Reluctant Learners: 10 Things to Try When Your Kids Complain About Schoolwork

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We all see those beautiful pictures on social media of kids gathered at a table and doing their schoolwork, or wonderful school moments captured with peaceful music. That is all great and encouraging, but most of the time that isn’t reality for most. Usually behind that beautiful music on my stories are kids that are whining and complaining about the schoolwork they have to complete. They are kids. It’s still work to them, and they would rather be playing or doing anything else.

So if you have a reluctant learner in your home, that loves to complain about doing their schoolwork, what can you do to help? Or at least try to make your life a little easier? Today I’m sharing a handful of options for you to try out.

Unfortunately, none of these are fool proof and are guaranteed to work. I have tried ALL of them at some point and my kids still sometimes whine to this day. However, I have figured them out by trying these different things and still mix these up occasionally to help.

The first thing you should do is have a conversation with your child and ask them why do they not like doing schoolwork or why do they complain when it is time to do school? Keeping the communication open and letting them have a voice first can help tremendously. I’ve heard responses as simple as, “I can’t concentrate with the toddlers around.” “I’m too hungry.” “I’m too tired.” “I don’t like that workbook,” or the obvious, “I just want to play.” MANY of these problems can be easily solved by fixing a few things in your home; giving them a quite space to work, a snack while working, more sleep at night, or re-visiting a curriculum that might not be the best fit for your child. Ask them if there is anything that they think could change that would help, and work on some compromises.

Here are some things that I like to do to make the everyday schoolwork a little more “fun” and help with that constant complaining:


This year we started daily checklists of all the schoolwork that needed to be completed each day and it has been the biggest game changer! I simply started by just writing on regular lined paper all the assignments that needed to get done each day. This was really helpful for my kids to see what was still left to get done after they completed something. No more whining when I pulled out the next subject like it was a surprise they had to do more. My kids also have the option to choose whatever order they want to do things, which they love because then it is “their” idea ha-ha. They also love the accomplished feeling of checking things off of their list.

If your child is younger and not reading yet just draw simple pictures for their list, like a book for reading, a music note for piano practice, or 2+2 for math. If you have a routine where you typically do the same subjects every day, you can make a nicer checklist on Canva. Laminate it and use a dry erase pen so it can be used over and over.

If you want an easy template you can edit, like ours, grab them HERE.

Be sure to determine if your child is ok with a checklist. Some children might become overwhelmed or anxious when seeing everything laid out as a to do list. If so, you can lay their subjects out on the table for them and let them pick what to do from there. Once they complete it, put it away. Anything that is left, still needs to be done. You can also set each subject at a different chair at the table and play a bit of musical chairs, having them sit at each particular chair for different subjects.

Fun pens & stickers:

My kids always think it is way more fun to write in their workbooks with fun pens than pencils. This definitely has enticed them to do their schoolwork. My favorite pens to let them use are the Frixion Erasable Pens. They have fun colors, but are so easy to erase if they make a mistake.

Stickers definitely make things more fun too! Check out the lesson they are working on and try to make it a notebook sticker page! I use THIS pack of dot stickers that I can write letters or numbers on to practice concepts. Fun characters or holiday stickers are great too. Here are a few examples of how I use stickers to practice the concepts they are learning.

5-10 Minute Break Rule:

We have used this rule for years now and it works really well. In between subjects my kids get a 5-10 minute break. I make sure to set a timer, so I don’t get sidetracked and forget. When the timer goes off, if my kids complain about coming back to the table to do another assignment, they don’t get their next break. We will then continue on with the next 2 subjects until their next break. For example, my child does Language Arts, 5 minute break, Math, 5 minute break, Handwriting, 5 minute break, etc. If they complain, they loose that break between subjects. This also goes for their attitudes during schoolwork; if they have a bad attitude or complaining while they are working, then they don’t get their break.

This works so well with teaching multiple children too. I can work with one child, while the other is on their break, and then switch to let them have their break and work with my other. These breaks are helpful to get them up moving around and solve that “I just want to play,” problem. 5-10 minutes gives them enough of a break, but not long enough to get fully invested in what they are playing.

Some kids may realize, like my son this year, that if they just power through with no breaks, they can get everything finished and be done to play the rest of the day. (The checklist definitely helped with this.)


Need I say more. Kids snack all. day. long. So school time is no different. After I pull their curriculum out each day or before I call them to the table, I try to always have a snack ready to go. Simple snacks like popcorn, apples, grapes, goldfish, trail mix, pub mix, granola bars, cheese sticks, anything you want that isn’t too messy. When I call, “Time to start school work!” and I start to hear complaining, I follow up with “Snacks!” and they come running every time. No snacks unless they get started with a good attitude.

My favorite snack container with lid HERE.

Take schoolwork elsewhere:

This is always a great idea to do at least once or twice a week, and you don’t have to leave your house. Have you or your kids choose where to do schoolwork; the couch, the floor, outside on a blanket, under the table, in bed, in a blanket fort, etc. Schoolwork doesn’t have to be done at a desk or table! #beautyofhomeschool The change of scenery, even if just around your home, helps change things up and make it more exciting. Every now and then it is lots of fun to take schoolwork to the park, library, or coffee shop also, but sometimes my kids get easily distracted people watching or wanting to play.

