How to destroy a child’s love of learning in 15 easy steps

Published by Lori Pickert on February 17, 2014 at 04:49 PM

Photo credit: Richard Phillip Rücker, Flicker Creative Commons


1. Make sure he knows learning isn’t about what he wants to do but what he HAS to do. Even if you’re doing “project-based learning,” it’s your ideas that matter. Inspire kids to design, invent, and make an impact by giving them specific tasks YOU thought up and YOU care about!


2. Whenever possible, be patronizing. It’s inspiring to kids. They can dream of the day when they’re in charge and looking down on their own minions. Whatever you do, keep them away from grown-up books, resources, and tools — don’t let them stray from their assigned reading level!


3. If your child has a strong interest, use it as seasoning on required work.

Don’t have kids count regular pencil erasers in the math center — have them count dinosaur erasers! Kids love dinosaurs! Nothing brightens rote work like a reminder of something they would much rather be learning about.


4. Share his excitement to the point where you flood him with your ideas and take over. After all, your ideas are wayyyy better than his — he’s only seven!

A MacGyver project?! We know everything about MacGyver!


5. As early as possible, begin differentiating between “fun” and “work” and make sure he knows learning is “work” — we don’t call it schoolFUN, do we? “Work” isn’t supposed to be fun — if it’s fun, engaging, and/or enjoyable, that means it’s too easy.


6. Do the fun stuff yourself — you deserve it! Choosing books and materials, planning field trips, planning parties — when something fun is involved, that’s a treat for YOU!


7. When something requires decision, choice, weighing options, and/or allocating funds, do that yourself. That’s grown-up stuff.


8. Whenever possible, eliminate choice. The whole process will be much more streamlined if it’s a “tab A” into “slot A” situation. You can’t usher 15 kids through a craft quickly and efficiently if you don’t get that conveyor-belt vibe going.

Bonus: When displaying children’s artwork, scatter them all over the bulletin board turning them this way and that. That really reveals your respect for the effort they put into your cookie-cutter craft.


9. Creativity should be limited to which sticker you want to use to decorate the planned craft. Letting kids have input into the design process will take forever. We don’t have time for that.


10. Chew their meat for them. Prepare things ahead of time. Lay out the materials. Choose the books. Mark the passages. Find great movies to watch. Look up craft ideas on Pinterest. Cut the construction paper into squares and rectangles. Find the expert. Arrange the field trip. Tell them exactly what they need to know.


11. When they do their little bit at the end, shout “BIIIIIIG FINISH!” and give them a gold medal. They’ll treasure it. Nothing says “I honor and appreciate your work” like a certificate printed off the Internet.

Nothing confuses a child like giving them a reward for something they wanted to do — keep them on their toes!


12. Remember to rank everyone who participates and make sure everyone knows who did the assignment “right” and “best.” The most important thing you can learn is how to follow directions — and the second most important is where you rank amongst your competitors. Whether you’re a bluebird or a sparrow, it’s better to find out early!

For optimal comparison, have everyone do the exact same “art” project and hang them up in a grid. Nothing inspires kids to work harder than having the worst construction-paper Abe Lincoln.


13. Praise kids for being docile followers. Punish kids whenever they take initiative or make suggestions. They’re just trying to gum up the works!

Make sure kids learn early what a “good student” is. That way everyone will want to learn, learn, learn.


14. Use stereotypes to show kids what their interests now will get them later in life. Make sure they know that once you choose, that’s it. 

If you like science, you too can wear horn-rimmed glasses and work in a nice white lab that’s even more windowless and sterile than your classroom!


15. Stamp out autonomy. Drop the leash and kids will go in directions you cannot predict and plan for. You won’t be able to prepare it all ahead of time if you don’t know what’s going to happen! This is why preplanning is essential. Remember: it’s not about what they want. It’s about how well they do what we want.



Make sure they know that if they don’t understand the material, that’s THEIR fault.

The point of rigor isn’t to help kids work hard at things they want to do, it’s to force them to buckle down at things they find boring and irrelevant.



Do you have some ideas of your own? Share them in the comments!



