Bored Students Don’t Thrive. Here’s How to Get Your Child Interested in School.

Why does your child dread Mondays? Once you know, take these steps to help them (re)discover their spark.

Prisma Staff
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October 18, 2022

It’s Sunday night and your child starts their refrain, “I don’t want to go to back to school.” It’s a feeling that has so many potential root causes. The school year blues can be caused by social challenges, an academic mismatch, interpersonal struggles with the teacher, a poor ‘fit’ with the environment — or a combination of several of these factors.

It’s easy to assume that not wanting to go to school is an avoidable part of childhood (especially if that’s how it was for you), but behind your child’s lack of interest might be something more complex: an undiagnosed learning disability, a problem with bullying, or an intellectual mismatch with the instructional level. Before jumping to conclusions, explore the possibilities.

Get to the bottom of the boredom

Why does your child feel disinterested in school? The most logical first step is to ask them directly — but with some kids, easier said than done. High school and middle school students might be able to articulate why, but you’ll be most likely to get a helpful answer if you pick a moment in your day when you can sit and talk calmly, not when they’re elbow-deep in schoolwork and feeling edgy.

With elementary school kids you might have to be a bit more creative with your questioning. If possible, arrange a conference with the school staff to get their perspective or even visit their classroom to observe a typical school day.

The reason for their disinterest will determine what comes next. In this post, we discuss how to get your child interested in school, if they’re struggling with the learning part of the equation. (Here are our parenting tips on how to help with social-emotional issues, like building confidence and recovering from burnout.)

Tap into their intrinsic motivation

In his now-classic book, Drive, Daniel Pink shows that humans are motivated when they have autonomy, mastery, and purpose. In other words, they need to be able to work independently, develop their skills and know why they’re doing what they’re doing — not just to get good grades.

So, how does that translate into the experience of school-age children who may be showing a less-than-positive attitude towards their academic environment?

1. Let them pursue their own interests

Sometimes all a child needs to turn from reluctant to super committed choice over the subject matter. For core strengths like reading and writing, in particular, where they’ll need practice and lots of it, the most important thing is for kids to want to spend time doing it. Whether it’s allowing them to read graphic novels or to write poetry about their favorite video game, a little enthusiasm on their part goes a long way towards fostering autonomy.

2. Ensure they are at the right level

Mastery is only possible when a child is learning at the proper pace. Before being able to strike out on their own, they may need a little extra help. By the same token, if they’ve already achieved mastery in a certain subject, keeping them there will only lead to frustration. Work with their teacher to help them set appropriate, meaningful goals that allow them to stretch themselves.

3. Connect them to real-world applications

Sometimes disinterest in a subject has to do with a lack of contextual understanding. Someone who doesn’t light up at a page full of fill-in-the-blank fractions might be more willing to understand numerators and denominators when their favorite baked goods depend on it. At Prisma, we’ve seen kids go from blah to excited about math when it allowed them to create a pricing model for their own bakery business. If they don’t have to ask, “When are we ever going to use this?” you’re on the right track.

These three parameters are at the heart of the philosophy of project-based schools, like Prisma, where kids learn at their own pace as they work towards personalized goals centered on real-world challenges that get them excited. If your child attends a traditional school, it might be a bit of a challenge to let them follow their interests, but sometimes you can convince your child’s teacher to let them pick their own essay topic or reading material. It can’t hurt to ask!

Support your kids at home

1. Start with the basics

In kid-speak, sometimes boredom is code for tired. If sleep isn’t the issue (and here are some guidelines for recommended amounts of sleep), look at their daily schedule to see when they are having lunch and snack. Their struggle with science might have to do with a dip in blood sugar more than anything intellectual.

2. Leave space for play time

Research has shown the developmental benefits of play, especially for young kids. If kids are in school all day long, rushing off to extracurricular activities and then rebelling against study time, they may need an unstructured period to process before launching into their homework routine. After-school activities should be nourishing and energizing, not items on a checklist.

3. Take the focus off grades

When we’re trying to cultivate intrinsic motivation, report cards shouldn’t be center stage. Talk with their teachers and with them to determine other ways to measure school success, like hard work. At Prisma we don’t provide traditional grades, but instead our coaches conduct individual feedback sessions with students and parents, allowing the learner to take responsibility for setting goals that are meaningful and appropriate to their level.

4. Show interest as a parent

Dinnertime is a great opportunity for kids to answer questions about their work — but if you’re getting a simple “fine” when you ask “how was your day?” you might start by modeling the behavior yourself: Tell them about something you learned or a challenge you faced at work and how you overcame it. Not only are you reinforcing a growth mindset, you’re introducing them to the topics that get you excited — which we’ve often seen is the spark that a sets a Prisma learner off on their own intellectual adventure.

It’s easier to get involved when you know what’s going on with your child’s day. But be careful to avoid power struggles: Ask them to show you their homework assignments — so that they can talk you through their thought process, not so that you can correct or monitor them. At Prisma, we include a parent feedback form with every major project, fostering a dialogue about the learning experience within families, according to a structured set of questions. Because it’s an expectation for the learners, it doesn’t feel like parents are stepping on kids’ toes. Instead, parents get tools to engage their kids from a perspective that inspires their sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose — which goes a long way when trying to get your child interested in school.

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