Boredom: The Enemy of Learning

IMG_3372Are your students bored? Are you bored?

As a homeschooler for the past 22 years, I can tell you of many times when both students and teacher have been bored out of our minds. Why? There are many reasons for boredom in the homeschool environment. Many more in the school setting, but we’ll leave that topic for another post. How homeschoolers become bored and ways to combat boredom is where we’ll focus.

First, how do we become bored? In a general sense, boredom is caused by the loss of interest. That sounds pretty obvious but when you think about it, you can have interest in something for a while and then become bored with it. How did it hold your interest in the first place and what changed that made you lose interest?

When you begin an activity with your student you may find that he has a high level of interest. It may be curiosity that has fueled his interest. He may feel compelled to find out the answer to a question or really want information about a subject and that makes him interested. He may spend hours looking for information and never realize how much time has passed. He certainly isn’t bored. But then, sometimes quite suddenly, all interest is lost and you find your student doodling on his paper.

Ways boredom can set in:

relevance – Sometimes you must learn information that you see no use for. It is easy to become bored when you find no purpose in your efforts. If your student is finding it difficult to relate what he’s learning to real life, he may shut down and become bored with the whole subject. One of my sons was that way with math. He just saw no use for what he was learning and we struggled for a long time. He didn’t really “get” math until he got a job as an older teen in a field that required using math for measurements and calculations of building materials and it all began to make sense. Now he has no trouble with math. It has become relevant.

Pace – Perhaps the pace of your learning is too fast or too slow. If it’s too fast you don’t have time to process the information and if it’s too slow it may not challenge you enough to keep your attention. If your student is finding the material he’s trying to learn too fast, all you have to do is slow it down. All the standards about what students are supposed to be learning at a particular age are all averages. There is no reason to try to keep up if the end result is that learning really hasn’t taken place and your student has shut down.

On the other hand, if it’s not challenging enough, you can always just speed things up. This is where the strict adherence to textbooks is a mistake. There is no reason your student has to do every exercise and every problem.  If he gets it, move on. If he has momentum and you insist that he slow down to finish every single activity he may lose interest. He isn’t being challenged and he becomes bored.

Routine – While a certain amount of routine can be a good thing, it isn’t a good idea to let the structure of your routine become the dictator in your school day. Perhaps just changing around the order in which your students complete their subjects will shake some of the boredom from the tasks. Who said math had to be the first subject of the day, every day?

It also helps to vary the activities. Easier activities follow more challenging ones. Quiet activity followed by more active subjects.

Learning Style – If you are teaching a student whose style of learning is more hands-on and the work he is expected to complete is all in book form, you may end up with a bored student on your hands. It’s a good idea to try to determine what style works best and then take advantage of that method. While it isn’t always possible to teach every subject in their preferred learning mode, if you can make sure that there is a mixture of methods used that include as much of your student’s learning style as possible you will help keep boredom at bay.

The best lesson I learned as a homeschool parent was that I didn’t have to do it the same way as anyone else. I could tailor our homeschool to my particular students’ needs and interests. I learned that I didn’t need to be afraid to toss the plan I had for the day and go with what was of interest to my boys at that moment. They eventually learned everything they needed to know, but it didn’t have to be in a boring, structured way that stifled their enthusiasm.