Feeling ouchy? This is for you: How to save a child’s love of learning in one easy step

And you might like this as well: Self-directed learning: the neglected subject?



Comment by kirstenf on February 18, 2014 at 10:07 AM

As soon as they find their flow, start singing the tidy up song and skip about enthusiastically telling them all about the next fun task they'll have 15 minutes for!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 10:12 AM

ooh, excellent. preschool edition! how about forcing them to switch centers every 10 or fifteen minutes, no matter how engaged they are with their work?

Comment by kirstenf on February 18, 2014 at 10:16 AM

Every 10 or 15 minutes??? They'll be bored long before then. Just give them 5. You know they have short attention spans.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 10:18 AM

oh, and limit how many children can be in a center at one time. otherwise, their interest and engagement can spread like WILDFIRE.

Comment by SiliconValleyGal on March 4, 2014 at 03:12 PM

This is the main reason we began homeschooling in Kindergarten. My kid has a long attention span, and I thought the constant remix approach would train him out of it! Fast forward 5 years, he built & sailed his first boat at 10 -- have my hunches that wouldn't have happened in a traditional classroom.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 4, 2014 at 03:32 PM

how fantastic. :)

Comment by Misa on February 18, 2014 at 10:24 AM

Tell anyone and everyone about what the child is learning and hint, strongly, that the adults in questions should ask tons of questions. Insist the child spit out facts on demand for anyone who asks.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 10:32 AM

excellent. and how about: Quiz children often in public — especially if they’re not YOUR children.

Comment by amyiannone on February 18, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Demonstrate how asking lots of excited questions when interested in something is "disruptive" to learning. Have the fear of "getting in trouble" loom over every lesson. Tattle on friends to keep on teacher's good side. Threaten with a seat at the "boring" table if homework not completed. Give children snarky nicknames.
(What my daughter learned in 1st grade)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 11:01 AM


interrupting or not cooperating is LEVEL ONE.

Comment by Dawn Pedersen on February 18, 2014 at 02:06 PM

That behavior system makes ME see red. How dare those young children (who are still learning emotional regulation) ever display any negativity?

Comment by BakedAK on February 19, 2014 at 01:50 PM

I wonder how those kids could show frustration "appropriately." And, yikes. Just yikes!

Comment by Amy on February 18, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Hey, here's a better idea! Homeschool them but STILL do construction paper "crafts". Use lots of stickers and craft kits to eliminate the risk of spontaneous creativity. Make sure you celebrate ALL the bank holidays for the right reasons. Right reasons include:
1) there's a craft kit that pertains to bank holiday
2) somewhere there's coloring pages that pertain to the bank holiday
3) you can purchase numerous home furnishings such as tablecloths, tea towels, and dishes that tie into the bank holiday
4) somewhere there's a field trip, class, tour, gallery, museum, concert or outing that pertains to bank holiday
5) you plan to never discuss reasons for celebrating and consuming the particular bank holiday or any of its political, social, or historical implications beyond a very superficial level.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 11:07 AM

holidays and seasons provide at least 75% of the kindergarten “themes.” without this curricular gold mine what would we teach?!

Comment by M. Smith on February 18, 2014 at 11:16 AM

(literally taking a page from Seattle Public Schools' book here: no joke... )

