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Teaching The Reluctant Learner

By Terry Spray Summer 1995


    One day while we were attending the Christian Ministries Convention, a friend grabbed us and said, "You own a donkey, don't you? I told the director of the Easter Production to contact you. They need a donkey for the Easter program."

For the next few weeks, we cringed each time the phone rang, fearing "they" would ask to use our donkey. About a month later the call came. We reluctantly agreed, though I encouraged them to keep searching, because this wasn't a donkey you could use without miraculous intervention. This donkey was a stallion, a BLM Rescue donkey who still had many of his own wild ideas! He is a gentle creature, but had been badly traumatized by trailers, since his most previous experience at loading involved the "business end" of a cattle prod! He was thoroughly convinced that trailers ate little donkeys.

For him to participate in the program, he must travel to and from the city for 5 consecutive nights. While he was there, he must walk into the sanctuary, carry "Jesus" upon his back amidst waving palms, singing choir, and playing orchestra. Then he must walk back out of the doors, across the big, open parking lot and back into the fearsome trailer. During the next three weeks, we learned valuable lessons on schooling the reluctant learner.

We began by tying Addie (short for Admiral) up to the rear of our two-horse trailer and placing his only food inside the trailer. We did this for hour-long sessions morning and night. Result? After 3 days we had a very hungry, miserable donkey who dug a waist-deep hole behind the trailer!

Lesson 1: Break the lesson into tiny bites.

The next morning the Lord reminded me of the ramp on our one-horse trailer. We placed the trailer in his pen and allowed him the freedom to take tiny hesitating steps into the trailer in order to reach his food.

When a task has become overwhelming for your child, step back and see what tiny pieces the troublesome area might be broken into. For example, multiply by skip-counting, 2 -4 -6 - 8 - = 2 x 4 .

Lesson 2: Motivate by a real need.

Had Addie not been hungry, he would never have set foot upon the ramp of the trailer. Children may sometimes need to be motivated by circumstances (example: you may do this only when you do that). Intrinsic (self-directed) motivation comes later when character has been developed.


Lesson 3: Repetition creates routine, routine creates a habit. Even when Addie began to take his meals in the trailer, we knew he had to repeat the process for an entire week before we could actually move the trailer with him in it. The more learning becomes routine, the easier the process becomes. Whatever is the most difficult, that is what you "routinize".


Lesson 4: "By the yard, it's hard; but by the inch, it's a cinch!" The entire process of loading the donkey and leading him into the church was dependent upon a carrot one inch in front of his nose, with occasional nibbles so that he knew the carrot was real.

Too often with children , we expect them to be able to take a leap in their learning and instantly become composition writers, note takers or textbook memorizers when they have not mastered the incremental steps to achieve those goals. Small steps insure success.


Lesson 5: Keep your focus in the goal. Constant encouragement and consistent attitudes paid off with Addie. As soon as one of us became distracted by the hustle of the environment, Addie would "shut down" and stop. Donkeys put their heads down, brace their legs and just stop when they are confused or frightened.

Children will also brace themselves and stop when they are confused or frightened. At that point in time it is paramount that we remember what we are really trying to accomplish.


Christian Cottage Schools serves supports and empowers parents of struggling students to exercise their God-given right to control and direct their children’s education through diagnostic assessments, consultation, prescriptive curriculum programs, and parent-teacher training.