How Do You Inspire the Reluctant Kid?

Now matter who you are as a coach, educator or director, you’ve encountered the ho-hum learner. When the group circles up, he’s on the fringe. The word “hustle?” Not in her vocabulary. This kid is not necessarily antagonistic, but simply unmotivated.

Educator Ben Koch says meaningful learning is driven by passion. After 11 years in the classroom, Koch earned a Master’s degree in gifted education and founded NuMinds Enrichment, along with his co-founder Justin Vawter. NuMinds offers class and camp experiences that help kids discover exciting, real-world solutions with an interdisciplinary approach to academics.

Video: Hear Ben’s story of how NuMinds found more time for focusing on program development by reducing administration by 20 hours per week.

4 Ways to Spark Passion for Learning

Koch believes when students pursue their passion until it becomes their talent, they’ll find their sweet spot for a satisfying life.1 “Curiosity fuels passion,” he says. So the coach or educator is always working to cultivate curiosity in kids. It’s creative work, and no easy task! So Koch offers these suggestions:

Give kids a choice.

How do you build choices into your camps and classes? For NuMinds summer program, kids and parents choose from a list of courses offered during each week of camp, so the child is invested from the start. But in a popular one-day event where kids create arcade games out of cardboard, NuMinds gives kids lots of options, even on site. Kids can work alone or in groups. They can start with math or design. They can even pull away to do an unrelated solo activity.

“One of the best ways to reach a student is to offer some element of choice,” Koch says.

Find creative ways to listen.

What makes your students tick? Koch recommends a simple online test called True Colors.2 Kids can take the test to give you insight into their personalities and motivations. Also helpful are breakout groups, especially when you have other adults on your team. Perhaps kids (and parents) can fill out a brief questionnaire before your first meeting. Sometimes, it may just mean pressing pause on your agenda to listen to the child in front of you.

Encourage “free play.”

How do you incorporate creative play into your class or camp routine? As parents and educators, it’s easy to bemoan the “good, old days” when kids could play unsupervised for hours in the neighborhood or on the ball field. But camp and class directors can champion a more organized approach to free play, Koch says. “Creative play is a spectrum. When we replace the word ‘play’ with ‘space,’ free play becomes any activity that isn’t prescribed, preset, or predetermined.”

Keeping the main thing the main thing

Some “ho-hum kids” are late bloomers. In a year or two, they may blast off in your area of expertise. Others will never find passion (or talent) in your discipline, but their time with you may give them a deeper appreciation of it. Or perhaps they’ll just appreciate YOU because you showed them you care.

“As stressed out as I can get as a director, at the end of the day, it’s not life or death – it’s camp,” Koch says. “The most important thing is how kids feel when they get into the car to go home.”



1 Koch recommends books by author Ken Robinson that explore this idea – The Element and Finding Your Element.

2 True Colors Test