--Don't forget that you can use withholding of bathroom use as a punishment (United Nations proclaimed that counts as actual torture? Ha! They need to get voted onto the school board then...),
--And for that matter, water and food should withheld too -especially from those troublemaking boys- because CONTROL and OBEDIENCE are the actual names of the game (the stupid state legislature just hasn't caught up and codified it yet),
--you can sort kids alphabetically as a way to keep those pesky talkative girls from continuing to be friends (after all, you should only socialize with people of your same alphabet status) - make sure to enforce this both in the classroom and especially at lunch time,
--funds earmarked for gifted kids should obviously go to advanced placement kids. Because they're the same thing, pretty much, right?
--Music, art, dance, theatre instruction are to be withheld until high school, and then, of course must largely be subpar 101-level courses since there's been no interest encouraged for the first 9 years of school. You wanna be a musician or actor? You gotta REALLY want it. Exception: if your foolish and rich parents want to use their own out-of-pocket ASB funds to bring in a 1/month art docent, I suppose we'll have to allow that. For now.
--Attendance policy has no exceptions and severe consequences: if your 6 year old child arrives late, they'll spend the only recess time, that 15 minutes we're forced to provide, in the principal's office as punishment for tardiness. We won't tell you parents about it, though. It's all between us and your kid. As far the snarky yet audible comments the office secretaries will make about your 'bad' girl or boy.
--Speaking of playground, there's to be no kicking of kick balls and no throwing of any other balls. Janitors and staff have much more important things to do than retrieve playground equipment from over the fence, so obviously we've done away with balls altogether to avoid the chance of distracting them.
--Staff on lunch duty, because they've been stuck with it and would rather do anything else, may say any abusive thing they want to your 1st grader, including (and I quote) "Why the heck are you crying, little girl? There's no reason to cry, STOP that wimpy crying, Now!". It's not like these teachers trained to be lunch monitors - they're PROFESSIONALS.
--MAP testing shall be required. Yes, there's an opt out option, but we there's no law saying we have to advertise it. In fact there's no law saying we have to train staff about it, either. So, henceforth, only the legal team in the admin central office knows about it. And if you do get that opt out form completed, it's just a shame, a crying shame, that teachers were unaware and tested your kid anyway -taking them away from the one and only cool science field trip this year- I mean, it's not like their salary is riding on it or anything, to motivate them one way or another.


[ NO joke, these are all real practices in various elementary schools in seattle. ]

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 11:55 AM


Comment by kirstenf on February 18, 2014 at 03:05 PM

I thought Seattle was supposed to be wonderful because of Incredible Years??!! This is just incredible!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 04:08 PM

“if your 6 year old child arrives late, they'll spend the only recess time, that 15 minutes we're forced to provide, in the principal's office as punishment for tardiness.”

this kills me, because it’s the parent’s fault and yet the child is punished. and taking away the ONLY 15 min of recess is absolutely huge to a child of that age. :(

Comment by Shelly on February 18, 2014 at 11:17 AM

Start telling them which of their interests are more educational than others. That's always sure to inspire them.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 11:55 AM

excellent one. Nurture only their *educational* interests. Determine this according to your own personal interests, knowledge, and prejudices.

Comment by amy21 on February 18, 2014 at 12:05 PM


Ok. Claim you have a project-based curriculum, but don't ask the kids what they want to learn: make them pick from a list. Then put them into groups of kids who picked something similar so they can learn "group work." Tell them the exact facts they need to find, how they should find them, and how they need to "represent" them to the class (it's best if you use the lingo; it impresses parents). Send notes home to parents telling them that this week is full of project time for self-chosen project work! Invite them to a project share so they can view all the almost-identical looking "representations."

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 12:14 PM

perfection. it works really well to go ahead and choose the “authentic” tasks — exactly the right number so that your students divide up into small groups of four students each. then ask the children to select which group they want to be in. when that group is full, it is no longer available. choose the children who are doing the best job at sitting still first.

Comment by sarah pj on February 19, 2014 at 10:33 AM

YES. We had this happen at a school that claimed to follow a constructivist curriculum. Umm, not so much.

Comment by Celi Trépanier on February 18, 2014 at 12:41 PM

This is all so true! Thanks for making us look at how wrong we are doing things just because it's tradition! And all with a wonderful sense of humor and sarcasm! Love! It!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 01:04 PM

thank you, celi! ;o)

Comment by Josh on February 18, 2014 at 01:14 PM

If they have dyslexia let them do hour of spelling work so they get really frustrated. After all the feeling of frustration will let them know they have worked hard and that is equal to learning.
After reading your list and the comments together with my daughter this is her contribution.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 01:28 PM


thank you, alma! you rock xoxoxo

Comment by writealm on February 18, 2014 at 01:32 PM

loved this post because we had a few friends over for birthday cake (my birthday) last night and when mister brought the cake out, the nacho (5yo) proudly announced he picked it out all by himself. the friends couldn't understand why i would let him pick it out for me when it's my bday. i tried to explain, i would have much rather had the tiramisu cake but the boy had his heart set on the cake with all the flowers - a white cake, not my fave - and when the lady asked him what she should write on it, he quickly replied, i love mama. was it the perfect birthday cake, the one i would have chosen? absolutely not but i now have a 5yo who feels comfortable making a decision (his decision wasn't questioned, there was no negotiation), he was excited to swipe my bankcard (thankfully we had a very patient cashier) and pay for it, and feels like a big boy because his dad and siblings told him he did a great job. that is worth more than the "right" cake imo.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 02:16 PM

a birthday cake you’ll never forget. :)

