How to Homeschool a Dawdler

Seldom do I give a “Getting It All Done” workshop in which I do not get this question: “My child manages to draw out every school assignment he is given. This ends up making the rest of the family have to wait on him before we can go on to our next activity. I really feel like he could do the work more quickly, but he just dawdles, rather than applying himself to his task. What do I do?”

First, Figure Out If He’s Truly a Dawdler.

What about you? Is one of your children a classic dawdler? He sits down to do a page of math and within a minute is up sharpening his pencil. Back to the book, the child is soon noticed looking out the window while thumbing through the book. Pretty soon a drink is called for, and within minutes of returning from that, a bathroom break is taken. Sound familiar?

First, I encourage you to discern whether the fact that your child cannot complete an assignment in the allotted time is because he is incapable of doing the work, or because he is a dawdler. Here is how we made this determination. We had a son who could spend two hours or more in front of his math book without completing more than two or three problems on his two pages’ worth of work. We certainly didn’t want to deal with this as a character issue if it were an ability deficiency.

One evening about 5:00 p.m., after this child had sat at the table with his math book in front of him most of the afternoon, his dad announced, “I have just ordered pizza for dinner. It will be here in thirty minutes. Anyone who has all their schoolwork completed may join us for pizza. Others can have a sandwich alone when their schoolwork is finished.”

Steve happened to know the current situation with this child and that the other children had long before turned in all their schoolwork. This was a test for our dawdler. You will never believe the results! Pencil went to paper, and within fifteen minutes, that child had every math problem completed on his lesson. Moreover, he had done an excellent job in terms of accuracy!

I had believed he could easily complete his math in thirty minutes, but had allowed him forty-five minutes just to be sure. It was confirmed. We had a character issue to work with, not an ability one.

Determine Consequences that Work.

This is the way we handle the dawdling situation in our home. The children are required, barring unusual circumstances, to finish any schoolwork they did not get done in their scheduled time during their free time later in the day. The more I am consistent with enforcing this, the more progress we see in our children applying themselves during their scheduled school time. It is absolutely no fun to watch your siblings out playing while you sit and complete what you could have done earlier in the day when they were working, too, and not available for play.

I can honestly tell you it is difficult for me to be consistent in this area. I want to make excuses, in my heart, for them and allow them to head out with the others for their free time. The truth, of course, is that I am not doing them any favors by not enforcing our policy, nor am I doing myself any favors!

The characteristics of a dawdler may be seen in other areas of their life, perhaps when chore time arrives. One thing that our dawdler thrives on is some motivation to get him moving, just as in the pizza story I shared with you. A time deadline that is short and immediate can help him focus on the need to keep at the task. You might try using a timer, which you or the child can set for a determined amount of time. Then the child will have a visual reminder of the need to continue with his job or schoolwork.

Here is a short testimonial I recently received on just what we are suggesting here.

“Our schedule has also provided an opportunity to teach them personal responsibility since they are now responsible for checking the schedule themselves to see what they should be doing, and they are also responsible for using free time to finish up anything they didn’t accomplish when they were supposed to. After forfeiting part of his playtime one afternoon in order to finish math that wasn’t done when it should have been, my ten-year-old son really applied himself on the other days.”

Dear Sister, if you have a dawdler in your homeschool, be encouraged! The Lord has provided you this wonderful opportunity to impact the character of your child in a needed and positive way. Be strong and courageous; take the challenge. Don’t nag and fuss at your dawdler. Maintain a pleasant, matter-of-fact attitude as you enforce the consequences you have chosen. Remember to keep this need as a matter of prayer. Be consistent throughout this whole year in dealing with this issue. Look back, after the year, and check for some progress. Also, keep in mind that your child’s character growth is a long-term project! Even if the progress in one year is not what you want for the finished product, know for certain that had you not worked in this area, no progress would have been realized and probably movement backward would have occurred.