What to Do When Your Homeschooler Refuses to Work

Nothing is as frustrating as when your homeschooler refuses to work. You beg. You Nag. And you despair. Will your child ever be able to go to college and enjoy a productive adult life?

I think we've all been there. So today I’m sharing a few tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years to help motivate my kids to complete their schoolwork promptly.

When your homeschooler refuses to work, consider if there may be one of these reasons at play. If so, the solution may be simple.

Why your homeschooler refuses to work

The first thing to do is to consider why your child may be dawdling over their schoolwork

Difficulty jump within the curriculum

There are times when a curriculum will make an intellectual jump kids aren’t ready for. Schoolwork becomes too hard overnight and your homeschooler refuses to work.

My kids sometimes struggled with the transition from short vowels to long vowels. I eventually learned the trick was to go back about a month and review. By the time we reached the long vowels for a second time, my child was ready for the new material. 

I think of it as the two steps forward, one step back approach, and I still use it to this day.

Learning issues

Another consideration is if your child may have a learning issue. For instance, a child with a condition such as dyslexia may struggle with their schoolwork but not understand why they’re having difficulty and no one else is. 

Also, check for vision and hearing problems. These can also cause struggles with schoolwork.

Kids who suffer from vision and hearing issues don’t always realize that other people see and hear differently than they do. So they don’t complain that they can’t see the page or hear the vowels; they just get frustrated and think they’re stupid for missing what’s so easy for everyone else.


Children get stressed just like adults do. Stress makes it hard for kids to concentrate. A normally responsible child will suddenly start procrastinating and doodling instead of completing their schoolwork. The stress may be caused by problems with their friends, medical issues, or issues within the family. 

Are You Pushing Too Hard?

Double-check to make certain that you’re not getting too intense about forward progress. I discovered I can accidentally push too hard when I’m more involved in where we are on paper than what my kids are learning. 

Once I tried to complete two lessons a day instead of one. After days of frustration, we ended up needing to review those lessons to ensure mastery. Pushing only slowed us down.

After you've evaluated possibilities for why your homeschooler refuses to work, then you can try possible solutions.

How to fix when your homeschooler refuses to work

Build consistency

Kids love consistency and knowing what’s expected each day. It gives them the power to jump in and get an early start on the day if they’re up early.

Consistency also helps to keep an even workload. If your kids finish early, don’t reward them with more work! Instead, allow them to reap the benefits of being focused and diligent about their schoolwork. They will love the extra free time in their day.

Consistency also applies to the hours you homeschool. Keep your homeschool on a gentle schedule. This does not mean that you need to have your day rigidly planned out by the minute. Instead, a loose routine will serve the purpose. 

Kids like knowing what’s happening. For instance, they like knowing that Christmas happens every year on December 25th. They like knowing that fireworks come on July 4th. And they like knowing when they’re expected to complete their schoolwork.

We all lose motivation when we don't know what's expected. Build consistency to avoid this problem.

Related: Episode 88 – Why and How to Apply Structure and Rules for Your Teen

Work before play

I’m a firm believer in having some carrots hanging before my children to encourage them to stay on top of their schoolwork.

You can think of the carrots as bribes; I prefer to think of it as teaching my kids that work comes before play.

For instance, the kids know they need to complete their schoolwork before the screens are turned on. They can’t get on the computer, watch TV, or play video games until their schoolwork is finished.

By the same token, I don’t schedule fun non-school activities in the morning, because the morning is for homeschooling. Playdates, free swim, park day, field trips, etc. are all done in the afternoon.

It’s amazing how a fun activity in the afternoon motivates kids to complete their schoolwork promptly! Bribe or not, it works!

Reduce overwhelm

Sometimes kids can be overwhelmed by the workload, not because it’s too much work but because it looks like too much work.

If this is the case, break your homeschool of homeschool tasks into smaller pieces. 

Assign five pages to read at a time instead of 20. Break an essay into the different stages of research, notes, introductory paragraph, 1st body paragraph, and so on. 

Another trick is to give your child a timer and ask them to work for 20 minutes. Then give your child a 10-minute break. Then another 20 minutes of work and another break. A similar method is described in detail here: Homeschooling Teens who are Easily-Distracted.

For many kids, these ideas remove the feeling of having too much work to do. Instead, they have small pieces to complete before they can take a break and/or move on to something different.

Provide interest

Nothing is worse than being bored day in and day out. While every subject may not be fascinating for your child, the entire school day should not be centered around studies your child has no interest in.

The goal here is to make sure that your child is studying something that they’re fascinated to learn about. This could be dinosaurs, birds, or Medieval Knights. The topic doesn't matter, but the interest does.

This can be hard in a large family because having six different studies going on creates chaos for mom. But often you can add interesting activities to your studies without having the family studying widely different topics at the same time.

For example, do your children like to sew? Try sewing historical costumes to wear, and put together an end-of-the-quarter celebration that features costumes and foods from the time periods and places you’re studying. 

Complete a large science project or join in the local science fair. Join a local math club. 

Think of ways to make your homeschool more interesting for all of your children so they’re inspired to complete their schoolwork each day.

Related: Delight Directed Learning for High School on Heart and Soul Homeschooling

Add fun to the day

Make certain that you are adding small fun activities throughout the day to break up the monotony. You can intersperse these activities through a child’s assignment list.

For instance, the list may read as follows:

  • Language arts lesson 11
  • Jump on the trampoline for 5 minutes
  • Math lesson 12
  • Get a popsicle from the freezer
  • Science lesson 6
  • Pet the dog
  • Move the laundry
  • History lesson 1
  • Find a purple flower

Adding fun tasks to the list of work turns the homeschool task list into a game. Work and then do something fun. You can also add experiments, art projects, hikes, and other fun activities to your homeschool that your children enjoy doing. 

These will spice up the day and help keep everyone motivated to keep their noses to the grindstone.

For teens: talk about the future

If you have a teen refusing to work, sit down and talk to them about what they see in the future. A six-year-old can’t visualize being an adult — it’s three lifetimes away for them — but a teenager sees adulthood coming quickly down the road.

They may be bored with their work and unable to see how it’s important to what they’d like to do in the future, or they may feel that the schoolwork is taking them in a direction they don’t want to go. 

So have a discussion. Make certain you’re on the same page as your teen. Then do your best to interweave their interests and plans into your high school plans. This will help to keep your teenager motivated to study.

Related: 10 Effective Strategies for Motivating Homeschooled Teens

One great way to do this is to choose electives they are interested in — then they can earn credit for learning more about a topic they enjoy.

When you’re dealing with a homeschooler who refuses to work, start by considering the situation. Then experiment with how you structure your homeschool. Often it only takes a small tweak before your child will start completing their schoolwork again.

Sara Dennis
Latest posts by Sara Dennis (see all)

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