Comment by Michellereflects on February 18, 2014 at 01:36 PM

OUCH and double OUCH!!:O

I had purchased your book about two months ago and since my children are older (Two teens and pre-teens) I appreciated your insight into how to get older kids started on Project based learning.

I had read your article about the Reluctant Learner as well as your thoughts about kids who don't seem to have any real interests.

BUT, in spite of this article, the book, and all the articles I have read on your site, it seems as if I still need to begin initiating the process (explained in your book) in order to really begin fostering any real interests.

Due to chronic health issues, their homeschool has always been the kind that grated against me, but felt helpless to change: "Here's the curriculum, this is what you need to learn, and we will tutor in anything you have a problem with." I even tried the unschooling method, but found that no interests really developed, and chaos reigned while their academic skills did not improve at all.

Your ideas hold promise, but I am a bit overwhelmed at introducing the project approach while at the same time trying to implement what you consider a "negotiated curriculum." I am also unsure on how to introduce projects and art in a way that is unforced.

We have to clean out our basement, which we bought extra lighting for as well as a space heater (on top of baseboard heating!) I am looking forward to creating our "studio" areas, but this all seems very esoteric right now, and I haven't a clue how to encourage them to develop "real interests" without introducing some?! Does that make sense?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 01:48 PM

michelle, join the forum! we can help you ease into this and get started. :)

Comment by Michellereflects on February 18, 2014 at 11:00 PM

I did just that and will be over as soon as I can! Right now I am swamped with all the project-planning I am doing for my kids:P

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 06:47 AM

we can help you so that your kids end up doing all the planning. ;o)

Comment by Michellereflects on February 19, 2014 at 03:00 PM


Comment by HeatherS1900 on February 18, 2014 at 01:57 PM

Completely agree with most if your comments about not patronising learning. However, I wonder if you can offer advice on how to manage differing interests in the family, and providing one off opportunities that have to be booked in advance. For example, I have a 6, 4 and 2 year old, different levels of development, different skills, different interests. So if the eldest wants to learn about electricity, we would perhaps have a field trip to explore this, but the others have to come along even if they're not interested (I have no family close by for childcare, and they aren't able tobe left with friends due to separation anxieties). Also, when opportunities arrive, like eg site visits to power plants or museums, I know they don't currently have the capacity to know how they will feel about it weeks in advance. I class this (maybe incorrectly) as strewing. Thoughts please ?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 02:22 PM


hi heather, absolutely. could you maybe join the forum so we could talk about this at length and i could point you to some helpful threads with similar discussions?

in short, this is how it works with a mixed-age classroom as well — a wide variation of abilities and interests (IF you are doing authentic project work). the children work on their own independent interests, then share them with the group, and so everyone gets to learn everything. even in one large “shared” project, individual children and small groups will latch onto very different aspects and study them deeply — it’s the combination of all those individual efforts that make for a really deep and complex topic.

at home, your children might be learning about completely different, unrelated things. but they can still support one another, go on field trips and etc. — you’re building a family culture of mutual support, encouragement, and so on.

amy wrote a great post about her son planning a field trip for his project:

if children really want to go on a trip and it’s related to their deep interest, they will usually have a lot of enthusiasm for looking up the details ahead of time, planning, and then making it happen. and siblings usually have fun, too. ;o)

Comment by E on February 18, 2014 at 09:25 PM

#16, Instruct/explain using sarcastic, negatively constructed statements.

(This article might be a lot more compelling had it been written without the snark and sarcasm).

