com



The ‘What’s That?’ Effect

For my kids, joining in is more fun that doing it ‘because they have to’. One of the best ways we have found to get over this hurdle is start learning ourselves. My kids love to listen in on ‘Daddy doing Duolingo‘ and my daughter has started to want to learn languages too.

I love reading out loud, and I’ll often read out science articles for the kids, or even poems and Shakespeare (yes, I’m that kind of nerd). Seeing how excited and engaged we are in a topic is often all my kids need to inspire them to give it a go as well.  The kids also inspire each other – my son has done Khan Academy for his maths exercises for a while, and now my daughter wants to ‘do Khan Academy’ too.

Watching Mummy grind her teeth in frustration at a stubborn piece of code, or at animation software that refuses to behave, has inspired my kids. Now they want to code and create their own animations and videos too. Our ‘won’t be taught’ kids have discovered what they want to do, and are barrelling forward at their usual break neck pace.

TNT Castle constructed in Minecraft, Text: Words TNT TNT TNT, Teaching a Child that Won't be Taught

Does it Work? Yes.

Sometimes, finding ways to find alternative learning methods can seem very daunting. Sometimes, I want to pull my hair out in despair when things don’t work, or when it feels like my  ‘won’t be taught’ will never learn anything. But I have found that approaching learning more holistically, creating a safe environment and encouraging (guided) self-directed exploration has done wonders. And that may be all my kids need to learn and grow.

Image: Boy at round desk colouring on paper, staring at camera. Text: Teaching a Reluctant Gifted Learner: Ways to Reach and Teach, GHF Bloghop

This post is part of the GHF Blog hop, “Teaching a Reluctant Gifted Learner: Ways to Reach and Teach the Gifted”. Go check out the other great posts!

8 Replies to “Teaching a Child Who Won’t Be Taught”

  1. Pingback: Teaching a Reluctant Gifted Learner: Ways to Reach and Teach the Gifted GHF
  2. Love the gameschooling! (and Civ 5, loooove it!) I had to laugh at the competitive death spiral comment, because we live that too. Thank you for such a great list of games to try out with our kids – just another reason I love homeschooling 🙂 (here kids, let’s play this game! sneaky mommy…)

  3. This is such good stuff. I do all the stuff you mention and it works great. My son immediately shuts down when I get in teacher mode. Sometimes he actually starts saying “lalalala” loudly over me (that’s really annoying), that’s when I know when to stop. Games are the best for learning.

    One thing I’ve started doing recently is having HIM quiz ME. Today he tested me on Spanish words, and I was shocked how many he could pull out of his hat. He’s been quizzing me on the order of the presidents, and I think he’ll have them down before I do. I also like competing against him on the geography quizzes on Sheppard Software.

    Oh yeah, audiobooks are great too. We have a membership on Audible, and he’ll listen to them over and over again. Also I can put on a more educational book that he wouldn’t usually choose in the car, and he’ll get very interested in it and learn a lot.

  4. Oh, yes, I also homeschooled my daughter without “teaching” her. She wanted to already know the new concepts she was just beginning to grasp. Now she is a senior in college, rockin’ it. Having the space to learn at home made all the difference.

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