My kids also enjoy sitting at their school table on a yoga ball, they can bounce while thinking or doing lessons. They also enjoy THESE table trays that we can take on the living room floor or couch. Each of my children have all their curriculum in a basket, similar to THESE (size small,) so they are easy to grab and take anywhere in the house or outside and we have everything we need.

Reward System:

Ah, we’ve made it to the reward system, or reward chart. I don’t typically enjoy reward charts, mostly because I never keep up with them, but they work well with many kids. I really like @redbrickschoolhouse idea of realistic goals and rewards just by using your curriculum. Check out the table of contents in your child’s curriculum and divide them up into goals. For example, every 10 lessons they get to stay up late, choose the dinner menu, get a candy, or something else special. Maybe when they reach the end of a unit they get a date with a parent or a trip to ice cream. You can sit together to divide up the lesson goals and rewards. Letting them have a say in the rewards will make them more excited and letting them see the goal will be helpful in getting the work done. If they are to complain during lessons, you can always remind them of the goal. You can also use this editable lesson tracker from to place a sticker on each lesson they complete.

Get up and moving:

This one might be my favorite, and my kids; it always puts a smile on their faces which is exactly what we all need during a homeschool day. By this I don’t mean, get outside, get fresh air, go on a walk, etc., although those are always great ideas. What I mean is get those kids moving while completing their lessons, even if it’s still in your dining room. There are many different ways you can do this and you can always change it up, but here are a few examples:

Read one list of words, run to your room and back, repeat. Balance on one foot or hold different yoga poses while doing spelling words. Write math problems or sight words on index cards and lay them in a fun trail throughout the house; have them solve/read and hop over them. Play hide and seek with these index cards too, when they find them they have to solve/read them. Go outside and complete 3 math problems then ride your scooter to the fence and back, repeat. Read a sentence, go down the slide, repeat. Jump rope and hop for each letter while spelling. Write math problems with a dry erase marker on the window. Read a story, then go on a walk and have them narrate the story back to you; while they walk they will talk your ear off. The possibilities are endless.

We don’t do this every day, or for every subject, but when they start to complain more often, I definitely try some of these to keep learning fun.


A good routine or rhythm to your school day is very helpful. Letting the kids know what to expect throughout the day leads to less push back and behavior problems. It may take a few tries to figure out what rhythm works best for your family and no two households look the same. When we have had really little ones who nap, we always did our schoolwork during their nap time in the afternoon, leaving the morning for play and a family walk together.

In our current state of life we start school by 9 and finish by 12, break for lunch and a quick rest time, then finish the afternoon with our extra subjects of history or science. We do the same rhythm everyday, so the kids know what is going to happen next and I’m prepared as well. I have two different Day in the Life highlights on my Instagram sharing a glimpse of our day and school rhythm. Another one coming to my blog soon!

Rethink curriculum:

Usually you can tell on which curriculum or subject you might need to rethink. If they only have a bad attitude or fight you on a certain subject, really look at what the problem with that curriculum could be. Is it too challenging? Too easy and they think it is tedious? Too much of one thing like writing? You don’t have to completely throw out their current curriculum and buy something new, but maybe edit a few things. Slow some things down or take some things out. Use the get up and move method I shared above for certain lessons. If they don’t enjoy writing have them just do a portion of it and narrate the rest to you to write. They are still getting their ideas and the information they have retained out there.

Interest led learning is also great for younger grades. Learning about something they want to know more about keeps them interested and gives them the desire to learn more. Take a subject they are interested and tie as many subjects as you can into it! The Waldock Way is great at doing this and shares a lot about it on her YouTube channel.

Also be sure not to start too much, too early. Real education technically doesn’t have to start until 6 years old. Heavy or intense science and history units don’t have to be completed when they are young. Slowly introduce these topics and they will learn more about them as they are older. Check out my shop for fun hands on science and history curriculum that are great introductory courses.

I hope you found some of these tips helpful. In the end, pray for guidance. If your children were in public school, private school, or homeschooled, they would still complain about subjects that aren’t their favorite.

“Tension is inevitably going to come up in homeschool and parenting, but if your child can’t smile at some point during lessons, it’s time for a heart check. Some won’t like to hear that, but it’s no different for a teacher in a physical school setting outside of the home either…”

Brit Smith @thesmittyfamgram

On really bad days, just drop what you are doing and go take a walk, have a snack, go for a quiet car ride, let them play. Come back to the lessons later or another day. Your relationship with your children is much more important than anything else.

“Here’s the thing some days, your kids will have an attitude. Some days they won’t feel like learning, and that’s okay; they’re human. Every day won’t be magical and joy-filled; I’ve learned to give my kids the space to be human beings with real-life emotions by accepting the ebb & flow of life.”


Wishing you many blessings and JOY in your homeschool. It doesn’t have to be serious, sit down, book work. Think outside the box and enjoy the journey!

– Lindsay

If you have any other tips that have helped you work with complaining students, please comment below! I’m always up for trying some new things 😊

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