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 18, 2014 at 09:36 PM

ah, but see, my methods match my message!

and i write so many non-snarky, non-sarcastic posts yet this one is getting all the attention… seems to be compelling to SOME people.

they’re probably all english majors like me. we love satire.

Comment by Kathryn Seip on February 19, 2014 at 04:44 AM

We mustn't allow children to choose their own foods. If a child brings in a snack, even if it is consumed during the designated snack period, if it doesn't meet our definition of healthy, be sure to ridicule the child in front of his peers. Label a blueberry muffin a "blubbery muffin." You will be sure to get a lot of laughs from the other pupils. He will eventually stop bringing snacks altogether, and feel the need to eat those foods in secret, possibly binging and developing a negative relationship with food. Heaven forbid Johnny should bring in cupcakes to celebrate his birthday. Those do not fit in Mrs. Obama's health guidelines. We must scorn children for eating sugar. We must encourage kids to pass out fake tattoos, stickers and pencils as treats. If a student shall question the Snickers bar you eat at snack time in front of the class, be sure to tell them it is an energy bar. However, if said student brings such an energy bar to class, he is to be ridiculed and taunted and sent home another list of approved snacks. Oh, and most importantly...never allow a student to eat or drink water when it is not a designated snack period....especially if it is during the reading period. We have strict guidelines for our reading block and we mustn't risk losing our government funding by interrupting the 2.5 hour lesson! (I've actually been told to not allow 3rd graders to use the bathroom during the reading block. There was to be no movement throughout the building during that time! I noticed one little girl was wearing diapers to school because of this! I went against the school rules and allowed bathroom usage anyway.)

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 06:28 AM



i actually read a story online about a mother whose child’s bag lunch was taken away for being unhealthy (this was in england) and thrown away in front of him. he was not allowed to purchase the hot lunch and had to go all day without eating. he was six. the school justified it by saying the law demands that they serve healthy food. ???

Comment by Lisa S. on February 19, 2014 at 08:09 AM

Not for nothing, but the scientist is wearing safety glasses, not horn-rimmed glasses. So he doesn't, you know, accidentally burn his eyes with a caustic chemical. If you want to rail on nerd stereotypes, focus on something like the Big Bang Theory.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 08:16 AM


i know that. :)

and children love safety glasses.

my point was that adults often provide a very narrow idea of what certain careers look like — and the kind of people who do them.

whereas science could be presented more like this:

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 15, 2014 at 05:10 PM

We have for too long taught science in a way that can reach the few who may be already aligned in that direction … but pushes away so many students for whom … the ideas would really be excited if they were just presented in a way that was better.” — physicist Brian Greene

Comment by sarah pj on February 19, 2014 at 10:44 AM

My personal favorite - have a contest for memorizing material like the multiplication tables and while the kids who pass the timed test get a pizza party, send the remaining few (who mostly have learning disabilities that make number memorization difficult) go to a remedial math class with the grade below them. Repeat for learning "sight words" in spelling. Because there's nothing like public shaming to inspire a kid to do better.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 19, 2014 at 02:17 PM

ugh :(

Comment by Alette H. on February 23, 2014 at 04:26 PM

Ours was an ice cream party :/

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 23, 2014 at 04:34 PM


Comment by Elizabeth H. on February 20, 2014 at 04:02 PM

Make the children all wear identical polyester sweatshirts in a dreary colour so that they'll feel a sense of pride and identity. Insist that they wear them at all times -- mustn't let that identity waver, must we? (Parents, schedule time for trips to the doctor for extra exzema cream!) Teachers, you can wear whatever you feel comfortable and professional in. No silly uniform rules for YOU, you're special.

Comment by KC on February 23, 2014 at 04:14 PM

Be sure to minimize the extra-curricular efforts of students. If someone should happen to bring in a project that they did, completely of their own accord and based on their own interest, outside of a class assignment then rapidly dismiss it. Let them know you are far too busy to examine it and only make patronizing comments; otherwise, the student may continue to bring in extra work for you to waste your break time on.

Also, make sure students know how their failure to complete work in the allotted time grossly inconveniences you. Bonus points for simultaneously insulting the student's intelligence or slowness.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 23, 2014 at 04:35 PM



Post new comment