When Excitement for Learning Appears to Disappear

It’s very exciting watching a child who is gripped by a passion. But what about those times when interest in learning seems to disappear?

I like to get up early. I leave my bed while everyone else is sleeping, feel my way out of our darkened bedroom, fall over the three hungry cats gathered hopefully at my door, and head to the kitchen to fill the kettle. Animals fed, a mug of tea in my hand, I settle on the family room sofa to read or pray or just check the mail.

That’s what I did this morning. Half an hour into my quiet time, my daughter Sophie appeared. We sat side-by-side, rubbing cats’ chins, as we chatted.

“You seemed a bit out of sorts this week,” I observed. “Not your usual cheery self.”

“I feel like I’m drifting.”

I know how Sophie feels. I’ve been feeling the same way. I move from one unsatisfying thing to the other. I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. Where’s all my excitement gone?

I could worry about being stuck in this stagnant state, but I’ve come to the conclusion that quiet times are a normal part of life. It’s probably unrealistic to expect to fly through every day in a constant state of excitement. Think how tiring that would be. And maybe important work is going on during these seemingly unproductive times, subconsciously, of course. Who knows what is brewing deep within us while all seems quiet on the surface?

I have noticed that quiet times never last forever. One day I wake up and instantly know things have changed. A wonderful new idea will be floating through my mind. I feel full of energy. Before I know it, I’ll be chasing knowledge, working on a new project, feeling excited about life once more.

“What do you feel like doing?” I asked Sophie.

“I can’t think of anything I really want to do.”

I could have said, “There’s plenty of interesting things you could be doing. Choose something! Don’t waste your time.” But is that necessary? I think Sophie will find her own way to her next interesting thing without me pressuring her. She probably needs space to rest and read and do nothing in particular. Of course, I could still make a suggestion or two, do some strewing, offer her some new ideas to think about. Something might spark her imagination, set her flying off again on new adventures.

“Now the weather is cool we could go for some more bush walks,” I said.  “I’ve been meaning to get the wildflower identification book out. I’d like to know the names of a few more flowers. What do you think?”

We agreed that an outing would be very enjoyable. Get outside and enjoy nature, take our cameras and capture some photos, have a picnic. It sounds just what we need.

Perhaps children, like mothers, need quiet times. Life doesn’t always have to be full on. School schedules might suggest learning happens at a constant rate, but I bet it doesn’t. I’m talking about the visible kind of learning because, of course, we never quite know what’s going on inside a person. We can never measure all that is being processed unobserved.

Do you know what I’m going to do now? I’m off to find that wildflower book. And perhaps I’ll take a game or two down from the shelf. We have some CDs we haven’t played for a while. And maybe I could strew a painting on the wall

PS: I’ve just remembered it wasn’t so long ago that my 17-year-old daughter Charlotte was drifting through her days, feeling uninspired. I spoke about that in my podcast, Exciting Times, Slow Times and Unschool Holidays. But today Charlotte’s eyes are alight with excitement as she thinks about starting her first university unit. She has found a Bachelor of Arts degree she wants to do. I might write or speak about that in another post!

Photos: The red flower above is definitely a honey flower, also known as a mountain devil, but I’m not sure about the flower to the left. It could be an old man Banksia (Banksia serrata) When I’ve done some research, using our identification book, I’ll know for sure!

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  1. Very good food for thought. I'm so glad you're two steps ahead of me on this path 🙂

    1. Reply

      An Almost Unschooling Mom,

      Two steps ahead… I guess you could easily be watching me making loads of mistakes you definitely want to avoid!! Thank you for your encouraging words!

  2. Reply

    I tend to think it's true that important work just might be going on during seemingly unproductive times. I am a believer in allowing "time to digest." Which is, I think, one of the many good reasons for unschooling!

    1. Reply


      Time to digest? Oh yes, definitely! I do think we need lots of thinking time as well as action time. Unschooling allows us to take that time out when we need it. It's so much more difficult for people who have to live according to schedules, I'm sure!

  3. Reply

    What a timely post Sue! This week I've needed to do lot of soul searching. It seems that when my girls are immersed in a flurry of activity, I am at very ease but when quiet time settles, I don't feel as confident in our unschooling. But why should I expect them to always be busy? I don't always like to be busy myself. I absolutely crave downtime. I've settled on the thought that it's just as ok for them to be idle. There is a time for all things, right? Instead of focusing on what they are not doing, today I decided that I will focus on what I want to do. And right now, it's maths…something I've dreaded almost all my life but one of the things I really want to learn more about. So I picked up some interesting books at the bookstore today that will help me on my way. And I also got a book on Mandala to strew for one of my girls who I think would really like it!

    BTW – There is so much beauty in aging and I am so grateful for the wisdom that has come along with my years. You are a beautiful person inside and out!

    1. Reply


      Yes, it's wonderful when our children are visibly productive. It's very easy to trust at times like that!

      Oh I like your idea of learning more about maths. I sometimes have a longing to learn more about certain things like Latin. I've worked through a Latin course a few times but never actually conquered the language. I hope you enjoy your maths. Perhaps your children will end up looking over your shoulder and want to get involved too. I love how that happens.

      I fear I have a long way to go with inner beauty, but your kind words will encourage me to keep on trying. Thank you!

  4. Reply

    Absolutely! I can't manage to go three-days straight on high adrenaline rush. Down time is good for both body and soul. I consider down time to be essential 'brewing' time! 🙂

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, we definitely need brewing time. I had a few days of down time and it resulted in a new idea which I'm experimenting with at the moment. If we keep rushing around doing things, I'm sure we reduce the possibility of new creative ideas. Yes, our bodies need rest too!

  5. Reply

    The law of undulations at its finest. We just need to learn that this is the way we're made.

    1. Reply


      I do like the law of undulations! I seem to remember we've talked about this before. Knowing how we're made and accepting it… yes!

    2. Reply

      Yes, we've talked about the law of undulations before. The accepting part is the hardest.

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